Introducing Andrew Lawrence, Gardener and Outdoor Educator at Moonfleet Manor
Our multi-talented gardener Andrew is also responsible for outdoor education – running forest schools and fossil walks on the magnificent Jurassic Coast on the doorstep of our wonderful Dorset property. We find out more about Andrew and the activities he organises.
Hi Andrew, what brought you to Moonfleet and what is your background? I believe you are a palaeontologist as well as a gardener?
My wife and I wanted to relocate to Dorset from Sussex. I visited Moonfleet three times before my interview and fell in love with its location.
I started my career in farming, as a shepherd, then switched to working in commercial horticulture in glasshouses. After studying countryside management at Plymouth University and ecology and horticulture at Bournemouth University, I went back to lecture at Plymouth University and at the same time did an Open University Master’s degree in palaeontology.
After this I was Head Gardener at eight racecourses, before working for 10 years for the National Trust, as a senior ranger/gardener covering coastal areas and formal gardens.
How long have you worked at Moonfleet, and can you remember your first impressions of the hotel?
I’ve been here a year now. My first impressions were that the staff were amazing – Neil the manager has been in this post for 20 years but is still full of passion and enthusiasm, which is what I like in a person.
I'm sure all days are different, but can you tell us a little about what a typical day at Moonfleet might entail for you?
As I’m a person who likes to get an early start, it falls to me to release the chickens! I then go on to check that the water-treatment works are running okay, and do lots of weeding and watering, like any gardener. In springtime a great deal of hedge-trimming is required.
Projects so far undertaken have been designing and planting a herb garden, creating a small rose garden, and laying all-weather footpaths through woodlands. I’ve planted more than 60 shrubs to improve the gardens. I liaise with the contractor who cuts our grass and carries out our digger work. And at the moment I am just starting to plan out the vegetable gardens and the glasshouse project.
What about the forest schools and fossil hunts?
The forest school sessions run for three hours during the school holidays. Two days a week we run forest schools and on the other three days fossil walks.
Fossil walks take 2–3 hours depending on how fast the group progresses down the beach. Age-wise, we get the whole spectrum, from babies and toddlers brought along with the rest of the family to older couples, all of whom want to come along and hear about the natural history and geology of the Fleet.
The fossils we find on the walks are Crinoidea (sea lily), bivalves such as scallops, mussels, horsehead oyster and Goniorynchia boueti, a beautiful oyster. I also talk about human history on the walks, including that relating to Moonfleet Manor.
When I worked for the National Trust, staff had to lead 14 guided walks per year, and this has always been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my working life. To let people see a fossilised creature with their own eyes for the first time since it died 162 million years ago is one of the most amazing experiences I can share. I explain to everyone that every mile you walk in a westerly direction on the Jurassic Coast you go back 1 million years in time – so in some ways it’s like being a time traveller!
Read more about things to see and do in Dorset handy for Moonfleet Manor.