Sophie Cross talks to the man who helped attract millions to many a Shakespeare landmark.
With beautifully-kept lawns nestled within blooms, healthy shrubs, fragrant herbs and sixteenth-century vegetables that would not be seen in the average back yard, visitors to the five properties owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust can see they have been well cared for over the years.
Much of their lasting beauty is in large part down to the Trust’s head gardener, Barry Locke, who has retired this month after spending an impressive 27 years lovingly tending to the historic green spaces.
In his role, Barry helped develop and maintain the Stratford-upon-Avon gardens at Mary Arden’s Farm, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Hall’s Croft and Nash’s House and New Place, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
He was pivotal in a number of schemes helping to promote the attractions and ensure they remain true to their age-old roots.
Barry, 65, joined the trust in 1983, rising up through the ranks before becoming head gardener in January 1990.
He said his love of all things green stemmed back to an early age, recalling: “When I was at school in Bidford-on-Avon they used to have big gardens and I used to help grow flowers there.
“We used to have two or three gardening lessons a week.
“I left when I was 15 and went on day release to Pershore College studying horticulture.
“I looked after a large garden with greenhouses, in a village near Stratford. I was in charge of growing things like tomatoes.
“Later I applied for the job to be an assistant gardener at the Trust.
“Within a few years had been promoted to deputy head and then head gardener.
“Gardening has always been my forté. It’s been my job, but I’ve loved it, and I still do.”
One highlight for the father-of-two was his work introducing a vegetable garden at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, which provided the inspiration for recreating the award-winning Shakespeare’s Allotment, featuring old-fashioned vegetables such as strawberry spinach, at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this year.
He was instrumental in creating a willow cabin at the same cottage, a stunning thatched farmhouse and childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne, and the setting for the young Bard’s romantic wooing.
He was also responsible for laying out the field walks, orchard and wild flower meadow at Mary Arden’s Farm, where Shakespeare’s grandparents lived and his mother, Mary, grew up.
The beautiful herb garden at 17th-century Hall’s Croft – which was home to the playwright’s eldest daughter, Susanna, and her physician husband Dr John Hall – was painstakingly created by Barry.
Now a grandfather of two, Barry has won numerous awards over the years, including first prize and the Royal Horticulture Society gold medal for the Show Garden competition at the 2005 BBC Gardeners’ World Live for a cottage garden he designed.
Keen to promote the role of the Trust in preserving the region’s history, Barry also introduced gardening tours for visitors and continues to give talks about the organisation’s work to local gardening clubs and societies.
He said: “Our gardens date back to the 1500s and we try to emulate that as well as mixing in more modern stuff.
“These gardens have been my life, so it’s hard to give them up.”
Lincoln Clarke, chief operating officer at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust said: “We are extremely sorry to lose Barry and his expertise.
“Barry has been a fine leader and knew how to draw the balance between sustaining the traditional values of the garden and maintaining standards whilst leading his department forward and inspiring his team with fresh challenges.
“We wish Barry a very long and happy retirement.”
Find out more at www.shakespeare.org.uk