Horticulturist aims for crematorium gardens to help reflect, remember and celebrate

Torbay-based horticulturist Giles Palmer

Torbay-based horticulturist Giles Palmer - Credit: Westerleigh Group

Horticulturist Giles Palmer hopes to help the company that owns Torbay Crematorium become an industry-leader when it comes to sustainability and the presentation of its gardens.

The father-of-two, from Torbay, was recently appointed head of grounds for the Westerleigh Group, the UK’s largest independent owner-operator of crematoria, with 35 sites across England, Scotland and Wales, including Torbay.

After a career spanning some 22 years in horticulture, he said he had never considered a role within the bereavement sector until he was made aware of this opportunity.

He said: “The more the interview process progressed, the more I became intrigued.

“Every gardener knows the therapeutic benefits of horticulture and its positive impact on wellbeing. With this job, every day, you witness families finding solace in our gardens and, in particular, trees. 

“In a family’s greatest time of need, they often reach out to nature to find comfort, be it a conscious decision or otherwise. It’s very rewarding to be part of this process. 

“I’ve been fortunate enough to hold some great roles in my career so far but this is the first time I’ve been responsible for gardens on a national level.” 

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Giles said he always seemed destined to work outdoors. 

“As a kid, every spare minute I had would be spent outdoors and climbing trees. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a job outdoors and involved with conservation. That, or an F1 driver.” 

After taking his GCSEs, he went to college to study countryside conservation and half-way through his course he saw an advertisement for a three-year apprenticeship as a trainee gardener with the National Trust, which he jumped at.

During his career he has also held posts at University College Falmouth, Chartwell House - the family home of Sir Winston Churchill, the RHS-accredited Coleton Fishacre, Greenway - the holiday home of Agatha Christie and Paignton Zoo.

He spent a total of more than 13 years with the National Trust, before leaving in February this year to join Westerleigh Group, where he is relishing his role. 

Giles added: “It’s a very busy role; one minute I can be reviewing landscape plans for a new site and the next meeting local residents to discuss community partnerships.  

“I’m responsible for ensuring all our grounds, gardens and tree collections are as welcoming as possible for our families, complement natural surroundings and wildlife and contribute fully to the overall strategy of Westerleigh Group.” 

In terms of what he hopes to achieve in his new role, he said: “High on the agenda is sustainability. Our sites already achieve much but there is definitely further potential to tap into. 

“Public perception is changing with regards to the presentation of gardens and I hope we will become industry leaders in this. 

“What better way to remember a life than to be sat outside surrounded by as much wildlife as possible? 

“Saying goodbye to a loved one is, of course, one of life’s greatest challenges, but our grounds and environments offer spaces to reflect, remember and celebrate.”