People

A gardener's world (Hilary Lamont - Linkwood)

In a new series looking at different distillery careers, Richard Jones talks to Hilary Lamont – distillery gardener at Linkwood
By Richard Jones
There’s really no such thing as a typical day,” begins Hilary Lamont, gardener at Linkwood distillery. “As any gardener will tell you, your work is dictated by the season and the weather. You might have a plan for a particular day, but then the heavens open and you have to change what you were going to do.Once it starts, you can’t just turn the taps off. Considering its location, Elgin actually has an extremely mild climate. As one of the nurserymen at my previous job said, ‘If you can’t grow anything in Morayshire, don’t bother trying anywhere else.’”Born in Aberdeen but brought up in London for much of her childhood, Hilary Lamont has tended the greenery at Linkwood distillery for more than 25 years.She is one of the last of a dying breed. “As far as I’m aware, I’m the only person in the industry still employed as a full-time gardener. Historically the gardens at Linkwood needed special attention because it was close to the company offices in Elgin.There wasn’t much free space at the headquarters, so they wanted the distillery to look pristine for hospitality events, meetings and the like.“The Linkwood grounds cover 10 acres, and close to the distillery the gardens are quite high maintenance and cosmetic.“Every year I plant seeds for between 8,000 and 9,000 bedding plants, and the same for wall flowers. In this section the grass is manicured and cut short.“But as you move away from the distillery, the more naturalised everything is allowed to become. Here, I see my job more as a conservationist than a traditional gardener. Although whisky is an industry, it is vitally important that we respect and care for our local environment. The site is
divided into eight distinct habitats, and each encourages and supports a different range of species.“Unlike many distilleries the dam containing our cooling water is more like a lake, and we’ll often receive some quite unusual visitors. On a couple of occasions I’ve seen little auks, tiny penguins, who’d been blown in from sea by a storm and were using the area to recover.“And one of my best memories is standing up at the edge of the dam, watching an otter fishing less than 50 yards away. He was completely untroubled by my presence, swimming up to the surface to crunch up his lunch.“More than 530 different species of animals, insects and birds have been identified on the Linkwood site and in 1997 we won a company award for environmental management. “More recently I was awarded an Earthwatch Millennium Award largely thanks to my work at the distillery, winning a two week trip to the Taita Hills in Kenya to study rare plants.“The role of a gardener is a solitary one, but Hilary keeps in touch with the goings on at the distillery and the world of whisky in general.“You have to make more of an effort to get to know people, but it’s something I always find time to do. Plus, I spend a couple of hours a week on the Diageo nosing panel, assessing samples for quality control – it really connects me to the rest of the company.”She may not work on the production side of the distillery, but Hilary certainly enjoys the product.“I love a good whisky. One of my favourite times is when I have visitors or folks staying with me, especially my brothers. I’ll take out a nice bottle of malt, and we’ll spend an evening taking our time over it, sipping it, enjoying it. It’s usually a very late night!”Next year Hilary will begin a well-earned retirement. And the distillery will not be seeking a replacement.“I’ve been very, very happy here for 25 years, but, to be honest, there’s no need for a full-time gardener at Linkwood now,“ she laments. “The bedding plants will be coming out to be replaced by turf and selected shrubs and bulbs.“The idea is to provide year round colour without requiring the same level of work.” Although she will miss her time at Linkwood (“but not the alarm clock”), Hilary is looking forward to her retirement. “It’s something new, something different, and I’m not going to be short of things to do.I’m involved with a number of organisations such as the British Deer Society and the local Horticultural Society.“Plus, I have a garden of my own at home that has been sadly neglected in the past – now at last I’ll be able to spend some time looking after it.”