Profile: Liz Thwaite, head of site at RHS Harlow Carr

NADV 1611155AM8 Liz Thwaite at RHS Harlow Carr.(1611155AM8)
NADV 1611155AM8 Liz Thwaite at RHS Harlow Carr.(1611155AM8)

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at one of Harrogate’s most popular attractions? Well, Harrogate Advertiser readers will now be able to learn the secrets of what makes Harlow Carr tick, thanks to our newest columnist.

Liz Thwaite, head of site at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, will be writing a new monthly feature in which she updates readers on developments, introduces us to members of the team who keep the site looking pristine, and also looks ahead to upcoming events and projects.

Liz took up her role at Harlow Carr in 2009, after previously working at Chester Zoo.

“I spent ten years at the zoo and moved to Harrogate because of the job and have never looked back really. You can’t go wrong living in Harrogate,” she said.

“What I absolutely love about my role is that not only is everything so varied but the fact that I can make a difference.

“Since I have been here I have been proud that Harlow Carr has not only increased visitor numbers but also improved as an attraction by engaging more and more with people each year.

“I have been making sure that we invest in our infrastructure and also expand the offer in terms of seasonal colour and seasonal ‘wow’ in the garden.

“We want to make the garden encouraging and inspirational for everyone.”

Liz and her team have overseen a big increase in the number of visitors to Harlow Carr in recent years.

When the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) took over the running of the garden in 2001, it had 70,000 visitors a year. Harlow Carr is on track to exceed 400,000 visitors in 2016.

“That is due to the effort of the fantastic team, the investment in infrastructure and improving the garden as a visitor attraction.

“I feel very proud to have been part of that,” she said.

Ninety members of staff are on site at Harlow Carr to keep things looking in top condition. This includes 24 horticulturalists, visitor services staff, the educational team and also several apprentices and students

“We have a brilliant team here and it’s a privilege to be leading such a highly skilled, committed and inspirational group that never fail to tell me something that I don’t know,” Liz said.

“We had our first flower show earlier in the year. It was an amazing event. We had just under 12,000 visitors in three days - an absolute record.

“The thing that really impressed me was the teamwork. Everybody across the whole site pulled together to create that event. Everybody wanted to be part of it.”

In addition to the garden’s staff, there is also the team at Harlow Carr’s on-site Bettys.

“Our partnership with Bettys is unique,” Liz said.

“It’s wonderful to have such a fantastic brand on site for our customers.

“There’s nothing better than going for a walk around the garden and having a cup of hot chocolate in the cafe afterwards.”

With the festive season upon us, it’s a busy time of year for Liz and the team. Events planned include a Christmas gift market, book signings, Taste of Yorkshire events and numerous choir performances.

“We like Christmas here. We try to do it really sympathetically so it’s wonderful for the children and parents but it’s not too commercial.

“Christmas for us is about showcasing all the garden has to offer and putting a Christmas stamp on it.”

Every penny Harlow Carr receives is invested in support of its mission statement to inspire about horticulture and enhance the environment.

Looking ahead, Liz’s aim is to continue to improve the site, expand the colour in the garden all year round, and invest in children’s play to make Harlow Carr a family friendly environment.

A project is also underway to develop the nearby Harrogate Arms, which was bought last year, to create an inspiring garden and landscape around the site.

“Every time you come to the garden, something new is happening,” Liz said.

“Once you have come once, you will keep coming back. We offer something for everyone in a safe, inspirational and beautiful environment.”

l See next week’s Harrogate Advertiser for the launch of Liz’s new column