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Through school, Mike had thoughts of becoming a policeman until a friend bought a greenhouse and started growing tomatoes and cucumbers for sale. Mike used to help out and thoroughly enjoyed it, finding he had an affinity with plants. At about 14, he switched a couple of his O-levels to make sure he did rural studies, which included horticulture.
From this, Mike decided what he wanted to do and was supported in that decision by his parents. Upon leaving school, he did a two-year technicians course to improve his science background and worked evenings and weekends in private gardens before applying to Wisley.
Mike started at Wisley in September 1974 on the relatively new two-year Certificate Course. The group of 12 were all aged between 18 and 21, and were very motivated. Mike started on Seven Acres before being plunged into the Fruit Department, spending many weeks ‘frozen to the top of a ladder’ when it was time for apple pruning. They had to get a row done a day (about eight trees) and you learned how to do the job properly at commercial speeds.
There was an evening practical hour after work and other theory work was undertaken at Merrist Wood College where they studied for their City and Guilds.
One thing Mike will always be grateful to Wisley for was, ‘whatever you were taught was done in the right way. There were no shortcuts taken’, and he uses the same approach with his students on Tresco now.
After Wisley, Mike went to Tresco Abbey Gardens as a student for a year, before being asked to stay on for a further 18 months of tree work. This was followed by five years at High Beeches in Sussex. While there he received a call from the owner of Tresco Abbey Gardens, Robert Dorian Smith, who asked whether Mike would come back as head gardener. That was in 1984 when Mike was 26 years old and he has been there ever since.
Having left Wisley for some time, Mike now realises how eminent some people in his year group have become. Ursula Buchan, the well-known garden journalist was a short-term entrant, and Duncan Donald went on to become Head of the Scottish National Trust Gardens and Curator of Chelsea Physic Garden, before becoming International Clematis Registrar.
Without realising it, they were very privileged, and now whenever Mike gets an ex-Wisley trainee for their scholarship interviews, he knows they will be a good practical student. ‘There’s never any doubt about it,' he says.
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