Staff Profile - Craig Bell- Kitchen Garden Foreman
"Collecting heritage seeds is like saving garden gold!"
If you asked me on my first day of work at Heligan what my favourite vegetable was, I would have said the tomatoes that make the ketchup. If you'd have asked me how many colours do carrots come in, I would have simply laughed at you and told you they only come in orange.
In my 13-year career at Heligan I have been lucky enough to be taught by the very best in the world. The knowledge that I now hold about a vegetable or productive garden is incredibly vast and so valuable.
I first started at Heligan as a pot washer in the kitchen in 2006, and I was a typical teenage lad. I returned for a second season because I loved being part of the team and felt I was somewhere special. I still feel this way today.
When a space came up within the productive gardens, I went for it. I had nothing to lose and a thirst to learn. With no gardening experience, I was nurtured and taught absolutely everything by the head gardeners. Even though my reputation proceeded me, the chance was offered and I grabbed it with both hands!
The only word I can use to describe my first month as a gardener is annihilating! The pace of the work was unlike anything I'd ever encountered; I was straight into double digging and felt I'd been thrown in at the deep end. But I’ve never looked back.
In the garden you quickly become in tune with the change in the seasons. I soon realised I adored spring, with the moving of seedlings to new pots, and new life being realised. Summer is a buzz, as we watch our seedlings grow and grow they create an incredible sight within the walled garden. Autumn harvest is a proud time as we get to see the outcome of all of our hard work. Our amazing harvest displays give us the chance to show off what we've worked so hard to achieve. Winter however, is another story. I am simply not a fan of Winter, as many a gardener will agree!
I have come to find gardening really therapeutic. To work hard and to work outside in the fresh air feels really good for me and I'd encourage everyone to give it a go. Even if you don't have a garden, you can grow things in pots and I like that Heligan inspires this for everyone.
When I visit the Heligan kitchen I feel a sense of pride to see our salads and vegetables on the menu and on people plates. Nothing beats that. When I visit the kitchen I regularly eat our produce and my absolute favourite is chef's French onion soup. I love it!
My outstanding memory so far at Heligan has been the team’s involvement in putting on our collaboration with WildWorks in 100: The Day Our World Changed, in 2014.
I have always enjoyed history and in some ways this led to me feeling drawn to Heligan, but this was the first time I had ever taken on drama and my gosh, what an incredible drama it was. The gardener I represented within the production would have been gardening the day before he left for war. Here I am 100 years later, carrying on where he left off. It's very emotional and I always feel a sense of responsibility to try to keep the garden going in the way those brave men intended.
The skills and knowledge that I have developed over the years are so valuable. There is a reason for everything we do and how we do it. When I first saw the crop rotation plan I was astounded at the planning and detail involved. I hope I can now go on to teach our new apprentices these skills, to pass this knowledge on for future generations.
Our techniques and plans in the kitchen garden enable a year round harvest, as well as the ability to grow crops that are so rare many people have never heard of them. I am passionate about saving these heritage vegetables and when it comes to harvesting and saving the seeds of these rare varieties, it feels like I am saving garden gold!
My favourite spot at Heligan is the view from the Northern Summerhouse. It looks out across the estate and towards the sea in the distance. One of my daily tasks used to be sweeping the eastern ride each morning and I would always stop, just for a moment, to enjoy that unique office view.
During my second year at Heligan I met Jess, who had also started her first job at Heligan in the Heligan Kitchen. We went on to fall in love and now have two gorgeous children together. I feel so proud when my children visit Heligan and refer to it as 'their garden'. They feel proud of Mummy and Daddy working there. I do hope I can remain in the productive gardens as long as I can, although one day I might like to step out of my comfort zone and learn about the jungle, who knows?
My teammates would probably describe me as hardworking, measured, good fun and a real stickler for straight lines! I hope that I inspire them and future generations of gardeners and visitors to come to Heligan. When a visitor stops to ask questions or to thank me for my hard work, it means a huge amount.
I was very proud to have become the Kitchen Garden Foreman a year ago. Look how far I have come! I now understand the natural sweetness of the vegetables that are on my plate, and I can now answer the carrot question confident in the knowledge that there are actually five colours of carrot out there to discover, not just one!