Charly Bourne

Charly Bourne on a Professional Work Placement (PWP) in Sustainable Horticulture at RHS Garden Bridgewater

Work based training team

This past year doing the Professional Work Placement (PWP) in Sustainable Horticulture at RHS Garden Bridgewater has been incredible,  I have definitely continued to improve my knowledge of sustainability, biodiversity and sustainable practices across all industries, particularly in horticulture, which will be really helpful in my future career. It has also been amazing to work collaboratively in such a beautiful place, sharing the skills and experience I built up during my time as a self-employed horticulturist.

I applied for the Sustainable Horticulture PWP, as I understand how important sustainability is in every part of our lives. I already used sustainable methods in client’s gardens, including using mulches to improve soil, collecting rainwater to use in summer, creating habitat for wildlife and avoiding pesticides. This PWP has given me experience of sustainability on a much larger scale. Building a career in this field is a dream come true and the PWP allows me a foot in the door. The fact that I could get hands-on knowledge and practical experience in a specialist area of horticulture is brilliant. It would have been tricky to afford a course so the fact that I could find a paid placement was fantastic.

The best thing about this placement has been the people I have met and worked with, both at Bridgewater, in the wider RHS and through external training. The team at Bridgewater are truly special, they welcomed me with open arms and generously shared their time and knowledge. As sustainable horticulture covers such a wide subject area, I worked in three curatorial teams, who manage different areas of the garden which has been fabulous. I got to know and make friends with so many staff and had the opportunity to see how the kitchen and paradise gardens are managed as well as community and wellbeing groups, woodland and wetlands. In my current team I have loved working with the community groups and on projects like the wildflower borders. It really is a beautiful time of year in the garden and I am enjoying every second.

I am getting amazing opportunities to access RHS wide specialist knowledge and training, including brilliant, practical masterclasses, workshops, webinars and courses. PWPs are actively encouraged to seek out beneficial training both on and off-site. I need to expand my field survey skills and have had the opportunity to do a short course on identifying bee and hoverfly species, a bat walk, as well as the bird surveys I am helping with at Bridgewater.

An amazing part of the placement scheme is the opportunity to complete a project of my choosing that benefits RHS Bridgewater. I am really passionate about spreading the idea that you do not need a garden to grow your own edibles. Therefore, my project was all about growing a meal in a pot, for example, tomatoes, garlic and basil to make pasta sauce. Combining fruit and vegetables in pots to make a tasty meal saves money and home grown food is more delicious, nutritious and sustainable. 

I am also grateful for the trust placed in me during my placement to be responsible for different areas of the garden. I started by looking after the green wall and planning the winter/spring design update, including edibles and bulbs to try something new and sustainable. I have worked on two back to back gardens, COP26, that takes you on a journey from decline, to mitigation, adaptation and balance demonstrating what needs to change and the different ways we may need to garden in the future and united utilities, which showcases different ways to manage, conserve and reuse water in gardens.

In the last four months I was given the responsibility for a larger area, the Learning Garden. Working with the education and learning team and planting more edibles for the school groups to harvest has been fantastic. I also facilitated the move of the green wall into this space as part of the wildlife friendly area which includes multiple different bug and bee homes. As a family of pied wagtails successfully nested in it last year there is hope it will continue to be used as a nesting site in the future.

On top of this, multiple unexpected opportunities have come up. I have written a magazine article for Grow Your Own about my placement and meal in a pot project. I worked on the plant advisory stand at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, co-hosted a stand and gave a short talk at the Northern Sustainability Summit and helped with the pilot of the National Education Nature Park. My time at Bridgewater has been phenomenal, I have learnt more than I could have imagined possible, while also sharing my own knowledge and ideas. I have suffered from imposter syndrome at times and working for the RHS has really helped me realise my expertise and skills are better than I give myself credit for.

I would highly recommend doing a PWP to anyone in my position, who has a qualification and experience in small gardens and wants to move into bigger spaces or change direction within horticulture. It is a unique opportunity that can change your life.

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