Otto Speight

Otto an apprentice at RHS Garden Harlow Carr

Otto Speight

Growing up in rural North Yorkshire, I have always been passionate about nature but never really took time to develop my knowledge or skills surrounding it. I spent most of my childhood exploring the rivers and woodlands of the Yorkshire Dales and always wanted to be outside. While studying Graphic Design, I started to work for a garden maintenance company. After graduating, I continued as a part time gardener alongside my freelance design work. I soon realised that the satisfaction I was getting from working outdoors, among plants, completely outweighed my passion for digital design so I decided to go full-time. 

I had found a way of satisfying my creative urges whilst having the opportunity to work among wildlife, even though at that point my horticultural skills were limited to more or less just cutting grass and cutting hedges. I just knew that there was a growing passion for plants and cultivated natural space in me. I was inspired to expand my skills and apply for the apprentice role at RHS Garden Harlow Carr.

Since starting the apprenticeship I have gone head first into the world of horticulture trying to take in as much as I can. At Harlow Carr you go through 5 different rotations, changing every 5 weeks and getting an opportunity to reflect on the tasks completed and skills acquired during each rotation with the area's team leader.

This apprenticeship has a wonderful balance of giving us the space to make decisions in the workplace which really helps us to develop personally and professionally, whilst giving us massive amounts of support, working with a team who have a wealth of skills and knowledge and an eagerness to teach. The whole culture of the RHS is welcoming and supportive, from the curatorial staff I work with to the upper management I interacted with at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. There is a clear passion towards getting new people involved and excited in the world of horticulture.

We also have residential college blocks where we receive a lot of formal academic training and set our college assignments. This is a great opportunity as we get to meet the apprentices from other gardens, see what they get to do at their sites and build connections between other learners. These college blocks have been genuinely valuable as the friendships made are ones that will last, and the level of knowledge and passion that comes from the tutors is so high.

 My core interest in horticulture is ornamental and I love exploring the structure and aesthetic of different plants, trying to understand how the combination of plants and environments impact people. I am also massively into a few specific areas, Alpines, Ferns, Native Wildflowers, Ornamental Woodlands, Bonsai, and many other growing areas of interest. The staff here are brilliant at supporting these interests and helping me find opportunities to expand my knowledge of these worlds, making sure I never feel pigeonholed into any area of horticulture, which really helps to develop and nurture my passion whilst going along my horticultural journey.

I came into this with a clear vision and plan to start my own business and become a garden designer, merging the worlds of design and horticulture. Whilst garden design is still an area of great interest to me, I have fallen so deeply in love with the world of plants that I don’t know if I could ever stop working as a hands-on gardener.

I would absolutely recommend applying to this apprenticeship for people looking to enter the world of horticulture and develop their skills. I can’t think of a better environment to grow and learn. I wouldn’t have been able to do half of what I have done without the apprenticeship programme and I’m so excited to see what comes from this next year. 

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