25 Apr 2019

Our Garden Horticulturists – Thomas Campbell

Bruce Langridge

Horticulturists who manage our trees will leave a very long lasting impression – possibly for hundreds of years. So if you’re in charge of the Garden’s trees and estate, like Thomas Campbell, then you’re a very important member of staff.

As part of a new series of blogs about our horticulturists, I thought it would be fun to present give our featured gardeners a short questionnaire. James Kettle was our first interviewee, now I’d like to introduce Tom Campbell.

Where were you brought up Tom?

In Enfield, North London.

Where did you train to be a horticulturist?

I graduated with a degree in Geography at Swansea University in 2009. I then obtained a National Diploma in Arboriculture at Capel Manor College. I worked for a large tree surgery company in Brixton as well as running a small tree surgery business with my brother. I went on to be a Tree Officer for Camden and Hackney Borough Councils in London, before becoming Tree Manager at Hackney.

What did you enjoy about that role?

I was in charge of over 20,000 park and street trees and in my time at Camden and Hackney I also planted 3,000 more, made up of over 250 different varieties. Planting a diverse mix of street trees including species like Olive and Fig helps city boroughs like Hackney cope with future diseases and climate change – it is a challenge to plant trees that can deal with the reflected heat from hard surfaces in urban areas. As a Tree Officer you are at the forefront of greening the urban environment so there is a lot of responsibility and opportunity to improve our cities for the future.

How long have you worked at the Garden?

I started last April as a Grounds Maintenance Operative mowing the lawns and have been in post as a Senior Horticulturist responsible for Trees & the Estate since October.

What does your job involve?

I’m responsible for all the trees here – keeping them in good health, making them safe for visitors and planting new ones. I’m also in charge of general grounds’ maintenance and supporting the needs of our farmed Waun Las National Nature Reserve. Our Estate team is made up of John Northwood and Tudor Davies along with two seasonal grass cutters throughout the summer.

What’s the main difference between managing trees here than in Hackney?

As a Botanic garden we’re really concerned about a plant’s origin and the benefits for in situ and ex situ conservation. Many of our trees here, natives and exotics, have been grown from wild collected seed. I am enjoying the ability to conserve and enhance the amazing rural landscape of the Garden which is a different challenge to trying to fight for every inch of greenery you can in London!

Are we going to notice any changes?

Our Woods of the World tree collection is now going to be defined as the Garden’s Arboretum. As a relatively young botanic garden there is huge scope to shape our tree collection and at present we have just completed planting out over 120 specimens from our nursery into the Arboretum and wider garden. I am keen to continue the great work that has already gone into our tree collection and improve visitor accessibility in order to increase public engagement with this fantastic resource as well as boosting the botanical and ecological value of our Arboretum.

Do you have a favourite plant?

My favourite tree is probably the Beech as I have fond memories of camping in Epping Forest which is predominantly Beech Woodland. Plant-wise Rosemary is my favourite, I love the scent & flowers, using it in cooking and the fact that it is good for pollinators.

Last question. Is there anything about yourself that might surprise people?

I’m a self-taught guitarist/singer-songwriter – kind of in the style of Simon and Garfunkel or Billy Bragg. I’ve been gigging and recording for several years, and regularly attend the open mic night at The Warren in Carmarthen.