One summer was far too short

Three garden volunteers get a visit from two swans at Great Chalfield

When Jennifer Connor decided it was time for a career change she was looking for a place to hone her skills and became a garden volunteer at Great Chalfield for a summer - and then stayed on. Little did she know that this would lay the groundwork for securing a place on the highly regarded Historic and Botanic Garden Training Programme.

A career change kicks off the venture

It may sound naive, but I didn't even know volunteering at the National Trust was a 'thing'. Having decided to change careers from marketing to horticulture, I was pursuing an RHS Level 2 Diploma and looking for somewhere to spend my summer, applying what I'd been studying. All I knew was Great Chalfield was lovely, the team were lovely, and I knew could learn a lot from them.

There is lots to learn and lots to do

I quickly realised not only was I right, but there was more to grasp than I originally thought. Patsy had a talent for plant combinations, colour and texture. While Neil was a master of the practical side of gardening. Suddenly, a summer seemed far too short. I wanted to witness all the seasons, and all the different activities that came with them.

And I'm so lucky that I did, because for the time I gave to the gardens at Great Chalfield – it's given back to me ten fold. Firstly, I was treated as part of the team from day one. Every task was explained and demonstrated. I was also encouraged to explore areas that interested me, such as researching planting options for a new bed and different propagation techniques. They even trusted me to organise a volunteer outreach day.

The next step

Each day at Great Chalfield, I increase my knowledge. Yet I didn't grasp just how much I'd learned until I applied for the Historic and Botanic Garden Training Programme ( This national scheme offers 2-year placements for 10 budding horticulturalists each year. Standards and competition are high.

After a lengthy application process, practical assessments and interviews – I was overjoyed to be selected for a 2-year placement at Stourhead starting this September. I feel so privileged and fortunate to be able to continue my learning and also take another huge step towards my chosen career.

Volunteering is worth it

So I'm here to say – volunteering is worth it. For me, it's given me valuable skills and allowed me to apply my studies in the real world. Yet most importantly, my time at Great Chalfield has given me confidence in myself.