Mark Jolliffe is Head Groundsman at Taunton School. He and his staff are responsible for looking after fourteen hectares of grass and formal gardens
Taunton School was founded in 1847 and is an independent co-ed school for around 1000 pupils from ages 2 to 18 years. There are about 350 borders. It is also an Investors in People establishment.
The school is also a thriving business and caters for conferences, seminars, weddings, parties and a host of other events as well as having a sports club membership.
Head Groundsman is Mark Jolliffe. Originally from Oxfordshire, Mark started out as a volunteer groundsman for his local village club. From there he went full time at Radley College near Oxford and worked up to Deputy Head groundsman in 1998. He attended Sparsholt College in Hampshire where he completed NVQ levels 2 and 3 in Horticulture and Sports Turf Management.
He left Radley in the summer of 2002 to move down to the west country and take up his position as Head Groundsman at Taunton School.
Mark and his team look after not only the senior school, but the prep school, the pre prep school, nursery school and TISC - the international study centre at the school for foreign students. He also looks after all the gardens. The total area is fourteen hectares.
The school's sporting facilities include:
- Ten rugby pitches - including three on the prep school and a mini rugby/5-a-side football pitch plus five sets of training grids. These are all maintained at 50 - 75mm. Two grass hockey pitches cut at 15mm.
- Four grass hockey (after Christmas) maintained at 15mm, four football (30mm) and three rugby pitches.
- One sand filled astro pitch (just in the process of being relaid!) which accommodates hockey most of the year ewith twelve tennis courts in the summer. The new surface will again be sand filled, after several site visits and much deliberation, it was decided it is the best surface for multi use for hockey and tennis.
- Five cricket squares and one artificial match pitch, four grass nets, twelve artificial nets. The 1st X1 square has sixteen pitches and there is a total of 58 pitches.
- 400m grass track, five jumping pits, high jump fan, discus, shot putt, javelin, six rounders pitches (senior school).
- 200m grass track, 100m grass straight, six rounders pitches, throwing fan (junior school).
- Two sets of tarmacadam courts for netball and tennis (the junior school set are having a fourth court added at the moment).
Mark is assisted by Alan Moore, Deputy Head Groundsman, Sid James, School Gardener, Gary Parsons, Paul Gibbs, Liam Screech, all Groundsmen, and Michael Dunford who is a summer part-time gardener. Staff training is given as the need arises including IOG courses, chainsaw courses, H&S courses, etc. This year, Liam and Paul are starting NVQ level 2 and 3 respectively at nearby Cannington College. Mark takes up the story.
In summer, the cricket squares are very intensively used - practically every day there is some practice or other happening and we have to get most of our work done in the morning.
Generally, the outfields are maintained at 13mm, as are the squares. Pitch preparation begins ten to twelve days prior to use and involves hand raking out and cutting at 10mm. After saturating the pitch using perforated hoses, we leave it overnight and start rolling in 20-30 minute spells. We have three autorollers, a 4ft diesel crank handle start with gears, a 4ft hydrostatic diesel and a 3ft junior hydrostatic diesel.
The last two were new this year - the 3ft roller was 79 years old! The rollers are ballasted up to full weight after pre season rolling, usually by the beginning of the summer term. We then gradually lower the height of cut until a match day cut of 4mm is achieved. Some pitches are marked using strings, and some using a frame to save time. When a pitch is retired, it is cut, soaked and sarrel rolled. The ends are then filled with loam and seeded, and a 4.0.8 fertiliser applied at half rate. If square usage allows, a full length germination sheet is put on.
The outfield is cut with a John Deere 2653A without boxes at 13mm. The squares are cut with a 36" Ransomes Mastiff and the 1st XI square, known historically as The Front, with a Dennis FT610 24" cassette mower. This machine also has a verti-cut unit for reducing lateral growth on the squares during the summer.
The squares are fed throughout the year, generally using a slow release fertiliser. We have been using Floranid Eagle 24.5.10 during the summer and Eagle k 12.6.24 during the winter. The squares are fed four times a year as deemed necessary. We carry out soil tests once a year to monitor ph and nutrient levels and adjust fertiliser analysis accordingly.
