Robert Hill-Snook’s passion for gardening as Head Gardener at the Royal Pavilion is matched by his passion for people. When you meet him it quickly becomes apparent that gardening is not a job but a vocation, a way of life.
I remark that I cannot imagine that there would have been any peace without answering his sense of calling and vocation to be a gardener. Robert smiles and agrees.
As we walk in the gardens people approach him to talk about their lives and how this space at the heart of a city affects and blesses their lives. The most creative and exciting things are born out of relationship. It is clear that Robert’s care for and relationship with the gardens, his professional team, volunteers and those who come here has been transformative. A friend and colleague describes Robert as an “Anima Naturaliter Christiana”, a naturally Christian soul, and his work is a natural expression of faith.
Robert explains that John Nash’s Regency designs and the Royal Head Gardener William Aiton’s planting reflected the British taste for landscape gardens and the creation of picturesque views. Nash’s restored serpentine drive and the naturalistic beds of mixed flowers and shrubs reveals a series of vignettes of the Pavilion framed by the planting.
Robert remarks “The planting is all about textures, different shades of green – not dense so you can see through. The effects change with the light throughout the day. We’ve introduced succession planting so there is always something of interest to see as we move through the seasons. But we’re late this year because of the weather. There is a wholeness to the gardens and the building bringing together the English countryside and exotic plants from China and around the world.”
The bird song rises in an anthem amongst the beautiful Elm trees alongside the bustle and noise of the city as Robert bends to pick a weed he’s spotted. He continues “We’re still bringing nature into the town. It’s really blessed people, especially during Covid.” I am pleased to hear this. I have been concerned for people deprived of an adequate outside space during these times.
I ask Robert about his legacy as he retires after almost twenty-five years at the Pavilion. He pauses and says “Every gardener uses one’s own expression because it is a living thing. And things will continue to change. The gardens gather and it’s a beacon, a great source of well-being for people and nature.”
I comment on his remarkable achievements in the gardens. Robert with his usual humility responds by talking about the importance of his team and the volunteers. Accompanying and enabling people, his individual friendships and the chance encounters with people in the gardens are clearly very important to him. Gardens provide a wonderful place for conversation and relationship. Robert explains that these encounters are built on mutual respect.
Robert’s care for the gardens and people, his sense of servant leadership, of putting the needs of others before his own is refreshing. For a busy chap there is a rooted stillness to his spirituality which blesses him with a wholeness of life. His stewardship has blessed these precious gardens and the community of people who share them.