Kate Nicoll, National Specialist for Garden Training with the National Trust reports on her experience of developing a new garden training programme for National Trust horticultural staff.
‘A Garden Training Strategy for the National Trust! Aren’t all our gardeners fully trained already?’ This was one of the responses I received when I took up my secondment as National Specialist for Garden Training. The general assumption is that gardeners are born with green fingers primed for propagation, pruning and identification of all the 30,000 plants known in cultivation – not to mention garden design, soil preparation and machinery maintenance. Having switched careers from radio production to horticulture a mere 15 years ago, I am only too aware that gaining the skills, knowledge and experience to manage a complex garden are both hard-won and never actually completed. In horticulture there is always something more to learn.
Outside the Trust, sadly, training opportunities for gardeners are shrinking fast. Colleges in Shropshire – home to Attingham Park, the property where I garden – no longer offer career-based professional horticultural training. Elsewhere, too, land-based skills seem to have mysteriously metamorphosed into hairdressing or sports studies. We see the effects of this decline when we try to recruit new gardeners from a smaller and smaller pool. So, wearing the research hat of my previous broadcasting career, I decided to find out how gardeners have been trained in the past, and whether that history offers any lessons we can learn for the future.
Kate spoke about the new training programme at our 2016 annual conference see her presentation here