Liz is a graduate from the Historic and Botanic Garden Training Programme (HBGTP), a scheme that provides training opportunities for aspiring new gardeners. We asked her about her experiences training at Sissinghurst and learning the horticultural ropes.
What inspired you to apply for the scheme?
After twenty years of working with vulnerable people at a mental health charity, my job had become managerial and office based and I wanted something different. I’d enjoyed having an allotment for 10 years, so I studied for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) level 2 qualification to see where it took me. After that, I volunteered in the garden at Bateman’s and realised I really wanted to work for the National Trust. I also had a friend who'd had an amazing experience on the HBGTP course.
What projects did you work on during your time at Sissinghurst?
You are set three projects a year and the benefit of the two-year course is that you see the fruits of your labour.
My first project was researching the history of the Sunk Garden which used to be known as the Lion Pond. This involved looking at old archives, notes and photographs; even more exciting was working on a project with a tangible outcome, as we’re now in the process of restoring the Lion Pond.
My last project involved the amazing roses in the garden, recording all the original varieties which have now been reintroduced and entering them on the database. I now really appreciate the importance of knowing what roses we have and where, and how easy it is to lose track without that information.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Gardening in extreme weather! Pruning the rambling rosa mulliganii in the famous White Garden in mid winter in torrential rain, up a ladder with water pouring down my sleeves. Double digging and strimming in a heatwave was also hard going. I’ve certainly built up stamina and there’s something wonderful about pruning in the rain despite the discomfort.
What skills have you acquired?
First and foremost horticultural skills and top of the list, specialist rose pruning. This is a fantastic place to learn as there are so many roses in the garden and the gardeners approach pruning in a distinctive way. Working in the nursery and learning propagation skills and glass house management have been important too.
What’s been the best thing about working at Sissinghurst?
Being in a team with such talented and knowledgeable gardeners, it’s all about teamwork in a big garden and there’s always someone to go to if you get stuck.
Any favourite moments?
Walking from the nursery gate into the Rose Garden on an early summer morning; dewy, misty, scented, good light, you can’t buy those moments. The Lime Walk in spring is magical too.
Any surprises along the way?
Being able to adjust to such early morning starts! Even in the winter we work from 7.30 am until 4.30 pm, four days of the week, so we can get lots done before the garden opens. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy talking to our visitors so much. You get bombarded with questions at times which can slow you down but I really enjoy meeting so many different people.
Would you recommend the scheme and why?
Yes! The camaraderie and support from other students in my peer group has been great. The networking opportunities and placements in other gardens are brilliant.
Has the scheme changed your life?
Absolutely, this has kick started my gardening career and made it become real. No going back now!