Meet the Gardener: Natan Cointet, Head Gardener at Scotney Castle
Where did your interest in gardening begin?
In the beautiful South of France. I started my career as an apprenticeship on an organic vegetable farm near Lagrasse in the Corbières region, a thirty minute drive from Carcassonne.
Why did you want to be a gardener?
To work with the land, soil, and nature. It’s all good for my physical and mental wellbeing. The sun helps too!
Where did you study?
I undertook my foundation degree in horticulture at Writtle College, Essex, after completing my apprenticeship at Lycée Agricole Pierre Reverdy, in Languedoc, France.
Who was your inspiration?
My great-grandfather, Guy Clutton Brock – he brought people together by working with the land in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe; and my uncle, Jean-Baptiste. He worked with the land to produce amazing goats cheese, eggs, vegetables and bread.
How long have you worked here?
One whole year!
What appealed to you about working here?
I have always wanted to work for the National Trust. It’s a fantastic organisation with conservation at its core. Here I am able to share with many different people my passion for horticulture. Scotney is a picturesque romantic garden steeped in history. Could I ask for a more wonderful place to work?
What’s your favourite part of the garden?
My favourite part of the garden is the old castle courtyard. The sheltered nature of this area means we are currently able to design an exciting new sub-tropical garden. Sub-tropical gardens are my favourite type of garden: lush foliage, hot colours and dramatic structure – all things that tick my boxes!
What’s your least favourite part of garden design?
Getting right those teeny tiny measurements that happen to be very important.
What’s the best time of year for visitors to see the garden?
The best time of year to visit the gardens are late April, early May when the rhododendrons, azaleas and kalmias are flowering. Our rare green winged orchids also flower at that time. That said, we have a superb path network so visitors can come all year round and have a lovely walk around.
Describe your typical day?
I get up when the sun rises, always have, always will. First thing we do at work is agree a work plan for the day. We continuously have to adapt to the weather conditions and notably the soil conditions – digging waterlogged soil after a heavy night’s rain is not a good idea. Hopefully all the conditions are right for the work we have planned, and we get stuck in! It’s so wonderful working in a large garden such as Scotney Castle because every day is different.
What’s your biggest achievement as a gardener?
My biggest achievement is designing and planting a big bog garden. It was on a bank next to a large pond and the soil was totally waterlogged, perfect for bog plants! Everyone thought it wasn’t possible to create a nice space with this bit of land, but I showed them just what you can do with the right plants in the right place.
I also love passing onto others a feeling of excitement. I love gardens full of drama with amazing plants you’ve never seen before. Sharing this always leaves me with a sense of achievement.
Do you have a favourite plant/tree?
Where to start? There are too many to choose from! However, I have managed to choose my favourite four plants! My favourite vegetable to grow is a tomato because they taste so good when you grow them yourself! My favourite tree is a strawberry tree because they remind me of the South of France. My favourite tropical plants are an Ethiopian banana tree and a Tetrapanaz Rex! Oh, and also Echiums and tree ferns, that makes 6, it’s impossible to choose just one!
What are the biggest considerations for people to consider when planning their own garden design?
The biggest consideration is the characteristics of your land. What is your soil type? How much sunlight is there? Is it sheltered or exposed? What is the drainage like i.e. where does the water go when it rains? Knowing all these characteristics will ensure you get a design that is going to work. There’s nothing worse than plants dying on you.
When designing a border or flower bed, the structure is very important to me. You need a good mix of heights, shapes, and repetition; achieving all that in a naturalistic fashion is the sign of a great garden designer.
What’s the one plant/tree everyone should have in their garden?
A tomato plant because they are so tasty! Not the easiest to grow but I would recommend everyone tries! I really think everyone should try at some point in their lives to grow their own vegetables, even if it’s just in pots, growing your own food leaves you with a very special feeling.
What’s your favourite season in the garden?
Summer because I just adore the sun! But there is a magical sense around autumn time which I very much enjoy.