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.

Useful links

Learner stories

The RHS has been nurturing professional horticulturists at its gardens for more than 100 years.

Find out how some of our current and recent learners started on their horticultural journeys.



Read more

RHS Books and more

See our wide range of books and gardening equipment to help your studies

Visit shop

Get involved

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.