International Women's Day | Katie Engler - Head Gardener at Thornbury Castle

For International Women's Day we asked questions to a lot of women who work in the groundskeeping or gardening industry about their work. This time it's Katie Engler, Head Gardener at Thornbury Castle

How long have you been working in this industry?

It is hard to pin down how long I have actually been working outdoors. I suppose professionally I have been working on historic estates since I finished my degree in 2010. I have been the Head Gardener at Thornbury Castle since August 2017.

What does the average day look like for you?

I start early in the morning by walking the whole estate with Lilly my springer spaniel. Checking for fallen trees, damage, flooding etc. Once the rest of my team arrive in the morning we discuss the plan for the day - always starting with feeding the chickens and quails and collecting their eggs. We are currently undergoing a multi million redevelopment of the estate so we have some really large projects underway. I will give each member of the team instructions and then we get started as a team. I am very hands on. The work can be very seasonal, at this time of year (winter/spring) we are doing a lot of heavy ground work and labouring jobs. Moving mulch and digging borders. As spring approaches we will increase the rate of sowing in the greenhouses and really start this year's propagation schedule. The weeds will also start growing then too! It’s been a mild winter this year so we have also started mowing the lawns earlier (in between the rain). This takes an entire day per week.

What would you say is the biggest challenge working in this industry/Have you faced any challenges being a female in a male dominated environment?

I definitely do not see being a woman in this industry as a challenge. The biggest thing you have to get used to is the weather, I still really don’t like being wet. There is still an assumption that Head Gardeners are going to be older men, it is what people expect based on history. I quite regularly get comments about my position, but they tend to be more about my age than my gender. In general I get really great comments; particularly from female guests, about seeing a woman running the estate here at Thornbury Castle. I have a completely female gardening team too, unintentionally, which I find evokes a really great response from guests at the Castle.

Why did you choose to work in this industry?

I have a strong family link to working the land, both grandfathers were farmers/growers. My father owns a salad and vegetable growing business in rural Suffolk. I do believe that working the land is something that stays with you and can travel through generations. I feel a particularly strong connection to my Suffolk roots, there is something about being from East Anglia that connects you to nature and farming. As a teenager I tried to break away from the horticultural industry, I went to university to study History but ended up specialising in the history of designed landscapes and historic estates. I moved to Cumbria shortly after completing my Masters degree with the aim of doing something completely different. I ended up working for Simon Rogan at L’enclume at ‘Our Farm’ where we were growing produce for his Cumbrian restaurants as well as Claridges in London. Working at Thornbury Castle has brought me full circle, I now run a historic estate and gardens with an increasing emphasis on field to fork within the restaurant.

What advice would you give to women wanting to join the industry?

There are a lot of women working within horticulture, we are out there and always have been. There have been some really inspirational female horticulturalists throughout the past. If it is your passion then go for it. Make it a career choice and be serious about it. Think about where you want to end up and make key career moves to get you there. Be willing to put in the years of training and learning, anything is possible.

Finally, what is the best part about working in this industry?

I have absolutely no negatives about working within horticulture. You get to work outside all year round and watch the seasons change. It is a practical job so you are always active which means you tend not to get stuck for too long behind a desk or in front of a screen. What is not to love about being surrounded by bird song and nature on a daily basis. Gardening is an art form, it is creative, enchanting and a very lovely way of life. Katie has just purchased an Allett Buffalo for the lawns at Thornbury Castle Find Katie on Instagram here
Back to the top