Telford News

200 years of Weston Park history ends as Martin retires

The head gardener at one of the region’s leading stately homes is to retire – ending a family association with the estate stretching back more than 200 years.

Martin Gee – whose family has enjoyed unbroken service at Weston Park on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border since 1803 ­– is hanging up his spade after spending 55 years tending its magnificent grounds.

Martin is the sixth generation of the Gee family to work at Weston, starting as a garden boy at the age of 15 before working his way up to take over management of the walled garden in 1978 and becoming head gardener in 1991.

He has overseen an extensive restoration of the estate’s stunning grounds – which include two pleasure grounds designed by the legendary Capability Brown, the Rose Garden, Lady Anne’s Memorial Garden, the Italian Gardens and Formal Gardens – and 1,000 acres of parkland.

His retirement has been marked with a special party in his honour at Weston.

Martin said his retirement – at the end of March – marked the end of an era.

“When you start to reflect and look back, we have achieved so much in the gardens over the last 50 years that I am incredibly proud of.

“It has not been an easy decision, but I knew I would have to retire at some point. You just have to put your sensible head on, and I am ready now.

“Whilst Weston certainly has the wow factor a place is only as good as its people and the team here feels like family.

“We all care so much about what we do and that we are making a difference, contributing to the longevity of the estate through the work of the charity.

“Everybody has a passion for the place – it gets under your skin and we all share a real pride in giving enjoyment to our visitors. This was certainly in evidence during the pandemic when our visitors couldn’t wait to return.”

The Gee family arrived at Weston during King George III’s reign, just as the Napoleonic wars were starting. They travelled from Weeting Hall in Norfolk and Martin’s ancestors worked as agricultural labourers and gamekeepers.

Martin’s father worked for Roland Smith, who was Head Gardener at Weston from 1920- 1956, and despite having some ambition to be a fireman, Martin quickly followed him onto the estate to work during school holidays.

Just like Capability Brown, Martin’s first job was as Garden Boy – doing all the jobs that nobody else wanted such as cleaning flower pots, weeding and sweeping up the leaves. He then spent 12 months in the Formal Gardens before moving to the Walled Garden and the glasshouses alongside studying at Rodbaston College.

In 1978 Martin took over the management of the four-and-a half acre Walled Gardens and has overseen its re-establishment as the productive heart of the estate, growing fruit and vegetables which now form the basis of its award-winning menus.

“It feels like I have come full circle with the kitchen garden. It was where I started and since 2019 it has been gradually brought back to life. You will not only find the gardens team in there but the chefs are out and about picking fruit and herbs and getting inspiration for our Estate to Plate menus in the restaurant.”

He has also guided work to restore the parkland and pleasure grounds to their former glory alongside Patrick James from the Landscape Agency – following Capability Brown’s original plans to produce the magnificent grounds which are enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Martin was named Professional Gardener of the Year by Horticultural Week in 2006, and other career highlights include working with Elizabeth Banks, the landscape architect who specialises in the restoration of historic landscapes and the first woman to be president of the RHS and restoring the Rose Garden with renowned Rosarian Michael Marriot from David Austin Roses.

His career has also encompassed the creation of the Weston Park Foundation following the gifting of the house, park and gardens to the nation in 1986 and the darker days of lockdown when Martin and his colleague of many years, Roy Kirby, were the only gardeners left on the estate to tend to the gardens.

“It was like going back to the 1990s again with only two of us, so we knew a few shortcuts to try and keep on top of everything. Fortunately, we had that hot dry spell that kept things at bay for a while but then everything started growing like mad. Although these were unprecedented times and everyone went through such a strange time, I was so fortunate to be in lockdown in such a beautiful place.”

Over the years Martin has led a series of popular seasonal guided walks and led his last one on February 4.

“I thought I had led my last one on January 7th for the New Year’s Walk but the snowdrops were looking beautiful and I thought, one more won’t hurt. We had a great turn out and I was thrilled to see so many people.”

Weston Park chief executive Colin Sweeney said Martin’s impact on the estate over more than half a century had been remarkable.

“There is no corner of the grounds at Weston that Martin has not left his wonderful mark on and you only have to look at the grounds today to see what a magnificent contribution he has made.

“We will miss him greatly but his legacy will carry on for years to come in the gardens he has created. I cannot thank him enough for everything he has done and wish him a long, happy and thoroughly-deserved retirement.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *