Mike Nelhams

Mike was a Wisley Trainee from 1974 to 1976 and is now Head Gardener of Tresco Abbey Gardens

Mike Nelhams

Through school, I had thoughts of becoming a policeman until a friend bought a greenhouse and started growing tomatoes and cucumbers for sale. I used to help out and thoroughly enjoyed it, and found I had an affinity with plants. My pleasure in gardening persuaded me to study for an O-level in rural studies, which included horticulture.

After leaving school, I took a two-year technician course to improve my science background, and then I worked evenings and weekends in private gardens before applying to RHS Garden Wisley. I started at Wisley in 1974 on the new two-year Certificate Course, beginning at Seven Acres before being plunged into the Fruit Department. I spent many weeks there frozen to the top of a ladder when it was time for apple pruning.

One thing I’ll always be grateful to Wisley for was that whatever I was taught it was done in the right way. There were no shortcuts taken. I use the same approach with my students on Tresco now.

After Wisley, I went to Tresco Abbey Gardens as a student for a year, and stayed on for another 18 months. This was followed by five years at High Beeches in Sussex. While there I was head-hunted by Tresco Abbey Gardens for the role of Head Gardener.

It’s a long time since I left Wisley  and I now realise how eminent some people in my 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. I am an RHS Judge on the Tender Plants Committee, judging at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and other RHS Shows and am a regular lecturer.

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