Leo McEwen

Leo studying Level 3 and 4 Diploma at RHS Garden Wisley

Leo McEwen

I stumbled upon the RHS Level 3 and 4 Diploma in Horticultural Practice programme whilst researching options for the next steps to progress my career. When I saw that 2 years of learning would qualify me for better jobs in the industry and that the course is a full-time paid job, I knew I had to apply. Having the relevant RHS qualification requirements, and a familiarity with the charity from an early age, I felt it was the programme for me.

Both RHS Garden Wisley and the RHS have been very welcoming and supportive from the start, giving the new starter learners a thorough induction in the first few weeks of the course. We were provided with all of the advice, contacts, information, tools and personal support that we needed. The second-year students were around to welcome us with a BBQ at our accommodation and were always around to give us advice with coursework, directions and things to see in the area.

The curatorial staff are used to working with students and are always willing to give support, and regular tutorials within the School of Horticulture and my Line Manager offered us a way to cover any concerns that arise.

The RHS Level 3 and Level 4 Diploma has given me a much wider experience than I would gain working at another job, as Wisley throws so many opportunities at us. I was given the opportunity to take part in a live talk on stage at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival with food writer Mark Diacono, which was very empowering and a great chance to gain some experience in public speaking, discussing a topic that inspires me a lot. Some unexpected experiences have come about due to networking and having a foot in the door with such a diverse mix of professionals and societies. One example of this was an evening I spent with a fellow student at The Royal College of Physicians, who was launching a book on Modern Medicines from Plants. If I weren’t working at Wisley, I’d have never heard about this event

 I love having access to the gardens outside of opening hours, to enjoy and take in. Another priceless benefit of working here is the community of experts and passionate horticulturists that we work with, always willing to answer questions, have discussions and point you in the best direction for your interests.

Life at Hanbury Court is very comfortable and a big highlight of the course. Though we often have to remind ourselves to take a break from the plant talk, it is a uniquely special situation to be living with such like-minded people. We are able to support each other through the coursework and share our experiences in a way that friends and family don’t always understand.

I’ve had an allotment at home since lockdown, so being given a space to grow my own at Wisley was a welcomed opportunity. I cherish having a garden of my own to feed my body and soul with home-grown produce. Time spent gardening is a great way to nurture mental health, and even better when one can benefit from the time and energy spent on the food. I enjoy getting creative with the ways I use the produce in the kitchen, experimenting with pickles and ferments and with advice from chef friends, trying new recipes.

I’d recommend anyone considering applying to come and see the garden, speak to a few members of staff – we all get to know each other and someone will be able to tell you about their own experience or what they’ve heard from previous students. Don’t stress over your previous experience or plant knowledge, just let your passion for horticulture show and have aspirations for your time at Wisley.

When applying for the RHS L3 and 4 Diploma in Horticultural Practice, I had the aim to be a head gardener one day. I still would love to manage a garden, but I’ve now realised that the options for career pathways are endless.

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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.