This gardener’s journey through horticulture: Part 2

By Beverly Law, BSc., MCIHort, MPGCA
Freelance Horticultural Consultant for Lady Penelope Gardens and others

Part Five – More thirties

Studying for the RHS General Certificate unlocked a love of learning I didn’t know I had. I felt driven to study for a Degree in Psychology. I started at Portsmouth Uni in September 2000, supporting myself by gardening. During this time I also took on my own ‘Lost Gardens’, in the shape of a completely overgrown 11 rods of allotment. It took months of sweat and toil to clear it, but I managed a small harvest even in the first year!

While working in lovely gardens I began collecting seed, taking cuttings and potting up herbaceous divisions, collecting stock to begin my very small plant nursery called ‘Little Pocket of Peace’. I held monthly plant sales and loved advising people on the right plant choices for their conditions. I didn’t make much money, when you consider the hours and hours of potting on, watering and caring for my ever growing stock, but I loved it. I rented part of a yard at a nearby farm and would spend every hour not working or studying, tending to my stock.

For my final dissertation, I chose to investigate why people grow their own vegetables when they were readily available to buy in shops. This came loosely under the umbrella of Ecological Psychology and I found a Professor willing to work with me on it. A dissertation is an intense piece of work, for those who haven’t done one. 12,000 carefully considered words depicting your research, methodology, findings and how that sits with other current research. Due to my findings, the title became ‘The Need to Garden’.  My professor urged me to seek publication of my dissertation in the Psychology world, but by then I was worn out and didn’t pursue it. Although the research was done 15 years ago, the findings are interesting, in particular to the horticultural world, and I hope to write about my research here later….

Part Six – Still more thirties (it was a busy decade!)

After graduating (with a First!) I continued working in private country gardens and holding plant sales with my nursery stock. I got married and created a wonderful garden, and a huge vegetable garden, in a unique setting within woodland. This was filmed by Channel 4 and can still be seen on repeat on TV now. Ok, I admit the filming was mainly for the house (it was Grand Designs after all), but still my garden was on TV. I stopped working when my son was born, shortly followed by my daughter.  When the babies were put to bed, I would rush out to my greenhouse and sow, and prick out, and plant and water. I would rush to achieve as much as possible before the baby monitor would call me back indoors. I would laugh about how I used to have time to run a nursery!

This was when I first experienced frustration with gardening. There is always so much to do, and so much more you want to do, but when your time is limited, even by such wonderful little people, it quickly becomes frustrating. Sadly weeds or pests and diseases will not wait until you have a spare hour to deal with them. By the time you get to it, it has run out of control and requires much more time to rectify. I would bring my children outside with me. They were used to helping pick fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house, right from toddlers onwards. Frustratingly now, aged 12 and 13, it is a real struggle to get them off their iPads and outside!

Part Seven – My forties

After a few years, myself and my children moved into an isolated rural cottage surrounded by fields which had a huge garden. When the children began school, I worked more and more in the garden, but the expanse of lawn was too much for me and I enlisted the help of a dear friend who continued for nearly ten years to help me with my garden. We spent every other weekend in my garden, creating my latest idea for a project. Wildlife ponds, sun house, tropical border, raised vegetable beds and so on. During this time I grew cut flowers and sold them locally. I really enjoyed being this creative but again, really no money in it. Such a shame. When I had to find real work, I was taken on by Angela Palmerton, of Lady Penelope Gardens as a Senior Gardener. I was able to work flexibly around my children, which is an absolute godsend to single mothers. I enjoyed the variety of gardens we would work in, but I did have a particular favourite, and after a couple of years, I took on this particular garden, and the lovely Beryl who owned it, and this is where I stayed for about 5 years. It was a slow realisation that I no longer worked effectively outdoors. The summers became way too hot for me, the frosty mornings were painful, the rain I could no longer tolerate. There were some beautiful sunny spring or autumn days that were still just perfect, but not enough. It was time for me to go back indoors….

Part Eight – 50!

Lady Penelope Gardens was going through a period of expansion at this time, so I began work in the offices there, helping with organisation, plant orders, website and social media. This progressed to marketing, networking and business development and I loved it! I was still talking plants, still surrounded by plant people, but was much more comfortable physically. I gained very varied experience working at Lady Penelope and have now decided to work freelance for Lady Penelope and others. I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture and a Member of the Professional Garden Consultants Association.

In summary, my horticultural journey so far has been very varied and hugely enjoyable.  I have always gardened for pleasure as well as professionally. It takes years to build good horticultural knowledge and to be honest, you need to be fit, healthy and energetic to keep up with the pace. We all have to do everything we possibly can to entice young people into this industry. We have to have collective responsibility to ensure the art of horticulture continues with plenty of young blood coming through. With the lack of gardens for new build houses, the trend to rent rather than buy, the availability of fresh produce and flowers, and the time pressures everyone seems willing to live their life by, I am afraid that parents role modelling gardening to their children is dying out. I firmly believe it starts here and since recently reading that some parents would love to garden with their children but lack the confidence and know how so they don’t do it, I intend to throw my energies into teaching parents how to simply garden with their children. What a wonderful way to connect to one another, to notice and appreciate nature, to feel the changing of the seasons and get lots of Vitamin D!