The school has a set of very tired home made RORO covers which are very hard work to manoevere. We are hoping to replace these in time for next season. Flat sheets are occasionally used on the 2nd team square across the road on the main playing fields site. Unfortunately, due to the exposed nature of this site, it suffers from vandalism.
Therefore, nothing can be left out so there are no sight screens. Everything has to be put away otherwise it will disappear. In recent years, three buildings were destroyed by arson whilst another was systematically demolished. The school now has seven steel containers for a pavilion, equipment and machinery storage.
On the Front outfield, we introduced a boundary rope three years ago - it gives a professional finish and means you don't have four different boundary lines! Gangmowing all the pitches takes a day and a half and is done twice a week during summer.
Each May half term, a contractor comes in and selective weedkills all the playing fields with Greenor. Weeds are never too much of a problem in general, but we do get a lot of clover and daisy growth in certain areas.
For rounders and athletics, everything is marked once or twice a week depending on the weather. We mainly use transfer markers but also have a spray marker for speedier marking when required. All the lads prefer using the transfer markers as they feel they produce a much brighter line and cleaner edges.
The shale tennis area is matted and marked about once a fortnight, and the astro pitch, twice during the summer term. For two weeks at the end of term a 500m2 marquee is sited on the Front for end of term celebrations. This, and the related traffic, causes some damage to the grass but, incredibly, with a little tlc, it recovers remarkably well after just a few weeks.
our gardens are spread over three different sites. Presentation is a high priority over the whole site. There are numerous shrub and seasonal beds to look after as well as some twenty hanging baskets and thirty tubs and pots. Watering is carried out using a homemade water bowser with a pump fitted to a trailer. Other jobs for the gardens include feeding, grass cutting, pruning, hedge cutting, edging, weeding, sweeping/blowing paths and roads, etc.
The school also recycles its green waste from the kitchens which, mixed with leaf mould, makes superb compost for the gardens. With our own wood chipper, we also produce a lot of mulch for the beds. Sid is in charge of the gardens and he takes great pride in growing from seed all the bedding plants and hanging basket plants. He has a small compound with a shed and four greenhouses, although we're looking to replace these with a proper poly tunnel in the near future. In the summer months, Sid has assistance from Michael for three days a week.
Other tasks that the department undertakes include putting up flood barriers in one part of the school which is prone to flooding. In 1998, 1999 and 2000 heavy rains running off the Quantock Hills and down a stream, which runs through and under the school , caused the stream to become overwhelmed and it flooded the sports hall, changing rooms and science block. Since then, drop in flood barriers have been put in place in front of eight doorways to keep the water out. Fortunately, they've never been tested since these three occasions although it was mighty close in June this year!
We also help the maintenance department in patching holes in the roads and road edges around the campus, as well as picking up litter and leaves in the autumn.
During September, we carry out the autumn renovation of the cricket squares. We shave all the squares down as low as possible and then scarify using a Huxley TV36 tractor mounted scarifier which we hire in. We tend to do three or four passes to get as much rubbish out as we can. We then suck up as much remaining loose debris using our Kubota G18 ride on rotary mower set down low. Next, if needed, we water the squares and use the Sisis Variseeder to create as many seed holes as possible with around four passes, before actually seeding on the last two runs.
We use MM50 for overseeding as we have always had great germination rates, rapid establishment and a high wear tolerance. We then apply a 6.4.12 fertiliser before top dressing at a rate of 150 - 200kg per pitch. Spiking is usually carried out later in the year when the soil is more receptive. All our squares are Surrey loam and we use their 125 loam. We have four Ongar loam pitches in the middle of the Front square which were laid during the mid 90s. I have found these to have excellent recovery characteristics and better seed germination, as well as being great playing tracks.
