Over the centuries, St. Michael’s Mount has been fortified and besieged, bought and sold, exalted as a site of pilgrimage and lusted after by a high-ranking Nazi. But today, the small and rocky island off the coast of Cornwall, England, is facing a different sort of challenge: It needs a new gardener.
As Sabrina Imbler reports for Atlas Obscura, St. Michael’s Mount has posted a job listing for a head gardener who will be tasked with caring for the diverse collection of plants that sprouts across the island. The climate on St. Michael’s is tempered by the Gulf Stream, and the stony landscape absorbs heat by day and releases it at night, making it possible to grow species that are not otherwise found in the area. Since 1780, elaborate gardens have been carefully cultivated on the island. Visitors today can find bright-red kniphofia, yellow medicago, ginger lilies, lavender and rosemary, among other foliage. Puya, agave and aloe blossom out of the bedrock.
But due to St. Michael’s unique topography, this is no ordinary gardening job. The island is, as the listing puts it, effectively a “rock in the middle of the sea,” and it is dotted with steps, steep terraces and winding pathways. To snag the gig, candidates will need to be comfortable with rapelling down the battlements of the castle and working on a terrain that would “challenge the most agile mountain goat.”
The successful applicant will be allotted a house amid the village of 30-odd people who make their home on the island. Another perk is the opportunity to play an important role in developing and promoting a fascinating historic site.
Humans have occupied St. Michael’s Mount since the Bronze Age. Legend has it that the island was built by a giant named Cormoran, who would steal livestock from farms there. The site also has strong connections to Christianity; it was believed that archangel Michael stood on the western side of the Mount to warn fishermen away from its perilous, rocky shores. In the 11th century, the island was granted to the monastery of Mont St. Michel in Normandy. A church was built there, and by the 13th century, the island was a site of pilgrimage.
St. Michael’s Mount has weathered years of war and instability. It was fortified multiple times throughout its history, including during World War II, when the threat of German invasion loomed. According to Historic England, the site was of particular interest to Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, who planned to live on St. Michael’s Mount should the Germans emerge victorious.
Ownership of the island changed hands many times over the centuries, until the parliamentarian John St. Aubyn purchased it in 1659. His descendents have lived there ever since, and in the 1950s, they partnered with the U.K.’s National Trust to open the castle and its grounds to the public.
Lottie Allen, who has been in charge of the island’s gardens for the past five years, is leaving the job for a new position at a manor in the Cotswolds. She told the BBC that working on St. Michael’s Mount is “logistically a challenge, but it's amazingly rewarding in terms of the plant collection and the overall look of the gardens.”
For those who aren’t so keen to rappel down the walls of a centuries-old castle, there are other opportunities to get involved. St. Michael’s Mount is also seeking an island manager and a “castle steward,” who will be responsible for running the site’s private and public areas. In what is surely a plus, the new steward will also get to live in the castle itself.