Zahabia is a second-year Level 2 Horticulture Apprentice working at RHS Garden Harlow Carr
In 2019, my mum started helping a 70-year-old colleague called Alan with his half allotment plot near to our house. She went to the allotment a few times and then asked if I wanted to help, as she was so busy. I started helping for an hour or two on a Sunday morning to fit around school and my extracurricular activities, which included scouts, music school and indoor climbing.
Partway-through Year 10, we went into lockdown, meaning all my activities stopped. I started going to the allotment three times a week for three to four hours at a time, which was great as it was outdoors and easy to socially distance, but I always wore a mask to protect Alan. I liked hearing the stories about his life and childhood, and found myself enjoying being outdoors and learning about growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. Alan is a member of The British Fuchsia Society and grows many different varieties.
I always knew I wanted to work in a practical job, as I loved the outdoors. When we returned to school in Year 11, we were all deciding what to do with our futures. I started looking into some courses related to growing plants, and my Mum found the RHS Level 2 Horticulture Apprenticeship. Having spent time with Alan, I felt I would prefer to learn on the job and be around people with more experience than me, whom I could learn from and would be kind and patient. I applied just after turning 16 and had an online Zoom interview.
My second interview at RHS Garden Harlow Carr included a tour of the grounds and I met some of the staff. This made my mind up that it was the right thing for me, and I was offered the apprenticeship, which was fantastic. I chose horticulture because I had the chance to try it and enjoy it first, and I was lucky enough to have a mentor/role model who came in to my life at the right time.
In the future, I would like to set up an allotment project like this to encourage more people from ethnic minority groups and other communities that are under-represented in horticulture. I have many ideas about engaging with young people and getting more people into horticulture. There are not many women from diverse backgrounds in this field, so being visible and successful would break down stereotypes and barriers.