From French fashion to plant passion

If you’re a career changer or just starting out, have a look at horticulture, it could be just for you

I work in glorious green and leafy Devon as the Education and Learning Manager for RHS Garden Rosemoor, but horticulture wasn’t my first career. I grew up in a wooded valley in North Cornwall and after school moved to London where I trained to be a dressmaker, firstly making theatre and film costumes before moving on to French fashion houses in Bond Street.

Time for a change

However, I missed the countryside and became disillusioned with my career, but had no idea what to do. Fortunately, the Chelsea Physic Garden opened its doors to the public for the first time in over 200 years, I visited and became a volunteer on my day off. After three months I was hooked and wrote to a horticultural consultant for advice. He was very encouraging and said I could still work with colour, texture and design – but with plants instead, so when an apprenticeship came up at Chelsea, I applied and was successful.

Time to study

During my first year I started learning the basics and in the second year became seed lady, collecting, cleaning and distributing seeds to over 300 botanic gardens around the world. I studied for an ‘O’ level Botany and ‘A’ level Biology which helped me go to Askham Bryan College near York, for a National Certificate in Horticulture, which led me on to the prestigious and very intensive three-year Kew Diploma Course. Towards the end of the course I began broadcasting on LBC radio, answering gardeners’ queries, nerve-racking to begin with but very enjoyable.

A new and varied career

Rosemoor gardenOver the next few years I worked as head gardener, lecturer, garden designer and propagator before coming to RHS Garden Rosemoor where I’ve been working for over 15 years. I’m in charge of the schools curricular education, and we teach a wide range of plant-based subjects to around 6000 school children a year.

I also organise around 60 adult learning events a year, curate a major art exhibition each year, and in 2013 was an RHS host on a plants and gardens holiday to China – a fabulous experience! Every Sunday I still answer gardeners’ questions, but this time on BBC Radio Devon, and I’ve been their expert for 16 years. In my spare time, I’ve made several local TV garden programmes – I just love imparting knowledge and opening people’s eyes to the wonders of plants. Two of the reasons I enjoy horticulture are that you never stop learning, and it is such a vast subject covering so many different areas – I’ve only tried a few!

How can I get involved?

school gardeningSo if you’re a career changer or starting out, have a look at horticulture, it could be just what you’re looking for, whether you’re creative, practical or more academic.

There are so many choices – practical gardening, design, floristry, education, retail, research, sports turf, forestry and the media. You’ll need skills and qualifications and the RHS offers a range of qualifications, apprenticeships and student training courses at four of its gardens.

Join your local Britain in Bloom group, garden club or volunteer at a local garden to make you stand out at an interview, and don’t be afraid to ask professionals for their advice.

More information

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.