When it’s busy, working in front of the public is like being in the zoo.
You hear comments: “There’s a giant” or, “Have you got scissors for cutting the grass?” You’ve got to be careful where you tread.
My wife works here, too. She makes all the figures out of resin; every single one is different. She did me and Clive, the other gardener, making a stone wall in model form for a pub scene. The model of Clive went missing for a while last year, but he turned up eventually.
We try to put jobs aside to keep for busy occasions when we can work out of the village. Last summer, we spent three weeks handcutting a lot of stone into inch cubes to make a town wall on a new area we’re opening. It takes us a week to plant out the summer bedding plants; 2,000 to 3,000 during May. We shut for three months in the winter, when we do a lot of landscaping and construction work. We work alongside the model makers, so if someone comes up with an idea, we’ll do the groundwork and lay out the driveways. You have to imagine shrinking yourself down to get the scale right.
There must be getting on for 3,000 trees on the site, anything from 3in to 6ft tall. We’ve got some mature Japanese maples that were planted when the village started 85 years ago. They’ve got huge trunks to which we’ve kept a low canopy: they almost look like umbrellas. Japanese elms are good for some of the model scenes. They have tiny leaves, and the bark and stems grow so well to scale that you hardly have to do anything once you’ve got shaped them. Then there’s Colletia paradoxa, a spiky plant with white flowers that smell of marzipan when it flowers in early summer: it fills the entire village with the scent.
When I first started here 18 years ago, more time was spent on the lawns; some of the gardeners worked for bowling greens in their spare time. We used to have heavy Ransomes cylinder mowers, but it was getting to be a job to find parts for them, so we got battery-powered mowers instead: they are so light and quick. We do use fake turf on some of the lawns with lots of figures. We have to cheat sometimes.
My favourite spot
There’s a copse the railway track goes through, so the train disappears into the trees and comes out the other end. If you bend down and look through the lens of a camera, you could actually be there.
Simon Parks understands furniture with over 15 years of experience as a furniture designer and craftsman. He’s worked in many garden centres and furniture stores over the years, helping customers in the UK purchase garden furniture that works for their homes. He studied design tech at a local college in South London and enjoys walking on the weekends with his dog Pickles.