A new volunteer scheme launches this September for garden-lovers seeking solace from Covid-19.
Stephen Ward, the new Head Gardener at the Himalayan Gardens and Sculpture Park near Ripon, is seeking up to 40 ‘Himalayan Rangers’ to join a team of four professional gardens.
Stephen, who has been in post for six months, says volunteering offers a potential ‘life-changing’ opportunity, particularly for those made redundant as a result of the pandemic.
Stephen said: “The new volunteer group, which I’ll be calling the Himalayan Rangers, will be able to do a variety of work, within their capabilities – anything from giving guided tours to doing flower or insect surveys, helping with the nursery and the annual garden maintenance plan. There’s so many varieties of plants and trees that need taking care.”
Stephen’s own personal story has shaped the initiative.
Made redundant from three careers – an engineer, senior manager in the fitness and leisure sector, and as an archaeologist – Stephen then took a horticultural course, leading to his role at the Himalayan Gardens.
Stephen said: “My life has suffered a series of redundancies and a lot of people will be going through that at this moment in time with the economic fall-out of Covid-19.”
Stephen feels his never give up attitude can help others facing redundancy.
“The trials and tribulations I have been through are what thousands of people are going through at this time. I want to help those people by providing a place for them to come to that will help them to move on to something better. For anybody suffering the anxieties of redundancy or losing their job, this can be a life changing moment like it was for me.”
His previous role was grounds manager at Middleton Hall in Warwickshire, set in 42 acres, where he led a successful volunteer scheme.
He said: “In my previous role, an aspect I looked at was the volunteers’ mental health. Many who had retired or were being made redundant found there wasn’t purpose in life. Like Covid-19 today, that affected their mental well-being. Working with me in the gardens in just a few weeks you could see the difference in them. It lifted them, it gave their confidence back, because you’re learning new things, new skills in a wonderful environment. I had many people saying it changed their lives.”
No gardening knowledge or experience is needed to join the Himalayan Rangers.
Stephen explained: “If people express an interest via email, I’ll contact them for a site visit, I’ll give them a guided tour, talk to them about the diversity of jobs we do. It’s not just weeding or pruning, there’s many things we do. If they have a skill, it could even be photography, then I can see how we can use that.”
The 45 acres of stunning woodland and garden with three lakes and an arboretum feature over 1,400 varieties of rhododendron and more than 80 striking contemporary sculptures in the landscape. The grounds feature a Pagoda, summerhouse, Norse Hut, contemplation circle and Himalayan Shelter.
Winners of the Yorkshire in Bloom Tourist Attraction Award in 2018 and 2019, they were also shortlisted for the BBC Countryfile 2020 Garden of the Year. The garden’s patron actor Joanna Lumley described it as a “slice of heaven”.
Details on how to become a Himalayan Ranger will be posted on the website, keep an eye on https://www.himalayangarden.com/