I never really had a clue of what to do with my life when it was time to quit school and grow up. I still remember the conversation with my guidance teacher when the penny fell that one day I would have to find something else to do than show up to school.
To help guide me on my way, I took a week of work experience at the local botanical garden which at this age and clearly the time spent here didn’t put me off. Taking a small photo of a riding lawn mower certainly helped, despite the fact that I almost pushed it through the wall of the potting shed!
There were similarities between school and the workplace. I went from talking nonsense with my classmates during recess to being nonsense with my co-workers during piecework, but it gave me a taste of what life is like for a gardener – greenhouse work, feeding and potting the plants, cutting the grass, dead-trimming perennials to encourage more flowers and of course, a bit of weeding.
A moment stuck in my brain is the end of a sunny day outside. Admiring all the trees and colorful plantings around the pond, the gardener who looked after me said to me, “We don’t get paid a lot for what we do but being a gardener is a wonderful way of life.
The first part of this comment would mean nothing to me until later in life. It has certainly been and still is a disappointment that the benefits of gardening and the work of the skilled and trained gardeners who maintain them are not fully valued in monetary terms or for the profession that it is.
As for the latter, it could not have been more precise. Every day outdoors in the fresh air, rain, sun, wind, or snow, working with nature to create beautiful outdoor spaces using propagation and cultivation is a skill that has been honed for hundreds of years. years.
So far I have worked in public parks where it is exhibits for people looking for a break from everyday life, botanical gardens where the focus is on plant conservation and now I have the chance to manage and preserve one of our historic country gardens. There are jobs that focus specifically on individual aspects of horticulture such as greenhouse work, plant propagation, rock gardens, individual groups of plants, or tree care, and I’ve always dreamed of to have my own nursery that grows and sells the plants that I love and hope to give some useful gardening tips.
I have been a gardener since I left school almost 30 years ago and I couldn’t have chosen a better career.
My gardening career has also given me opportunities that I never dreamed of when I started out, taking me around the world.
During the period of my career when I was working in rock gardens and alpine gardens, I obtained a place as a botanist in the vicinity of Saas Fee and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. My place on this Alpine Garden Society trip led by knowledgeable experts was fully funded thanks to them and the Merlin Trust. This was set up by the wonderful Valérie Finnis in memory of her son-in-law Merlin to offer young gardeners aged 18 to 34 the opportunity to travel and discover the passion for plants.
I don’t think I can ever underestimate how valuable this two week experience has been, helping me understand how to grow alpine plants after seeing them grow in their natural habitat and how much it has been to me. inspired, making me a better gardener and person at all levels.
Like the Merlin Trust, many other horticultural groups are keen to help gardeners, with similar grant programs to help fund not only life-changing trips, but also training courses to enhance career opportunities.
Thanks to gardening, I also had the privilege of spending time in Bhutan, landlocked between Tibet and India. In 2003, I helped their staff to set up the new Serbithang Botanical Garden on the outskirts of the capital Thimphu. Wow, what an opportunity that was – to work and meet people from a different culture.
I am pretty sure that without my interest in plants and gardening I would not have visited any of these countries in my life. Someday I hope to come back and visit the gardens of many other countries along the way.
Thanks to Brightwater Holidays, I enjoyed a return visit to Switzerland where I was amazed by the plants and landscapes around the Alpine village of Wengen. I also led an autumn tour of the Perthshire Gardens and Sites. And of course, next year I will join the guests aboard Emerald Cruises for a flower tour of Holland and Belgium.
It’s great that there are so many new gardeners out there and for anyone looking to take this interest beyond a hobby, I can recommend it without hesitation.
Brian Cunningham is Head Gardener at Scone Palace and presenter at the BBC’s Beechgrove Garden.