Digging deep to stem the skills shortage in heritage horticulture

Press release
View across the Parterre towards Blickling Hall
Published : 21 Sep 2017 Last update : 06 Dec 2017

Five budding gardeners are this month starting two year horticultural apprenticeships with the National Trust, as the conservation charity opens new pathways into careers in horticulture.

The apprenticeships, part of the Government Trailblazers scheme, are the first of their kind to be offered by the charity as it raises awareness of the range of career opportunities available in horticulture against the backdrop of a damaging skills shortage in the sector.  

The Trust looks after some of the most important parks and gardens in Britain, including works by ground-breaking designers William Kent, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe.

As part of the scheme, each apprentice will be hosted by a National Trust garden, gaining crucial knowledge and experience in heritage and biodiversity, as they develop the vital skills needed to look after these historically significant landscapes.

The gardens involved are Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire; Blickling Hall, Norfolk; Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire; Ightham Mote, Kent and Polesden Lacey, Surrey.

As well as on the job training, the apprentices will take part in 10 week-long training courses at Pershore College, Worcestershire, during their two year placement.

Kate Nicoll, National Trust garden training specialist, said: ‘It’s great that the Trust is committing to training the next generation of horticulturalists, not only to ensure that we have the right skills to look after our historic gardens, but also to show that horticulture is a viable and worthwhile career for people to pursue.

‘A career in horticulture is truly rewarding for anyone who has a love of nature, studying outdoors and growing things, as well as those interested in history and landscape design. At the Trust we’re keen to create a pathway for people to develop their skills, and these apprenticeships are an exciting first step on that journey.’

To ensure that the apprenticeships are accessible to all, the National Trust will pay for each apprentice’s accommodation during the 10 study weeks. Apprentices will also receive a salary at the National Minimum Wage for the duration of the apprenticeship.  

This month will also see a new cohort of up-and-coming gardeners taking part in the Historic and Botanic Garden Trainee Programme (HBGTP), a full-time, salaried placement scheme run by English Heritage in partnership with Heritage Lottery Fund.

This is the third year that the National Trust has taken part in the two-year course that sees gardeners receive practical skills and plantsmanship training, guided research and garden visits as they study for the Royal Horticultural Society Diploma in Horticulture, Level 3.

Of the eight who graduated from the scheme this August, five will continue to work in a National Trust garden. Victoria Summers graduated from the scheme this year having spent two years at Nymans, West Sussex, and is soon to begin a full-time gardening role at the Trust’s Hidcote in Gloucestershire.

Victoria said: “Make no mistake, the 2-year scheme is intense; we work full-time, study part-time, keep a daily technical diary, undertake a weekly plant identification test, and have RHS examinations twice a year, as well as leading our own projects. That said, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain a wide range of practical skills and garden theory, so I grabbed it with both hands.

“The scheme has changed my life and I’d definitely recommend it for those keen and budding gardeners who really want to push themselves forward into the world of historic & botanic horticulture.”

Both the apprenticeship and HBGTP schemes are part of the National Trust’s continuing commitment to careers in horticulture, under the umbrella of its Heritage Gardening Programme.

The programme – celebrating its first anniversary this month – aims to open as many pathways into horticulture at the National Trust as possible, and create a pipeline for gardeners from entry-level positions through to garden management roles within the organisation.

Trust gardeners are given the opportunity to attend some of the 50 training days run each year by the National Trust’s garden training specialist and external experts, as well as access to e-learning courses and workplace training.

Mike Calnan, National Trust head of gardens, commented: ‘Many of the plant collections and gardens that we look after are as internationally significant as the houses, collections and landscapes in our care.

‘By making these commitments to developing the current and next generations of horticulturalists – and providing more entry points into the profession – the National Trust is ensuring that these places are protected for everyone to enjoy in perpetuity’.