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Introducing Joshua Sparkes, our new head gardener (crouching down in the photo of the gardening team).

At 10.30am most days, you’ll find a neat line of boots outside the kitchen as the team down tools in search of a mid morning coffee – the perfect time to catch up with Joshua (or Josh as he’s known) Sparkes, the new head gardener at Forde Abbey.

Fresh from his travels in Japan, and bringing with him a wealth of experience from his time gardening at Sissinghurst, Josh has spent the past few years exploring different ways of working in the garden, travelling to a wealth of countries, including America to study dynamic working practices and the future of sustainable gardening.

Keen to evolve the tradition of historic practices in British horticulture, Josh has taken the lead from America which is pushing forward ideas of sustainability and ecology within gardens: “ I always wanted to see if there’s a way of taking the beauty that is the British garden and integrating it with an American forward thinking attitude. So I went to America and worked there for just over four months, working in gardens like Chantecler, Longwood, Mt Cuba and New York Gardens, looking at soil, compost, design and their approach to naturalistic planting. 

From there I went to Japan, where I spent five months studying what it is on an emotional level that gardens are. To me, the most important factor in a garden is how it moves you. The ecology of the plants, the sustainability is just a tool to achieve that. So in Japan, I just embedded myself in that philosophy, which was beautiful.”

Returning to England, Josh then worked at Stourhead, Mount Stewart, Hidcote and Bodnant in Wales, visiting experts like Charles Dowding, and Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter, looking at how British horticulture is evolving and how to implement the American and Japanese styles of working within that.

In four weeks time, Josh will be off again, having won a coveted Winston Churchill fellowship which funds travels overseas to explore news ideas and global insights to inspire community and  professions back home. Returning to America, Josh will be looking at organic agriculture and horticulture, and ideas surrounding soil management and creating sustainable gardens, before popping over to Sweden to work with Peter Korn, who grows in pure sand, a future possibility for urban planting.

On day two in his new post, Josh was explaining with great enthusiasm his new three heap compost method, each with a specific role in the garden. One for general purpose, a really strong fungal one for our shrubberies and woodland edges and then a bacterial one for our cut flowers and vegetables. With the addition of a compost tea which is a new idea in America – a pure liquid brew of micro organisms that act as a catalyst for existing organisms already present in the soil, reducing pests and diseases and promoting plant health. 

We moved on to the possibilities of creating bio-char, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Follow the garden through the season on instagram.

Meet Josh on May 12th when he’ll be doing a guided tour of the garden, as part of our Garden Masterclass day of workshops. For more information, and to book tickets, click here.