Unsung hero: Dennis Graver

A green-fingered band of volunteers has helped make historic Packwood Hall a real tourist attraction by bringing its gardens and woodlands back to their former glory

Thousands of visitors pour into Packwood House every year to admire a wonderful example of Tudor architecture – and to marvel at its glorious gardens. For most of us, tending our own patch of grass and the odd pot or windowbox is enough of a green-fingered trial, so it’s difficult to even begin to imagine how hard it must be to look after Packwood’s 350-year-old yew garden, restored kitchen garden, orchard, woods, parks and outdoor tapestries. Yet it’s all in a days work for Dennis Graver – or rather two days’ work. Dennis is one of 20 volunteers who give their time for free to help make the gardens at the National Trust property in Lapworth, Warwickshire, among the best in the country. It’s a real labour of love for Dennis, who used to work in the telecoms industry before retiring and has been a National Trust member for more than 40 years. “I work at Packwood two days a week and then at Farnborough Hall, Banbury for one day,” said Dennis. “I enjoy every minute of it because I love gardening so much. When I’m not in their gardens, I’ll be down on my own allotment. There’s nothing like being outside, and by being a volunteer it gives a great sense of being part of something special and a real sense of achievement.”

The volunteers like Dennis work under head gardener Mick Evans at Packwood. “Every year we seem to have a new project to tackle in the gardens as well as the general maintenance. We helped make the orchard at Packwood – they’d never had one before. We also made the walks and pathways in the woodland which so many of our visitors enjoy and developed the sunken gardens. And we also worked on restoring the kitchen garden, which was completely derelict, to its full glory. “I also go with Mick when he gives garden talks, and when you’re working in the gardens visitors are always asking you about different plants and so on. That’s great because you come across all kinds of people – and once in a while they’ll catch you out with a question which you can’t answer. With this job, you learn something new every day.” While Dennis denies “being any kind of hero”, he seems to make it his mission to help others with his natural talent for growing plants. Twice a year for the past 12 years, he and his wife have grown plants which they sell in Stratford-upon-Avon in aid of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. “It’s just nice to help others while doing something I enjoy so much,” he said modestly.