Dominic Parker is a true Man of Kent. Born in Canterbury in 1964, he has spent most of his life in East Kent – apart from a brief educational foray into Somerset.
Educated initially at The Convent of the Sacred Heart in Sturry, then Wellesley House School, Broadstairs, Dominic – or Dom as he prefers to be known – finished his schooling at Downside School – one of England’s oldest and most distinguished Catholic schools, attached to the Benedictine monastic community of St Gregory the Great, near Bath.
“You could say I started out in a convent and ended up in a monastery!” he quips.
Dom was always fascinated by wood and, after leaving school, became an apprentice wheelwright. He also spent time working as a door to door salesman, where he honed his skills in the ‘gift of the gab!’ Much to his parents’ chagrin, he shunned academia for ‘the university of life.’
It proved to be a shrewd move. Dom eventually found himself working as a land agent for Lord Montagu of Beaulieu which led him into property management and, still only in his 20s, he set up a holiday cottage company in the New Forest.
Having met and married his wife Stephanie in 1988, an extremely successful and high-flying career woman in her own right, the couple returned to Kent in 1992 when Dominic joined the family steel business, where he remained until 2006.
Dominic and Stephanie had lived in a number of East Kent’s most picturesque villages, settling in Ash, and were once again on the hunt for a new challenge when they stumbled across The Salutation, in Sandwich, when it was on the market in 2004.
“We really came along for a nosey, but fell in love with it,” recalls Dom. “It was like Miss Havisham’s house in Great Expectations – crying out to be loved.”
The duo were well-versed in carrying out ‘fix ups’ in most of their previous properties, enjoying the thrills and spills that renovation and restoration entail. Stephanie’s natural flair for design and eye for detail – immediately apparent when you see the transformation which has taken place at the house in the past six years – really came into their own here!
Although neither knew a great deal about gardening – Dom had lived in a Georgian Manor House with an ornamental garden, but knew little of its everyday management – both could see the potential in both the house and the garden when they decided to take on the challenge that was ‘The Salutation.’
The mammoth task they had undertaken soon became apparent and this, together with the demands of a young family – son Max is now 10 and Honor 7 – meant Dominic decided to part company with the family steel business in 2006 to concentrate his efforts on his family and the new home.
Lady Luck was on his side and, having hired ‘tree feller’ Steve Edney to do some initial clearing work on the gardens, Steve jumped at the chance to stay as full-time Head Gardener.
A passionate and dedicated horticulturist, Steve (and his team) have provided the missing pieces in the jigsaw, enabling The Salutation to become a remarkable success story in a relatively short space of time.
Re-branded as The Secret Gardens of Sandwich, the Salutation – no longer a secret garden – now draws in more than 30,000 visitors a year. Its reputation as a magnificent Lutyens-Jekyll house and garden is gaining worldwide notoriety with coach tours from Europe a regular occurrence.
The addition of a sumptuous luxury tea room and exquisite gift shop, with unusual eclectic gifts sourced personally by Stephanie from all corners of Europe, have made The Salutation an award-winning jewel among Kent’s tourist attractions. It has also proved to be a labour of love!
Dom is currently Chairman of the Sandwich and District Chamber of Commerce and is heavily involved in the local community, but has little free time for anything other than running his new-found family home – and business. On the rare occasions he gets to enjoy time off, he delights in a game of golf or a spot of shooting.
“We work hard, but it’s worth it,” he says. “We consider ourselves very fortunate indeed to have such a wonderful home and garden, with the fantastic support staff who enable us to be able to share it with the public.
“I think our visitors enjoy the family atmosphere and the fact we are often around to chat – and it’s a pleasure for us to be able to give so much pleasure to so many people.”