Eloise Curtis

Eloise is a second-year student on the Level 3 and Level 4 Diploma in Horticultural Practice at RHS Garden Wisley

Eloise Curtis

My journey into horticulture was an accidental one. I have had depression for a long time, and a few years ago, it caused me to drop out of university, as I hadn’t fully worked out what it was and how to manage it. I then spent a year at my parents getting better.

At the time, I felt like such a failure and at a loss of what to do, all my ambitions and good grades hadn’t led me anywhere. During that year, I started a short course in garden design and quickly realised that I would need a better knowledge of the practical side of gardening to be any good at it. So, I started working in friends gardens and volunteering once a week. As I got more practical experience, I became more certain that working in a design office was not for me, but the hands-on, practical side could well be.

Being outside has always given me moments of pure exhilaration, wherever there is a beautiful view, or the weather is exceptional (sunshine or rain), I just feel electric. I think that is what initially got me hooked on horticulture, being able to be outside so much more. While I can’t say that gardening cured my depression, I’m sure that it helped. The mix of physical work, creativity, nurturing activity and the renewed sense of purpose that gardening provides has done me good.

I was apprehensive about applying for the RHS Diploma programme as I didn’t think I had enough professional experience, and I was also sure my plant knowledge wasn’t up to scratch. I’m dyslexic, so it takes me a long time to learn my plant names, but I studied for the plant identification test for my interview and managed to get a place.

The course is full-on and there are times when I feel overwhelmed and struggle to keep all the balls in the air. Juggling the different coursework assignments, regular identification tests, working in placement, and keeping up with friends and family back home can feel like a lot. I’ve found living in the student accommodation with everyone else really helpful, as there is a feeling of solidarity and companionship, and I’ve been working on improving my time management. And, because the course is so well-planned, I know I have come somewhere of real value.

There is no doubt that we get a great deal as students and our education is at the forefront of the course. Horticulture is ultimately about continuous learning, even the most experienced gardeners are always improving, and that mental stimulation in a career is so enviable. I believe the course has set me up well to continue learning even after it finishes.

I love working alongside knowledgeable people during placement and our lectures, all of whom are extremely generous with their knowledge and encouragement. I also enjoy being with a cohort of intelligent, interesting peers who continually inspire and support me, and are just a good laugh.

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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.