During the summer holidays, the school never stops, in fact, it seems even busier. The school accommodates some 300 foreign language students right through the holidays and they all require some pitches or other marked out. This is also the case for the Easter Holidays. This generates huge income for the school. Also, we host outside lettings for summer school sport camps - this year we hosted the Marcus Trescothick cricket academy for kids, as well as rugby, football and tennis. We also hosted fourteen women's cricket fixtures at county and international level throughout late July and August. Taunton has been made the official home of England women's cricket.
In addition the school hosts, on a biennial basis, the Lashings Cricket Club which sees the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Henry Olonga and Aravinda de Silva plus a host of other current and ex international cricketers playing here. Couple that with the Old Tauntonians tour and local cricket clubs hiring the ground, and there can be more matches during the summer holidays than during the term!
During August, the team gets ready for the forthcoming autumn term. This involves raising the height of cut on the gang mowers, marking out all the rugby and hockey pitches and putting up the posts and goals. If weather conditions allow, we apply around 80 bags of Nitrophoska Perfekt 15.5.20 + 2%Mg to the pitches. The high potash levels produce excellent wear characteristics with root growth and lush appearance. The magnesium helps with the movement of the phosphates through the plant.
The pitches are cut using the Kubota G18 or the tractor mounted topper. Once ground conditions allow, the pitches are slit on a fortnightly basis to allow water and air in to the soil profile. The pitches are also chain harrowed weekly to smooth the surface and improve presentation. Lines are cut with Honda and Etesia rotaries at 25mm as required to define the lines and for ease of marking.
During November, the prep school has its annual bonfire and fireworks night. A sizeable bonfire is constructed by us on the playing field. This tends to be pallets and a bit of greenery which burns quickly with not much ash left over! Next morning, we clear it all up, spike, seed and dress the area and within a week to ten days, the grass is up! (all that potash helps!).
During this period, we always monitor the squares by regular brushing. The squares are kept at 19mm during the winter and we spray carbendazim to suppress worm activity. This is sometimes required on the two front hockey pitches too. The squares are spiked a couple of times before Christmas, but never after, to avoid the risk of holes opening up during a dry spring.
In the spring term, the grounds team have a mix of grass hockey, football and rugby pitches to maintain. The hockey pitches are cut at 15mm using either the John Deere triple or Mastiff, football at 19mm using the G18 and rugby at 50mm using the G18. The shale hockey pitch is matted and marked once a week. Hard courts collect a lot of debris and are cleaned using a pedestrian blower. Harrowing and slitting continue to be carried out and, after half term if the ground is receptive, gang rolling takes place to help level the outfields ready for the cricket season. Goalmouths are dressed, by hand, with washed sand as necessary as increased wear takes hold.
Pre-season rolling begins when conditions allow - I like to start with a 24" mower in mid February, followed by a Mastiff mower in four directions. By early March, I then put the unballasted Autorollers on if the ground is ready. I aim to complete twenty five hours pre season rolling on the Front square, with at least fifteen on all the others. Time and weather often dictates otherwise however!
Spring renovations are done in the last week of term/first week of the Easter holidays. The gang mowers are lowered to summer height (13mm) and cut all the pitches down. A Verti-drain is hired in to spike two or three winter sports pitches (rotated each year). This is followed by overseeding using a hired Charterhouse seeder and then an application of around forty tonnes of Dorset washed sand, again, using a hired Charterhouse top dresser.
The rest of the pitches are overseeded alone, and these do germinate well despite no top dressing as the seed is drilled into the surface and is helped along with the fertiliser. MM25 is used - it has 4 different varieties of rye grass and a slender creeping fescue. This mix produces a nice compact growth. Goalmouths are spiked and overseeded with a 50/50 renovation mix top dressing.
I have recently implemented a ten-year capital expenditure plan as no such system was in place when I arrived here five years ago. Consequently, the machinery was getting older and older and breaking down more frequently although the John Deere was new in 2000. Now we are seeing the benefits of having newer machinery; there is less down time and cheaper servicing costs. Our staff carry out much of the minor servicing and repairs, but we have a brilliant, reliable mechanic who does all our main winter servicing and repairs and attends a breakdown next day.