What first inspired you to become a horticulturist? How did you get into it?
I grew up in a small village in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire. It is your typical English village. At its heart is a village green, with a country pub and a glorious medieval church. Set back is a large, rambling 17th century manor house clad in the most enormous wisteria. The manor has superb gardens, including a kitchen garden, formal gardens, glasshouses, enriched meadows and even a maze. This is where I first fell in love with plants and gardens.
At the time the owners opened their garden for a few charity weekends a year but, as they were getting on in years, they put out the word for a Garden boy- young assistant to help out. Like many 12 year olds I was in desperate need of pocket money! I was fortunate enough to be hired on the basis that I had a keen interest in wildlife and had some experience helping my grandmother in her cottage garden.
Very quickly I found the money was not the incentive, just being there absorbing the garden every Saturday afternoon was enough. I remained working at the manor until I was 16, when I left school and went to work for a plant nursery. It was a few villages away and I used to love cycling through the lanes with my wildflower book, admiring the seasonal changes of the hedgerow flora. I spent a very happy year there learning how to propagate and grow a wide variety of plants. I really developed my plant knowledge during this time and it has really stood me in good stead. As every gardener knows, knowing your plants is SO important. However there is so much to learn in horticulture and you never stop learning (I love this element). I went on to horticultural college to continue learning.
After graduating my course with distinction I knew at this point I wanted to be a master gardener, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work at Aberglasney Gardens, in Carmarthenshire, West Wales for two wonderful years. Aberglasney is an historic garden, established in the 14th century, which is today renowned for its plants and beauty. It is a real plantsman’s garden, full of rare and interesting plants. Whilst there I assisted in the restoration and renovation of some areas of the garden, primarily managing the walled kitchen garden producing produce for the restaurant and cut flowers to sell. I really treasure my time there, particularly as I lived on site and was completely immersed in the gardens. However I knew the time had come again to further myself and have a change of scene. My head gardener at the time was Kew trained and he encouraged me to go to Kew to study. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is considered by many to be the greatest and leading botanical garden in the world.
I remembered visiting Kew when I was a child and being in complete awe. I never dreamt I would one day work there. There are 12 spots open to worldwide applicants each year and therefore it is quite competitive. However, I was given an interview which involved multiple practical tests, a plant identification test, timed essay and going before a panel of experts. I remember feeling like I had blown it and would have to reapply next year. However when I did in fact gain a place to study, I was overjoyed.
I moved to London and after three intensive, testing and captivating years I graduated the Kew Diploma with Honors and was awarded the Worshipful Company of Gardeners prize for being the best practical student. Kew approached me and offered me a permanent position helping to manage the Rose Garden, the Great Broadwalk Borders (Longest double herbaceous borders in the world), Palmhouse Pond and the Victoria Gate entrance. I accepted and haven't looked back since. I love my job.