An interview with Daniel Jones


Tell us what you are doing at RHS Garden Wisley.

Daniel Jones (Image credit: RHS / Helen Yates)

At the moment, I am coming to the end of a Level 4 Horticultural Diploma at Wisley. I’ve been here for two years and as I explain it to visitors when they ask, I think we have the best job as we get to work all over Wisley with fantastic and knowledgable horticulturists. We get to see all the different areas throughout the seasons, from the orchards and vegetable garden to the mixed borders, trials field, alpine section and glasshouse among many others. We also have lectures and masterclasses covering a range of topics in horticulture. In our first year, we complete the Level 3 Diploma and then move onto the Level 4 Diploma in the second year. It’s good fun!

I’m currently working with the trials team and it is looking great there with the Crocosmia and Lagerstroemia in flower. It is also an exciting time for them as they prepare t move the trails area to a new trials garden. It has been an exciting time to be at Wisley as there has been so much happening over the last two years – the new heather garden, a lavender field, opening of the new Welcome Building and seeing the development of the Hilltop complex and gardens. The situation over the last few months hasn’t been ideal but we have managed to complete our coursework and exam thanks to adjustments made to ensure we complete course.

How did you get to Wisley and what got you interested in horticulture?

Grass Garden, RHS Garden Wisley
(Credit: D Jones)

I grew up in Worcestershire and really started horticulture after my A-Levels – I thought about university but chose to take some time out for a year and do some practical work. I’d always been interested in the outdoors and done summer work in gardens so wanted to explore that a little more. I wrote a lot of letters to local gardens enquiring about apprenticeships and they all said no but one said they needed some help in the summer. After the summer, they let me stay on for a full year so I could experience a winter in the garden. I then went on to the apprenticeship scheme at RBG Kew and spent a fantastic two years there: first in the outdoor areas and then in the glasshouses. After that, I wanted more practical training which led me to Wisley…

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of horticulture as a career?

Get as much practical experience as you can. At school, I wasn’t encouraged to pursue a horticultural career and they didn’t know what the options were so you have to find out as much as you can – there are lots of opportunities out there with apprenticeships and traineeships. Practical experience could be a summer job or a year out in a garden. Be as ambitious as you can – you don’t know where it might lead you. I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to work at Kew and Wisley!

Where next?

That’s the really exciting bit. The situation over the last few months hasn’t helped but I’m hopeful that there will lots of new and exciting opportunities. I’ve tried to keep my training as broad as possible and done lots of different work experience – at Chatsworth, Great Dixter, Bodnant and at the Eric Young Orchid Foundation. Ideally I would like to get into the work place and I’ve developed a real love of alpines over the last four years – my research project focuses on alpine and montane flora {available from the PlantNetwork website} and I’ve had some travel and work experience in Switzerland. There are lots of fantastic gardens in the UK and Europe that I’d like to work in one day.

Has there been a stand out moment for you during your training?

I was very fortunate at the end of my apprenticeship at Kew to be involved in the replanting of the restored Temperate House. We were invited in before the official opening by Sir David Attenborough to see it completed: we went up to the top viewing balcony and with the sun going down, it was a magic moment.

Who or what has inspired your choice of career?

Daniel at Schynige Platte Alpine Garden

I have worked with so many inspiring people at some incredible gardens. One place I was particularly taken with was the Swiss National Park which I visited on my travel scholarship. It is tucked away in the far eastern part of Switzerland and is the oldest national park in the Alps. It is also one of the strictest parks in Europe – it is closed in winter, you are not allowed off the paths and nothing is brought in/removed from the park. I had a tour of the park and learnt it history – about how it was a heavily farmed/mined area that is being left to recover naturally.

 Val Trupchun in the Swiss National Park
(D. Jones)
Campanula cochleariifolia at
Margunet, Swiss National Park (D Jones)
Margunet in the Swiss National Park
(D Jones)

Narcissus leonensis in the
Davies Alpine House
at Kew (D Jones)

What three plants or horticulturally-related products would you take to a deserted island (your “Desert Island Plants”)?

Can I have a deserted mountain? I will have a couple of Pinus cembra as you need something to build a shelter with and it is an incredibly hardy alpine tree with aromatic wood. The next two are my favourite plants. Gentiana lutea is the giant yellow gentian and is a large flowered plant that is common in the Alps. It does have a practical application – the root can aid digestion. At Kew, I produced a profile of the alpine Narcissus collection, with a focus on the trumpet daffodils and I discovered Narcissus leonensis which is the most perfect trumpet daffodil you could find.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?

I play the trumpet and the piano – and I studied music at the Birmingham’s Junior Conservatoire. I took part in jazz classes and found that the discipline of music and creativity has really influenced how I approach horticulture.

You are coming to the end of training – is there something you want to achieve in your career?

Just to continue working in some fantastic gardens and to continue learning and developing – there is so much to learn and I don’t believe you can ever know it all. Whatever I do next, I’m sure I’ll work with some inspiring people and I will continue learning. I don’t think people tell you when you start in horticulture that there is such a variety of opportunities, from visits to great gardens to getting involved in different projects and campaigns.

Relevant PlantNetwork links:

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

The Hills are Alive

Daniel Jones, Horticultural Student at RHS Garden Wisley, introduces his research project which looks at using alpine plant communities in gardens.

Jobs and careers

Find out more about posting recruitment notices with PlantNetwork as well as career hints, tips and links including training opportunities and funding/bursaries.

With thanks to Bruce Langridge and Will Ritchie of National Botanic Garden of Wales for question format and original podcast idea