An Interview with Covent Garden's Head Gardener
To celebrate British Flowers Week, our Head Gardener Kenny Raybould spoke with New Covent Garden Market about all things green in (Old) Covent Garden.
New Covent Garden Market: Tell us about your background and your role at Covent Garden.
Kenny Raybould: I have loved horticulture since I can remember. I grew up next to a farm that sold plants. I used to spend all my time there. They took me in and taught me how to grow and pot plants and flowers. As a child, this interaction with nature gave me comfort and brought me joy.
After I finished my degree in Commercial Horticulture and garden design at Hadlow College, I looked for an ‘in’ into London. I went to work for a company that did the landscaping for Regent’s Place and still had to run events and manage a pub to bolster income! Our industry isn’t easy when you are starting out, but young people should prevail and keep going! It is a fantastic industry.
Gavin Jones, award winning landscaper, took over the Regent’s Place contract and kept me on. I then went onto rejuvenate the landscaping of Bankside, next to the Tate.
In February 2018, Gavin Jones put me forward for role of Horticultural Manager at Covent Garden. For any person out there looking for a successful career in horticulture, or any industry for that matter, it’s all about the people. Meet good people and look after good people; nurture and cultivate them.
At Covent Garden I am responsible for the landscaping and to inspire and make lasting memories for the general public. We have no rules. We create beautiful, seasonal landscapes interspersed with fantastic installations such as our flower barrows, Fleurs de Villes floral couture, Best of British displays and the Game of Thrones HBO ‘Highgarden’.
NCGM: What types of British flowers and foliage do you grow seasonally at Covent Garden? What are your favourites and why?
KG: It is important for the public to see the flowers they expect seasonally. They evoke beautiful memories for people and bring joy. It also encourages people to think, ‘I could grow this at home.’ It doesn’t matter where you are, even in the middle of London. You can still grow plants and flowers.
I am a true plantsman. I love trying to use many different plants, to figure out which flourish the best in our urban city centre setting. Plants are just as beautiful as flowers; some have incredible scent and colourations. Explore them!
In spring I love hyacinths with their beautiful smell and British grown bulb tulips such as Princess Irene and Angelique, a pretty pink peony-flowered tulip. In Summer I love fuchsias and marigolds as they attract the bees and also hydrangeas, although they guzzle water!
Autumn is all about chrysanthemums and dahlias and winter, well I have a rule - don’t mess with Christmas! We use a variety of conifers, juniper, heather. Our plant diversity in the UK is incredible. Its foliage is a riot of colour to be experimented with. I also love cyclamens in all their colours.
Peoples’ favourite plants and flowers should be personal and freed up from Victorian attitudes about wrong and right. I am a jewellery colours man, orange, pink, white. I love a blousy bloom!
NCGM: Why is celebrating British Flowers Week and growing British flowers important to you?
KG: It is important to support our UK economy, and UK communities now more than ever before. The UK is known for its flowers and plants. Horticulture in the UK is very precise in regard to what we like and how we grow it. Our British stock is healthier and hardier. There is a huge wealth of knowledge and expertise here in the horticultural and floristry industries. We need to support homegrown industries for environmental reasons too; there is also something quite lovely about being able to say, ‘oh, Margret from down-the-road grew these.’
This year and next year’s theme for British Flowers Week is healing. How does the public of all ages react and interact with your landscaping in Covent Garden?
A great example is our floral piano – the theatre, the senses, the intimacy. It was so successful as people could interact with it, play, smell, see, touch. The site of a grand piano too always evokes memories.
We did an autumn floral installation that contained Europe’s largest pumpkin. I stopped to chat to a nurse that was taking pictures, she told me she was 35 but the display had made her feel like a child, full of wonder. We need our creative community now more than ever to bring hope and joy to people through our art.
People lose themselves in landscapes. When I am curating a landscape, I try to view things through the eyes of myself aged five; much more open minded – boxes into rockets, pumpkins into floral pumpkins!
People communicate with plants. Just the simple act of looking after plants or being near flowers settles us. Our plants and flowers call us outside, to take a walk and breathe which is so important in these times.
NCGM: Tell us about this season’s installations at Covent Garden?
KG: Well, firstly it is about reopening the area and rejuvenating the planting. The focus is to keep it simple this year and focus on colour. People need to see beautiful, bright colours and flowers.
NCGM: Can you give us a couple good tips or resources on what to grow and how to look after British flowers?
KG: Visit New Covent Garden Flower Market, or your local market or nursery and speak to the experts, or call them. Keep it super simple to begin with. Flowers and plants that are easy to look after. We have some good resources on our Covent Garden Website. Top Ten Flowers to Grow from Seeds and How to Sow Seeds.
NCGM: Tell us about Covent Garden’s environmental initiatives?
KG: Sustainability is taken very seriously by Covent Garden. We have very high standards within in the estate when it comes to the quality and sourcing of any item purchased for the landscaping. We evaluate everything. Our compost is peat free and our substrates come from sustainable sources. We try to source as much as possible form the UK and constantly reassess every aspect of the landscaping to make sure materials and practices are ‘good, friendly and renewable’.
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