Two Centuries of a Gardening Family at Weston Park

Weston Park has a remarkable connection to its past, with current Head Gardener Martin Gee, whose family has a link of service to the estate going back over two hundred years

By Weston Park

Weston Park's east front gazing across Capability Brown's park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Weston Park, Shropshire

Like many great country houses, Weston Park has some fascinating stories to tell 

Sir Peter Lely - Portrait of Elizabeth Mytton, Lady Wilbraham (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The People and The Place

Weston Park is a great country house in the heart of England, situated on the borders of Shropshire and Staffordshire. Today owned by the Weston Park Foundation, an independent charitable trust, it was gifted to the nation by the 7th and present Earl of Bradford

Grand houses like Weston invariably tell a story of their past owners and we are no different, with exceptional portraits of the former occupants of the property, such as Lady Wilbraham, depicted here by Sir Peter Lely

John Michael Wright - Portrait of Grace Wilbraham, Countess of Dysart (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The collection includes a succession of family members and here, in a garden setting, is Lady Wilbraham's daughter Grace

Weston Park, though, also has some very real links to the past from its staff - the people on the other side of the baize door. We've always welcomed enquiries from the descendants of former staff and many of the records associated with them have been researched by our team of volunteers. Their findings are on a database that was created and is hosted by the University of Wolverhampton. You can find out more here: https://www.weston-park.com/about/servants-database/

Thomas Weaver: The Ploughing Match, oil on canvas (1800/1825) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A Special Staff Portrait

Amongst the names that appears in the servants database is John Gee and Weston Park is fortunate in having a portrait of him in its collections. It shows him at the helm of a plough whilst engaged in a ploughing match

Dressed to Plough

John is shown wearing a linseed oil-soaked smock, which would have protected him from the elements, as he steadies the plough on what appears to be an inclement day

Competitive Spirit

The match took place in 1813 and John Gee was representing the 1st Earl of Bradford in a match against the ploughmen of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Richard Lyster and Mr Owen. Gee's ability saw him win the day and his portrait was painted by Thomas Weaver

Weston Park and surrounding area (2017) by Staffordshire Archives/ Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

John Gee at Weston Park

John Gee had come to work at Weston Park from Weeting in Norfolk, an estate that Orlando, 1st Earl of Bradford had inherited from his cousin the 7th and last Earl of Mountrath in 1803. One of the Weston servants at that time wrote: 'My Lord is sending us from Weeting a new plowman, also Three Horses, a Waggon & Two Ploughs'. John lived and worked at Weston until his unfortunate death in 1843 when he was accidentally run over by a waggon

Weston Park and surrounding area (2017) by Staffordshire Archives/ Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

John's family, though remained at Weston Park and in 1899 it was noted that one of his sons and no less than three of his grandsons were working on the Weston Park estate. Weston Park commanded an estate of over ten thousand acres at that time and so there were a wide variety of jobs for those working upon it.

Head Gardener Martin Gee (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Martin Gee - the latest member of the Gee family at Weston

John's direct descendant is Martin Gee, Weston Park's current Head Gardener. Martin manages the team of staff and volunteers that look after Weston Park's extensive gardens. His role includes looking after the two Capability Brown pleasure grounds, Temple Wood and Shrewsbury Walk

The Roman Bridge in autumn (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Roman Bridge in Capability Brown's Temple Wood

This important pleasure ground has its own conservation management plan - within the wider plan for the landscape park at Weston Park. It has been a focus of activity for Martin and his team in recent years with a restoration project to reinstate the Brownian planting

Temple Pool was also dredged as a part of the project to improve water quality for invertebrates

Head Gardener Martin Gee and rosarian Michael Marriott in the rose garden at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Restoring the Rose Garden

In the last few years, Martin has worked alongside the acclaimed rosarian Michael Marriott and the team from near-by David Austin Roses to restore the Victorian rose garden on the south terraces of Weston Park 

The newly planted rose garden on the south front of Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Completed Rose Garden Project

Martin has some distinguished predecessors as Head Gardener at Weston Park, with Mr Hope - the Victorian Head Gardener having been responsible for laying out the elaborate formal gardens around the house, with input from William Brodrick Thomas, for the 3rd Earl and Countess of Bradford . These included the magnificent Italian gardens which Martin's team have recently restored

The Italian Garden at Weston Park, looking west from the upper floor of the House (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Italian Garden at Weston Park

Beyond the balustrading lies Capability Brown's Shrewsbury Walk, planted with cedars of Lebanon, a signature tree for Brown

Geometry and Gravel

The restoration of the Victorian Italian garden included new coloured gravels to recapture the vibrancy of the original scheme, plus extensive new planting schemes for the surrounding beds

The Italian Garden at Weston Park, looking south-eastwards (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A Question of Levels

The Italian Garden links to the south terrace at Weston Park and benefits from the shelter provided by the House

The Italian Garden at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Weston Park gardeners (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A Team of Achievement

In the Victorian period, Head Gardener Hope had a large team of staff and this photograph shows six of the staff that worked the walled garden alone. Today, Martin Gee is assisted by three full time staff members plus volunteers who generously give their time

Roland Smith (1950/1970) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Weston Park in the 50's

In the 1950s, the Head Gardener at Weston Park was Roland Smith. In his time, not only did he manage the gardens but he also became a media star in presenting gardening programmes from the walled garden at Weston Park

Roland Smith filming for the BBC at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Here, Roland Smith was interviewed live on the BBC from the Walled Garden of Weston Park

Preparing to Speak to BBC Viewers

Many BBC gardening programmes were broadcast from the walled garden at Weston Park and here Roland Smith is joined by an interested dog!

Roland Smith and fellow judges at the Royal Show, Newcastle, (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Sharing Expertise

In addition to his specialist work at Weston Park, Roland Smith also acted as a judge at many important horticultural shows and we see him here preparing to cast a critical eye over the blooms

Roland Smith (1950/1970) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Roland Smith is not only commemorated by a bench in Weston Park's Temple Wood but he gives his name to an apple variety - the only true Staffordshire apple

The Rose Walk at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Continuing Path

Martin Gee's family involvement at Weston Park is an amazing story of continuity which parallels that of the property itself. All gardens require dedication and long service and, of course, thought for the future

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