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 and 13 years in the New Forest!
Educated initially at The Convent of the Sacred Heart in Sturry, then Wellesley House in Broadstairs, Dominic 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 nunnery and ended up in a monastery!” he quips.
After leaving school Dominic took up the coveted position of assistant to the land agent on Lord Montagu's estate in Beaulieu - an excellent precursor for agricultural college. His passion for wood however drew him to do an apprenticeship as a wheelwright.
A friendly challenge then led him into property management and, still only in his 20s, he set up a holiday cottage company in the New Forest.
In 1991 Dominic felt it was time to move back to Canterbury and join the family steel business where he remained until 2006.
Having met and married his wife Stephanie in 1998, an extremely successful and high-flying career woman in her own right, the couple 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 to see the property out of interest, to have a nose around, but fell in love with it,” recalls Dominic. “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 – Dominic had grown up in a Georgian Manor House in Westbere with an ornamental garden, but knew little of its everyday management – they 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 surgeon 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, dedicated and highly-qualified 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!
Dominic is currently Chairman of the Sandwich and District Chamber of Commerce and is heavily involved in the local community. He is also actively involved in raising awareness for epilepsy, as his son suffers from the illness. Both Dominic and Stephanie take every opportunity both privately and professionally to raise money for this charity that is so close to their hearts. When he does have any precious free time away from running his new-found family home and business, Dominic delights in a game of golf or a bit 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 back and to share our passion for The Salutation and all its treasures".
If you would like to find out more information about The Salutation please visit www.the-salutation.com/