A busy life in garden — and a child on the way

Cork-born garden expert ALAN POWER is giving talks at Ballymaloe Garden Festival next month
A busy life in garden — and a child on the way
Alan Power, Head Gardener at Stourhead House and Gardens, Wiltshire.

TELL us about yourself:

I am the Head Gardener at the Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire, south-west England. The garden is one of the most important 18th century landscape gardens in Europe and more than 400,000 visitors come to see it every year. I have worked here, on and off, for nearly 22 years in many roles on the garden team, I have climbed many of the trees and planted hundreds.

I have been very lucky working at Stourhead and my job has taken me to lecture in Europe and the US. I try hard to promote the horticulture industry to up and coming gardeners but also share this wonderful environment with as many people as possible.

The National Trust, my employer, supports me in some of my other ventures, recording the Gardening Podcasts for the Trust, doing voice- over work for the national TV campaign, appearing on BBC4’s PM annually and presenting Gardeners’ World.

Where were you born?

I was born in Cork, in the Bons Hospital to be more precise. I lived with my parents, younger brother and older sister in Glasheen before we moved to Bishopstown when I was around 14 years old.

Where do you live?

I now live in Wiltshire in the UK — on the Stourhead Estate. I live in a cottage where the Head Gardener at Stourhead has lived for many years.

Family?

My parents still live in Cork, Micheal and Elma Power, dad worked with Roches Stores and mum worked in the Bons Hospital and arranged flowers in her spare time!

My sister Majella lives in Bishopstown with her husband Martin and her kids, Maria, Andrew and David, I see loads of Majella and we get on really well, she’s a good sister and a friend too.

My brother, Ian, lives in Essex in the UK and is married to Emily and has two kids, Aoibheann and Conor. I wish I saw more of him.

I’m married to Louise and I have two sons, Jamie and Matthew, and Louise and I are currently expecting our first child.

Best friend?

Apart from my wife Louise who really is my truest friend, my sons are 14 and 16 and we have really good times together. My closest life-long friend goes right back to my childhood and I would have to say Mark Connolly. We grew up together in Glasheen and played together nearly every day, we played on the road on bikes, football, we cleaned his dad’s Norton motorbike together. Mark and I cycled to Garretstown to stay with my family in a mobile home for a few days, we would often set off on the bikes together.

We lost touch for a while when I was moving around the UK but we see each other as often as we can now and I truly value him as a friend. Friends offer support but are also the guardians of shared memories.

Earliest childhood memory?

Hard to pinpoint it exactly but I can recall sitting in between mum and dad at mass in the Lough Church, I can remember playing on a little plastic motorbike on the road in Glasheen and being picked up once I had fallen off, I can only have been around three years old. I remember some early Chirstmas times in our house before my brother was born so I can only have been 4 or 5.

Person you most admire?

At the moment, I must say that personally I admire my parents, life is not that straightforward for them these days and they approach life with courage, bravery and togetherness but still manage to find time to be kind and supportive to others.

On a global scale, I do admire Barack Obama and miss him! There are so many individuals out there who fight for peace, the environment, our right to live as we do but also who are challenging themselves to get over their own personal obstacles, you only need to watch the Para-Olympics and Olympcis or hear of someone having scaled the Mirror Wall in Greenland to realise how amazing people are.

Person who most irritates you?

At the moment, Donald Trump.

Who would you like to see as Minister for Finance and why?

Either of my sons could do a good job, both have a great ability of managing to secure funds from me and I don’t resent it, so similar to a willing form of domestic taxation! But they also manage to remain out of debt. I do feel the older generation have more of an appreciation of what the priorities for investment and funding are, those who know what it’s really like to struggle for money, those who have seen the country really suffer. So maybe a combined role with the wisdom of the old and the optimism of youth?

Where was your most memorable holiday?

As a child at Barleycove with the family and the other was with Louise on our honeymoon in Cornwall.

Favourite TV programme?

Don’t really watch a lot of telly, but I do like to watch sport.

Favourite radio show?

PM on BBC radio 4 is on every day in our house, although I do appear on it every year so am contractually obliged to say that (only joking!), but it’s a great programme.

Your signature dish if cooking?

I do make a cracking omelette, plain for the kids and with spinach, spring onions, tomato and cheese for the grown-ups. I also do a mean curry.

Favourite restaurant?

We live in rural England and tend to head for a pub meal rather than a restaurant — there are lots of great foodie pubs around us.

Last book you read?

Bill Bryson — The Road To Little Dribbling: More Notes From A Small Island. He has a great sense of humour, and as someone who wasn’t born in the UK, I appreciate his observations of Englishness!

Best book you read?

Tricky, I read a lot for work and some of the landscape history and nature books I read are fascinating. One of the most important to me, which I read when I first came to Stourhead was Polite Landscapes about the history and development of great landscape gardens during the 18th century — it gave me a good grounding in the subject and is the one I always recommend to anyone new to the field.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

Went a bit old school and bought a Happy Mondays and a Charlatans CD!

Favourite song?

It has changed throughout my life as you can imagine, I have songs I associate with the boys being younger, getting married and even the sound of Depeche Mode blasting from my sister’s room taking me back to my childhood. But at the moment one of my favourites would be Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

One person you would like to see in concert?

Foo Fighters, or Nirvana if I could rewind the clock.

Do you have a pet?

We have two dogs — both collies — one cat and four chickens.

Morning person or night owl?

Night owl but I am fairly adaptable (which is just as well with a baby on the way!)

Your proudest moment?

Apart from the big life moments, kids, marriage, career, completing a marathon, surviving a triathlon — I must say that receiving my Honorary Doctorate from the university of Essex in 2015 was a big moment for me.

Spendthrift or saver?

Saver!! Apart from the lure of a new or old motorbike!

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

Cost of housing for the locals to remain, houses and rent are too expensive for the locals and the younger generation to afford and they often have no choice but to leave the area.

What makes you happy?

Fresh air, the sea, family and a tree-filled landscape.

How would you like to be remembered?

With a smile.

What else are you up to at the moment?

The main thing we are up to is preparing for the baby to arrive in October!

Alan Power will be giving two talks at The Ballymaloe Garden Festival which takes place on Saturday and Sunday, September 2/3, 10am to 6pm, on the grounds of Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, Co. Cork. Tickets €8 per day or €12 for both days. Children under 12 free with an adult. Purchase tickets at www.ballymaloegrainstore.com or on 021 475 7200.

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