A love of horticulture
Past RHS students have found themselves working in publishing, botanical and private gardens, local authorities, horticultural advice and education. Read the stories of a few of the students who have studied in our RHS Gardens and find out what happened next on their horticultural journeys.
Catherine Fairhall-Lewis - Hyde Hall Diploma in Practical Horticulture (2015-16)
I got into gardening as soon as I had a little bit of space to call my own. None of my family were/are gardeners, so it took a while for me to figure out that this was something I really wanted to do. To cut a long story short, after a while as a Broadcast Journalist and TV Producer, I came to the conclusion it was now or never.
Unsure how to go about it I studied and gained a BSc(Hons) degree in Horticulture. However, I felt this alone didn’t equip me for the kind of ‘hands on’ job I craved. The answer for me lay in the Hyde Hall Diploma. It provided me with the perfect mix of practical, technical and botanical training. Not only did I come out of it armed with an array of tickets (tractor driving, PA1 and PA6 spraying etc.). I substantially increased my plant knowledge and gained invaluable experience as part of the team at RHS Garden Hyde Hall.
I was lucky enough to be offered a job at the end of my year there, I now have my own garden area to manage and feel very privileged to still be working there.
Anna Chaffey - Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture (2010-12)
I grew up with a keen passion for gardening and creativity. I completed a BA (Hons) in Garden Design at Falmouth University, Cornwall. Following this I was keen to develop a larger understanding of plants to build on my existing skills from the Wisley Diploma.
The course introduced me to many areas of horticulture, a solid skill set and rounded knowledge to begin my career. It opened up many opportunities across the country for me, I settled in a beautiful garden in North Yorkshire where I specialised in fruit, veg and cut-flowers in a productive walled garden. At Wisley, the departments of fruit, herbaceous and woodland were among many that I greatly enjoyed. Learning about an array of trees and the botanical information on how to identify them was fascinating. I found Wisley an exciting place to learn, full of wonderful plants from across the world, learning from some of the best professionals in the industry and I made some friendships for life. Wisley helped me find my career direction. Since then I have been lucky enough to discover and explore some unique locations, architectural excellence and stunning scenery along the way!
Now I am working as a Head Gardener at Bowcliffe Hall, a 30 acre bespoke wedding and conference venue which was beautifully re-landscaped by Alistair Baldwin set amongst historic parkland. It’s rewarding to I feel I have made thorough use of my training and my career experience. In this job, you are always learning and set with new challenges which are never boring as time flies!
Yuki Fujimori - Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture (2008-10)
What interested me was the chance to work in eight different garden departments, and to gain so much specialist knowledge and experience over the two-year period studying for the Wisley Diploma. I had visited RHS Wisley many many times and had always dreamed and being there. My ex-colleague, who was a student at Wisley in 1994, recommended the course to me.
During my time I learned so much. Not just general horticultural skills and knowledge such as mowing, hedge cutting but also many specialist skills such as rose pruning, fruit-tree pruning, propagation, and I also gained other qualifications such as spraying and brush-cutting. Whilst there I managed to secure an RHS Bursary to study miniature daffodils in Morocco, Spain and Portugal for two weeks. This was an amazing opportunity to pursue something I was really passionate about. On a personal level I have made many life-long friends that I still keep in touch with.
After graduating I gained some wonderful work experience at Piet Oudolf in Holland. This gave me further confidence to pursue my career as well as establishing great contacts.
I now work in a Japanese landscape company, Seibu Landscape. I worked there before I came to the UK and the company is responsible for the maintenance and management of public parks and urban green space in Tokyo. I am now responsible for the management of seasonal flower fields, trees and turf maintenance in these different situations. The plant knowledge, practical skills as well as the prestige of studying at RHS Garden Wisley have made this possible.
Dave Green - Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture (2008-10)
I’ve always loved nature and the outdoors and so deciding to work in that area was almost a forgone conclusion but it took me a few years before I realised. As a career changer I initially thought that the RHS and ‘Sharing the Best in Gardening’ would be out of reach and so I never would have thought I’d end up training with them and then also working for them for quite a while (7 years and counting).
I can still remember when I drove to RHS Wisley for the first time – urged on by colleagues from Birmingham Botanical Gardens (where I’d trained previously) - I’d arrived for an interview for the Wisley Diploma. I was super nervous about everything but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more supportive environment, living in Wisley village is fantastic and learning and working alongside some of the best gardeners in the world is an amazing experience. Over the two years we experienced every aspect of gardening from chainsaw work to botany to compost mixes – the diploma had so much depth it felt like every aspect of gardening was covered.
I now work in the RHS Show team, using the gardening knowledge I gained at Wisley almost every day talking to exhibitors and garden designers from all over the world. My training and experience with the RHS means I’m confident talking to almost anyone in the industry and I know that without it I wouldn’t be as genuine or have the same passion for gardening that goes with me everywhere I go!
Holly Farrell - Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture (2008-10)
As soon as I had decided on horticulture as a career, I looked to the RHS for possible training. I discovered the Wisley Diploma and was immediately hell-bent on getting in! I spent a year at college getting the basic qualifications I needed to apply, and was overjoyed to start the following autumn.
It was exactly what I was hoping for – a wide-ranging practical gardening education backed up by rigorous theory and RHS qualifications. Working with some of the finest gardeners and horticultural scientists was almost an added bonus! There is a great camaraderie between the students, who become friends as well as useful contacts in the industry. I also met my future husband!
There is no doubt that the Wisley Diploma opens doors – it is highly regarded by fellow gardeners and potential employers – and because of the course’s breadth, it allows for any number of possible jobs in horticulture. I’ve now swapped the trowel for a laptop, and write books and magazine articles on gardening, a career triggered by a placement at The Garden that I was able to do whilst at Wisley.
Sean Harkin - Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture (2008-10)
I decided to do the Wisley Diploma as I was keen to expand my horticultural knowledge and experience. I wanted to do this at a place that had an unbeaten reputation for training gardeners, therefore RHS Garden Wisley was my top choice.
The Diploma is quite an intense two years of learning and practical experience. Starting work at 7.30pm, working all day and studying each evening means there isn’t much room for anything else in those two years. Everyone on the course is in the same boat, so it does make it much easier and learning from one another is a great experience. Similar to most things, the time at Wisley really is what you put in, is what you get out of it.
For me, the best bits were experiencing Wisley and its glorious plants through two full seasons and learning from the talented staff there. In addition to the feeling of becoming part of the horticultural world and using the connections at Wisley to learn about my particular interests. I made firm friends with fellow gardeners whilst at Wisley, both trainees and staff and that is one of the most significant things that I got from my time at Wisley.
The Diploma really did set me up for my career post training. It gives a firm basis of knowledge and experience, but as horticulture is such a complex discipline it is impossible to learn everything in two years and I have used my training at Wisley to keep expanding on my understanding and knowledge.
I now lead a team of four gardeners and one trainee at Kensington Palace, which consists of a formal sunken garden; topiary; formal lawns; meadow area and borders. There is often events or exhibitions at the Palace and it is great to work as part of a larger team to develop projects in the gardens for the public’s enjoyment.
New training courses from 2016
In 2016 RHS training courses were updated and we now have two new courses for horticultural students wanting to train in our RHS Gardens.
Read more of our student stories