“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius
I’ve always wanted a meaningful job, one where I feel my skills and knowledge are utilised in the pursuit of something valuable… In horticulture I have found this. I feel incredibly lucky to have landed in a job which I am passionate about, which allows me to be creative, with the added bonus of growing food for lots of people to enjoy.
But where did it all start?
I wasn’t particularly interested in gardening as a child, as is the cliché, but I do recall memories of my Great Grandad growing tomatoes in his greenhouse and his love of colourful bedding plants in his borders. At this time I was mainly focused on beating my cousins at a game of badminton and reading my Granddad’s old dusty books.
My real interest began in my early twenties when I moved from the city to the Peak District and for the first time I had my own garden. To have outside space after living in apartments with limited/no external was wonderful. I wanted to experiment in the garden so I found the local nursery and bought some plants; with very little experience of growing anything. Some succeeded, some failed but I learnt a lot from giving it a go.
At this time I was working in Education after studying at university so my job was office based which allowed very little time outdoors. The more time I spent on walks, around the reservoirs and hills in the local area, noticing the plants, wildlife and changes in the seasons, as well as tending to my little garden I realised I was never happier than when outside in nature.
I started volunteering at a local RSPB nature reserve and then later did a week’s volunteer placement with the RSPB at a wetland nature reserve where I worked alongside the Reserve Warden. This was such a special week as it was my first time working outdoors every day and each day was so varied and exciting, the shifting weather, the abundant wildlife, or the many physical activities we were undertaking which included recording bird numbers, cleaning out bird hides, chopping wood, thinning out or cutting and burning reeds. After this week I realised that I wanted to change career and it had to be an outdoor role with plants or wildlife.
Around this time I began growing fruit and veg in my garden using a pop up green house where I grew mange tout, aubergines, courgettes and strawberries. I began looking at different options for studying horticulture and stumbled across the RHS Apprenticeship, a two year work placement at an RHS garden with college days included so you end the placement with your RHS qualifications. It looked perfect for me as it would give me the experience needed to realise my ambition of becoming a gardener… Or I’d realise how cold outdoor work in winter is and throw in the towel!
I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to undertake the apprenticeship at RHS Hyde Hall, Essex and I enjoyed every moment of it as I learnt so much from all of the garden staff I worked alongside. It was such a brilliant two years because it allowed me to rotate between different areas of the garden, tending to diverse plants in various planting styles. I quickly realised that my favourite place to be was the vegetable garden because it felt really good to grow food, not only beautiful but useful, edible and each with its own historical use and social narrative.
After two wonderful years I left my apprenticeship with the qualifications I needed to pursue my horticultural career. I spent 6 months after this working at a market garden and working with the National Trust before gaining my current role as Senior Kitchen Gardener at Audley End House and Gardens. My role involves hands-on gardening, growing for a local vegetable box scheme as well as supervising other gardeners, trainees and volunteers. It’s a wonderful role because it’s so varied. We grow everything organically and lots of these plants from seed. We try to use heritage and organic varieties where possible. The feedback we get on a daily basis from our visitors also keeps us motivated and inspired to keep the gardens looking as beautiful as possible for everyone to enjoy. For anyone thinking of making the move into horticulture from a different career I really would urge you to go for it as it’s the best decision I have ever made!