Sunday, September 18, 2011

How did I get here?

I used to be a Recruitment Consultant, a job that ranks down there with Estate Agents and Tax Inspectors in the minds of most people.  My brother, a farmer, who grows, makes, builds and nurtures things, used to ask me ‘But what is it you actually do?’ and after about 16 years in recruitment, I starting asking myself the same question.

Time for a change........

I decided to take some time off and live on my ill gotten gains for a while – I’d been working 10/11 hour days for quite a while and figured I could do with a break.

After a couple of months:

House sparkling clean                                  tick
Personal admin completed                          yep, done that
Cupboards sorted                                         uh huh
Garden redesigned x 10                               tick, tick
Plants sick of being moved around              poor plants 
Twitter addiction                                            absolutely!

So what next?

RHS Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture, that’s what.

I’ve never particularly enjoyed studying – I've got O’ Levels, A’ Levels and a degree but I really had no interest in the subjects, I just knew I had to get these pieces of paper to get on in this world. This time round, despite how pedantic the syllabus could be, I just couldn’t get enough – the world of plants being endlessly fascinating, diverse and just so damn clever! I took the first four exams in February 2011 and did pretty well.

And then?

I've done my studying through distance learning with KLC and once I realised how much I loved this subject, I knew I wanted to get some more practical experience. I applied for a volunteer role at The Chelsea Physic Garden and was invited in for an interview. Normally when you apply to volunteer at an organization, they just say “yes please”. However, this wasn’t your standard volunteer interview as it involved a plant ident, interview with Head Gardener and Deputy Head Gardener and a practical task. I was scared…….I even had to buy steel toe capped boots just for the interview! Chelsea Physic Garden was the place I wanted to be though, so I gave it my best shot. After the interview, they couldn’t offer me a horticultural volunteer role but did have a need for someone to water and weed the container plants that they propagate and sell on site.

I was in!

Dedication to my watering and weeding duties paid off and a few months later I managed to get one of the coveted horticultural volunteer roles which I have been doing now, once a week, for around a year.

The longer I volunteered in this professional environment, the more I began to think that I could have a career in horticulture but had no idea of what route to take. I didn’t feel experienced enough to go out there and set up as a gardener on my own and wasn’t even sure if that was what I ultimately wanted to do. I loved volunteering at the Physic Garden – I loved the fact that all the gardeners were so experienced, that I was learning about horticulture not just from a practical perspective but also with a botanical slant too - especially the plant idents.

It was at the Physic Garden that I heard about the Historic and Botanical Gardens Bursary Scheme (affectionately known as HeeBeeGeeBees) and decided to apply for the traineeship role at The Chelsea Physic Garden. After a tough panel interview, I beat off the competition and was offered the role - I start in September as a full-time trainee for a year. To say I am over the moon is probably understating my excitement – it’s an amazing feeling to be starting again at the age of ‘nearly 40’ and learning new things every day – I just feel so lucky to have this opportunity.

I'm going to be blogging my traineeship experiences and hopefully give an insight into starting out in horticulture. I hope that it will show that it's never too late to make that change even though I don't anticipate it being an easy ride. The biggest upside for me to my new career is that

I can start to know again what it is I “actually do” and when my brother (or anyone else) asks me now what I do for a living, I can proudly say ‘Gardener’, and that makes me feel good.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Urban Physic Garden

Being only gainfully employed (or should I say volunteered?) one day a week at The Chelsea Physic Garden at the moment, I thought I would check out the new kid in town: The Urban Physic Garden.  It is going to be a great pop-up garden in Borough, pretty much opposite The Jerwood Space.  The people behind it are a collective of designers, urban growers and would-be alchemists, keen to transform neglected spaces into community gardens.  This neglected site was actually a bombsite in a former incarnation and if I'm honest it still looks like one......

The bombsite.
Planter no.1. Credits:  Sue Palmer & Capability Jones
At the moment, it's more urban than garden but it has grand ideas for itself and I can see the potential.  You wouldn't believe it from the pictures but in about 3 weeks' time this space will be filled with herbs and plants, mostly with medicinal properties - some of them will be in the lovely planters that I built with two of the other volunteers, Sue and Charlotte.

 When they said that we should make the planters in a rustic style, I don't think they realised that I actually come from the countryside where their idea of fixing a gap in the hedge is to drive a decrepit truck into the gap and leave it - of course an old bath is also an alternative method.  Anyway, we went rustic in a big style as you can see.
Branching out with Planter no.2.  Credits:  Charlotte Grimshaw & Capability Jones

Their website promises that "this summer in the Urban Physic Garden there will be a festival of talks, workshops, film screenings and events.  It will be an outside space where a range of people can come together to explore the role of plants in science, health, well-being and the environment"  - what's not to like?

I for one am delighted to be involved and will definitely be dragging along Mr CJ to some of the events.  I also know that they are always keen for people to get involved in whatever way they can, so check out their website and see if there's anything you can do to support this excellent project

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

HBGB Trainee

So, I went for my interview at Myddleton House for the HBGB trainee role (Historic and Botanic Gardens Bursary Scheme - funded by Heritage Lottery Fund) on Thursday and was offered a place at The Chelsea Physic Garden starting in September - hurray!  I think I aced the interview with my plant ID, especially identifying Japanese knotweed correctly - Fallopia japonica, family Polygonaceae.  Of course I swotted up beforehand  and saw that Mr Bowles was fond of the pernicious weed and so I duly learnt the Latin name and family!

Incidentally, the garden at Myddleton House is absolutely lovely and is going through huge regeneration currently but all in line with how E A Bowles (the original owner) originally had it.  I particularly liked the bed that he named "The Lunatic Asylum" which had all the plants that he thought that were a bit strange; this included the Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana - Araucariaceae) which is my favourite plant of all time.  "What is your favourite plant?" is a familiar question in horticultural interviews and the Monkey Puzzle is mine - this is a bit embarrassing to admit to, but what can you do?  As one interviewer recently said on hearing this "We won't hold it against you" but I think he did as I didn't get the job.

I am beyond excited - I can't wait until people ask me what I do for a living and I can tell them I am a gardener; it's a dream come true..............  Watch this space.