Felicity Gray

Felicity studying her Level 3 and 4 Diploma at RHS Garden Wisley

Felicity Grey

My first love wasn’t horticulture, instead I had always wanted to be a fashion designer. However, after several years of working as a designer and living in London, I realised that office work was not for me, and I was desperate to be working outside and lead a more physical life.

I was living in a houseshare at the time with a small garden and after a few sessions of frantic weeding, I was hooked. I considered being a garden designer and decided I should have solid practical skills. So, I embarked on a series of volunteering opportunities that included working in gardens throughout both Australia and the U.K. quickly discovering just how much I loved being outdoors, connected to nature, and the physical aspect of gardening, and decided to fully pursue practical horticulture as opposed to design.

Before undertaking the RHS Level 3 and Level 4 Diploma in Horticultural Practice, I had completed my RHS Level 2 online, worked in a garden centre, undertaken the WRAGs traineeship at a private estate and completed the HBGTP scheme at English Heritage Audley End House and Gardens.

I learnt about the RHS Diploma through my supervisor at Audley End who had previously worked with an ex-student. Although at this point I had a good amount of practical experience, I still wasn’t sure what direction I wanted my career to go in and really wanted to solidify the skills I had. I knew that further education would potentially fast-track me into a more senior position with a varied and challenging role, which appealed to me. The strong emphasis on practical skills at RHS Garden Wisley was very attractive and after speaking to several senior horticulturalists who all spoke highly of the RHS Level 3 and 4 Diploma, I decided to apply for it.

From the start, I have felt both welcomed and supported; Wisley has a very large team of gardeners which at first felt quite intimidating. However, so many of the staff have been Wisley students themselves and were very keen to share any tips and advice for managing the coursework and life at Hanbury Court. We have several student supervisors who guide us through the course, and passionate lecturers who want you to succeed. The team leaders of each area are always open to sharing their knowledge, and it really is a case of what you put in, you get out: the more questions you ask, the more you learn.

Being an RHS Level 3 and Level 4 Diploma student at Wisley is very varied, every two months you rotate through the garden working with a different team, and each team has a different way of working and a different management style. You very quickly discover what aspect of horticulture appeals to you and sometimes it can be a surprise. I loved working on the Garden Support Services team mowing all the lawns, which I was not expecting as I had convinced myself I would be no good with machinery. Working in a beautiful garden with horticulturalists who are very knowledgeable, is a real privilege and I feel extremely lucky to have escaped the office and to have a job that rarely feels like ‘work’.

There are so many benefits to the RHS L3 and L4 Diploma and working as a horticulturist, my mental and physical health has massively improved since leaving fashion behind and I always find that after a two-week holiday, I am desperate to be gardening again. The vast number of horticulturalists here means there are so many opportunities to learn from professionals both within and outside of the RHS. I have worked with nursery growers at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, been a part of a panel discussion on edible growing at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, completed work experience at National Trust Hidcote, and been on a bursary trip with other RHS L3 and 4 Diploma students exploring water sustainability within gardens and plenty of educational garden visits. 

Life in the student accommodation immerses you within Wisley and has meant a trip to the student allotment or library is a quick cycle away, a lifesaver when time is precious. It can often feel quite surreal living with other gardeners, our conversations naturally fall back to horticulture, but we also try to have fun away from Wisley by swimming in the river, drinking around the fire pit and the odd cocktail party.

To anyone considering applying to the RHS Level 3 and 4 Diploma in Horticultural Practice, I really would recommend it. The course can be incredibly intense at times with different coursework deadlines, full-time working, masterclasses, lectures and trying to fit in life admin, socialising and having fun, but the sense of achievement, knowledge gained, and friends made, makes it all so worth it.

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