Residing in an enviable location overlooking both lake and mountains, you might think the Lodore Falls Hotel would struggle to match the beauty of its surroundings. But with five Keswick in Bloom awards, vast lawns and an array of gorgeous flower beds, the beauty shines in its own right. The man behind the impressive landscaping is our Head Gardener John Curran.
Before taking up the position of Head Gardener at Lodore, John had been coaching soccer in America for seven months each year. After almost two decades, he wanted to settle in one place. ‘I was offered a job in California and was tempted to stay there,’ explains John, ‘But Keswick is such a lovely place to live and it is a good quality of life here, so I chose to come back.’
John continues, ‘When I came back I did the maintenance at the Skiddaw Hotel and one day I was asked to come to Lodore to cut the grass as the gardener was off sick. I must have done a good job, as when he retired I was asked to step in.’
These days John works alongside his own protégée, and together they keep the garden in top condition for visitors. ‘Since it is a mature garden, not a lot changes from year to year, twice a year we get four to five thousand plants to put in ready for summer and autumn, such as geraniums and busy lizzies. We plant them in a formation that we haven’t done before, so every year the garden looks slightly different,’ he explains.
Although the front lawn is perhaps the most conspicuous and eye-catching part of the garden, there are also hidden gems. Alongside waterfalls and streams, there is a wild area which provides a contrast to the pristine lawn.
Visitors and views are why John loves his job. ‘The lawn has the best views, so when you’re working you can see the lake and the mountains,’ he says, ‘And I enjoy being around people. You can be on your own digging, then you turn a corner and you’re surrounded by visitors.’ Sometimes he takes time out to offer interested bystanders advice on the local area. ‘I often stop to talk to people, to tell them about the mountains and walks – walking is another past-time for me, so I can tell them which walks they can go on and give them useful information such as which are high or low level.’
A lot of people visit the garden to glimpse animals rather than the flowers. ‘It is well known that we have red squirrels,’ says John, ‘We leave plenty of food out, so you’re likely to see them if you come to visit. The garden is also frequently visited by deer, badgers, a wide range of birds, moles and even sheep. The animals aren’t so appealing to John, however, who admits that they cause him endless trouble. ‘The biggest challenge in this job is to stop the animals causing too much disruption. They dig holes, and sometimes you have spent a whole day on the lawn or some flowers, and the next morning you find they have been eaten by sheep or dug over by a badger,’ says John, ‘But you just get on with it.’
It is this philosophy for hard work that has led to John’s success as a gardener, and he believes it’s the answer to maintaining any garden. ‘You must put a lot of hard work into it, and never look outside and think you don’t have to do this or that – there’s always something you could be doing. Even in winter there’s set-up you can do for the spring. Put fertiliser down, put mulch down on your flower beds. There’s a lot you can do to your lawn too: take care of it, feed it, kill the moss.’ So, if you want a healthy-looking garden this summer, take John’s advice: gather your tools together and get going.