Guy is king of the castle during lockdown

15th April

It’s the time of year when Herstmonceux Castle and Grounds are at their most colourful with displays of daffodils, tulips, magnolias and primroses.

Normally there would be hundreds of visitors walking around the estate, people attending special events like Easter egg hunts and others enjoying the tearoom and tours of the castle.

Herstmonceux Castle gardens
Guy mowing the Elizabethan Garden

But as a result of the coronavirus pandemic there is just a handful of people including core staff who are based permanently on site as the castle is an International Study Centre for Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.

One of the people literally left holding the fort is Guy Lucas, Gardens & Grounds Manager, who is looking after the wider estate and the gardens. Normally it’s Guy and a team of seven people, plus a team of volunteers.

“All of the staff on site teamed up recently to helped cut and  bunch hundreds of tulips that were given out to people in the local community such as key workers. We cut approximately 2,000 tulips and now we will have to set about digging out all the bulbs and preparing the beds for the summer bedding, ” explained Guy.

Guy is from a conservation background and says when he first began working at the castle he had a clear vision of how he felt the estate should be cared for.

“The estate is managed for conservation and enhancing its beauty. I decided to manage many of the large fields and lawns as wildflower meadow which helps to reduce the amount of the mowing and we just cut a hay crop in late summer. I also use four Herdwick sheep to mow other areas of the estate.

“In the gardens our one-acre Elizabethan lawn last summer used to take a whole day to mow, however I made the choice to use robot mowers which has helped greatly.

Guy recently featured on BBC Suuth East talking about his challenges during the pandemic

“With the warming weather and no sign of rain, watering and weeding is going to become more and more important. Luckily, before the lockdown was in place, the team mulched and composted all of the beds so I don’t need to worry about weeding for a few weeks. However, along with watering, weeding is going to become more and more important,” Guy stressed.

There are polytunnels and greenhouses full of thousands of plants on site so keeping them alive is a going to be a large part of Guy’s job. Along with the onsite staff volunteers, he has been busy potting up and will be planting out all of the summer bedding through May in the hope that the castle will be able to open its doors to visitors later in the summer.

Asked how he feels with no visitors or students Guy said: “It’s a strange feeling, one aspect is that everything I’m doing feels slightly pointless as there is no one to see it at the moment, although I hope they will be able to soon. On a positive note, I’m certainly noticing that the wildlife is much more confident without public. It is truly such a unique and special experience to have the gardens all to myself and the few others left on the estate.”