Like any National Trust property, Castle Drogo places great emphasis on the quality and aesthetic appearance of its grounds and gardens. Situated in Drewsteignton near Exeter, in the Dartmoor National Park, the Castle was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and the Grade 2 registered formal gardens - which, at 893m above sea level, are the highest in the National Trust's care - were planted by George Dillistone.
Caring for the gardens is the responsibility of Head Gardener Andrew Midgely, who has been at Castle Drogo for three years, and his deputy Robbie Robinson who has 18 years' experience, along with two other full-time staff and eight volunteers.
Dennis machinery plays an essential role in maintaining high grounds care standards. For several years a Premier 910mm wide (36in) cylinder mower has been used twice a week on the Castle Drogo croquet ground, chosen for its ability to give an excellent finish and the elegant appearance that is so quintessentially English.
Last summer, Andrew added a Dennis FT430 machine to the fleet. Amongst the 22 acres (nine hectares) of grounds in his care, there are two large rose gardens with 24 intricately designed floral beds, which posed a considerable challenge. "With our existing mowers, we found it difficult to reach the more awkward angles and needed a more compact unit," says Andrew. "Dennis was the only company offering such a manoeuvrable 430mm (17in) machine, and it has proved a real godsend."
Like other machines in the Dennis FT range, the FT430 accepts a variety of quick-change cassette attachments for other essential tasks, including various cutting reels, scarifiers, brushes, verti-cutters, rollers and slitters. This multi-tasking capability enhances efficiency and means that fewer dedicated machines are required, thus saving resources.
"The FT430 gives a beautifully manicured finish, which is essential for a National Trust garden," says Andrew. "It is wonderfully manoeuvrable and glides around awkward areas like a dream. The attachments are simple to change and the machine is easy to clean. We decided to buy all the available attachments for the FT430, which allows me to do virtually everything with the one machine.
"The FT430 is also much quieter than a typical rotary mower. Again, there is something about the noise of a cylinder mower working that is part of the quintessential English image of freshly cut grass on a summer's day. Visitors comment about the Englishness of the Castle Drogo landscape and the equipment, which is at the heart of the National Trust.
As Head Gardener, Andrew also has responsibility for financial management, planning and Health & Safety. Dennis machinery certainly helps with his latter obligations, as the FT models are designed for very low levels of noise and vibration, with the latest Honda engines, optimally designed handlebars and transmissions. Excessive vibration can damage the hands and fingers, and the machines can therefore be used for longer periods before legal exposure limits are reached.
Another traditional quality that Andrew appreciates is the high standard of service from Dennis and Devon Garden Machinery. Sales Manager Robert Jack was happy to let Castle Drogo have the FT430 on loan to confirm that it would meet the rose garden challenge, and he was not surprised when an order soon followed.