Grounds Rotation and APGA Conference

I have just recently finished my second rotation here at Longwood, I have spent the last 5 weeks working with the grounds team on Turf management and maintenance.  I carried out a number of different tasks using a range of different machinery.


I started off my first week using what I would call a strimmer to trim around the edge of the topiary garden.  One thing I had to get used to was there was a number of different terms for s a strimmer here in America, weed wacker, weed eater, or string trimmer.  weed wacker being my personal favourite.


Once all the weed wacking was complete it was onto mowing using a ‘Navigator’ mower, it has 2 wheels on the front with a single wheel at the rear, making it very easy to get into tight spaces, but as I soon found out always paying attention to the rear of the machine.

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We had a thunderstorm warning later that week which meant it was inside to complete some maintenance on the mowers, the ‘Navigator’ is designed in such a way that you can lift the front deck a pin it in place to perform routine maintenance like sharpening blades and clean the deck.


My next task was edge this path using a pedestrian walk behind edging machine, it took a little while to get using to finding the line of the metal edging, the trick was as long as you could hear the ‘tink’ of the metal blade touching the edging, you were cutting in line.


The design was first measured and strung out with great precision, to make sure the design was symmetrical.


Water was then applied using a high pressure hose, with the string lines still in place as a guide.


Once the design has been fully laid out including going over the design once more, the string is taken away to reveal the finished design in all its glory.

In the lead upto 4th of July weekend I was lucky enough to help one of my colleagues Derek, creat quite a spectacular stars and stripes design in the lawn of the Italian water garden.  The effect was created by using a hose to lean grass in certain directions depending on view point to create contrast lines.  I was told by Derek a week prior to using the hose to lay the grass down that a fungicide was applied to prevent disease from over watering.


Every Wednesday weather permitting, the whole ground team would get together to mow the open air theatre lawn, which involved mowing ALOT of chairs, each chair and row is numbered and the grass is mowed in strips and chairs are moved accordingly.

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I was in the right place at the right time as, the grounds staff take soil samples of each different area of the garden.  This is only done once a year, the samples are sent off to a laboratory for testing.


With Longwood’s Nightscape in full swing, one of the main attraction spots for the light and sound experience was the topiary garden, this gave the grounds staff a problem as the lawn closest to the view area was suffering from compaction,  we set about trying to minimalize the wear, tear and compaction to the turf (or sod) as my colleagues called it by laying down special plastic matting that the sod is designed to grow through.


One of my faveorite pieces of machinery to drive was probably the wing deck mower, cutting 11ft wide with each pass, these mowers are used on large areas where striping is not necessarily required.


Taking every opportunity to top up my tan!

My last couple of days with the grounds team were spent out in one of the low mow areas on the perimeter of the over flow car park (or parking lot), these areas are mowed once maybe twice a year.  This gave me a great opportunity to get to grips with driving one of the zero turn mowers, very agile and easy to manoeuvre the cut grass in sent out to one side.

As part of the TRIAD fellowship in the US we were lucky enough to travel to Minnesota for the annual APGA (American Public Gardens Association) conference.  This was a great opportunity to meet people involved in public horticulture not only from the US but all over the world, there were all sorts of tours, talks and events over the course of the week.


We were asked to produce a poster outlining our experiences on the TRIAD for the conference and we spent some time there to answer any questions people may have had.


One evening in Minnesota we were lucky enough to go to a Minnesota twins baseball game. This to me was a must while in America.

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Next rotation is working with the arborists!




  1. Sian Harris

    We were very I pressed with your star in the lawn when we visited Longwood just before July 4 th! Quite an achievement! Well done! Xx Sian and Dave Harris.

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