If you’ve ever taken a stroll through Bute Park in Cardiff, you’ve probably admired the many trees, bushes, and flowers that make the park look so colourful and well-kept. And while there is a whole maintenance team that keeps the park, which was recently named one of Britain’s most valuable green spaces in check, one man undoubtedly knows the grounds more than most.
Mark West, known as ‘Westy’, is celebrating 50 years since he began working in Cardiff Council’s Parks department after starting as a trainee gardener when he was just 15 years old. Now 65, Mark works two-and-a-half days a week as a supervisor and spends the majority of his time tending to Cardiff’s parks and gardens.
Breaking off from tending the borders at Cardiff’s 130-acre Bute Park, Mark said: “I think I’m outside for perhaps 90% of the time and that’s much how I prefer it. I’ve loved this job from the day I started on £7 a week and I still love it just as much now.” After leaving school in Caerphilly, Mark’s father had originally found him a job at the Royal Ordnance Factory and he began working there for £18.
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But Mark preferred gardening to gunpowder and chose to work at the Parks department in Llanishen instead. He said: “We grew shrubs and other plants for the whole of Cardiff’s parks and gardens there and it was a holding place for council equipment, too. I was there for two years and then moved to Wedal Road… and I’m still based here.”
Mark worked his way up to become the head gardener at Bute Park and was promoted to the role of supervisor 25 years ago. His remit still includes the popular city-centre park, but also takes in Gorsedd Gardens, Cathays Park, the Civic Centre and others. But in 50 years of working for the department, his workload still hasn’t eased – Mark has 40,000 bedding plants to bed in across the estate this Spring.
Mark’s manager, Operational Manager for Parks, Sports & Harbour Authority Jon Maidment, said: “He is a much respected and highly valued member of the Parks team. His enthusiasm for and commitment to the service has not waned over the years, and he is a role model and source of inspiration for others.”
With a vast knowledge of gardening and the capital’s parks, Mark’s favourite park is Bute Park and his favourite shrub is the rhododendron. His gardening hero is the English gardener, broadcaster, and author Geoff Hamilton, who passed away in 1996, and says his top tip for beginners would be to ask as many questions as possible.
In terms of the gardening tool that he finds most useful, Mark says that the Dutch hoe has many uses. He added that the toughest opponent he faces while gardening would be bind weed or ground elder.
Mark said that he had originally planned to retire when he turned 65 back in January, but that this “came and went.” He continued: “So I’m looking at July… or next January. The trouble is, I enjoy my work too much. Even when I’m not working I’m looking after my garden at home in Thornhill so when I finally do finish I won’t be a couch potato.”