‘An incredible wrench to leave after 69 years’

Dave and Jenny Marchant SUS-170522-151352001
Dave and Jenny Marchant SUS-170522-151352001

Few people can boast of having 500 acres of botanic gardens outside their back door, but Dave Marchant has spent his entire life in just such a place.

For Dave, 69, was born at Wakehurst - the country arm of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - in Ardingly and has worked there all his life.

Now he is marking the end of an era when he retires next week. “It will be an incredible wrench to leave,” said Dave, who is moving to a new house in Newick with his wife Jenny.

Wakehursthas been run by the Royal Botanic Gardens for more than 50 years. But, it was previously a private residence owned by Sir Henry Price and his wife.

Dave’s parents worked for Sir Henry - his father originally as a garden boy in 1923 and his mother as a maid in the mansion. Dave’s father, too, worked there all his life.

Before Dave started working for Kew he had various labouring jobs for the Price family on the Wakehurst land.

He met his wife, Jenny, at Wakehurst in 1966 when she came to work as a gardener. They married in 1970 and had two children – Nick, now 46 and a master carpenter at Ardingly College and Carolyn, 41, who works at the RHS garden in Wisley.

And Dave and Jenny admit that they very much lived the ‘Good Life’ at Wakehurst – having horses, goats, rabbits and a huge garden. “It was an idyllic place to grow up,” said Dave, who was one of four children who faced hard times there just after the war. They only ate what they could shoot or grow.

Dave played a major role in shaping the gardens over the years and was instrumental in the clear up after the Great Storm of October 1987 when Wakehurst lost 20,000 trees.

He was later awarded the MBE, for services to the estate, which was presented by Prince Charles, who remembered Dave driving him around Wakehurst when he visited on a previous occasion. Dave says that receiving the award from Prince Charles, who is patron of Kew, was one of the many highlights of his life at Wakehurst. And his role there will never be forgotten - his name is immortalised after part of the estate was named ‘Marchant’s Bank’ in his honour in 2015.

Dave and Jenny were recorded last week for the BBC Radio 4 Listening Project when they reminisced on their time living and working at Wakehurst. They also spoke about how difficult they will find it to leave the stunning estate behind.

But, said Dave, they would make regular visits to their former home as their four grandchildren - Honor, Dylon, Charlie and Rory - love it there.