This term, Alastair Mallick has taken up the trowel as Somerville’s Head Gardener. We caught up with him to find out about his path to Somerville and his plans for a biodiverse, thriving gardens at the college.

Head Gardener Alastair Mallick. Photo: Jack Evans

How did you come to be our gardener at Somerville? 

I’ve been working in Horticulture for about 15 years, from organic farming to running my own gardening business. I stepped into the world of the university when I joined Queen’s as Head Gardener in 2017, where I found that I absolutely loved the Oxford college environment. After five good years there I felt I needed a new challenge. When Sophie mentioned to me that she was leaving Somerville, I jumped at the opportunity and was lucky enough to get the job. 

Where does your passion for your work come from? 

I have always had a love for plants and the natural world but I progressed into gardening through a passion for growing my own food. After volunteering on many organic farming projects around the world and spending many hours tending to my allotment, I realised I simply loved the process of working with plants. Though I still grow a lot of food, my plant horizons are considerably wider now – I won’t be turning the quad into a vegetable patch!

What’s your vision for the grounds? 

This site has so much potential and I already have many ideas, even as I’m still getting to know the place. My first priority is to refresh the borders. We’ll be bringing in lots of beautiful and unusual plants to lift Sophie’s great existing planting. I’d like to add structure to the rest of the garden through shrubs and trees, and potentially digging a pond in the Fellows’ Garden. I’m also putting together an exciting design for a perennial meadow for the empty bed in front of the Maitland building. What I’ve already found is how so many members of the Somerville Community are really passionate about the garden spaces, and how forward thinking the management here is in pushing to improve and develop these spaces. 

Sustainability and biodiversity is high on the agenda here. How are you going to build this in the grounds? 

I am keen to develop garden spaces which are resilient to the pressures of climate change and that work for local fauna as well as for us. I would like to carry on Sophie’s great work and keep adding to the grounds to make the area more welcoming to wildlife. From bird boxes and bee hotels to ponds and trees, not to mention drought resistant plantings to reduce water use and locally sourced plants from sustainable British nurseries, we have many evolving plans to make Somerville’s gardens green – in more ways than one. 

What do you like to get up to when you’re not making Somerville beautiful or tending to our kitchen garden? 

Outside of college life, I’m happiest roaming around the countryside and exploring the natural world around us. 

Further reading?

Commemorating Mary Somerville, a Victorian Woman of Science

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29 November 2022
Commemorating Mary Somerville, a Victorian Woman of Science

Interview: OICSD scholar Vanshaj Jain on climate resilience, borders and studying the Law of the Sea

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14 November 2022
Interview: OICSD scholar Vanshaj Jain on climate resilience, borders and studying the Law of the Sea

Three Reflections from former Librarian Anne Manuel (2009-2022)  

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08 November 2022
Three Reflections from former Librarian Anne Manuel (2009-2022)