An interview with Nick Lightfoot

Nick Lightfoot is our first interviewee for a series looking at the variety of roles and career paths in horticulture. It is also an opportunity to find out more about the people who are creating, shaping and managing our wonderful gardens!

Listen to the podcast – available above. A summary of Nick’s replies are below but listen to the interview for the detailed responses.


What is your current role?

As well as a PlantNetwork Trustee, I am the Garden and Collections Manager at Ness Botanic Garden, part of the University of Liverpool. I manage a team of 10 and approximately 100 volunteers.

How did you come to be at Ness?

I grew up locally and my first garden job was at Thornton Manor, not far from Ness. Then I moved to Hampshire and worked for the National Trust at The Vine before moving to Ness six years ago.

How did you get interested in horticulture?

My dad was a keen gardener – my mobile phone screensaver is a picture of me aged around eight holding the leeks he’d grown. My grandfather was a professional gardener so it is in the blood!

What do you enjoy about your current role?

I like the people I work with and I really like learning – there is always something new to learbn in horticulture. I particularly like learning about and working with the Ness plant collections. I enjoy challenges too, such as putting together management and collections plans.

What are you most looking forward to in the next few months/years?

The lockdown has given us new things to work on but I’m keen to develop the plant collections policy and developing the glasshouse provision at Ness. We’re putting plans together for new glasshouses for new plant collections and for engaging with visitors.

Do you have a favourite part of Ness?

I’d struggle to name a favourite but the Pine Wood and Rhododendron Border looks magical at this time of year. My favourite thing about Ness are is the plant collection.

What has inspired you to pursue your career?

My dad was a big influence at the beginning. I’ve also had inspirational teachers, particularly a tutor at Sparsholt College. There are also places that inspire me and these include Bodnant, Rousham and the Chelsea Flower Show. Horticulture is such a huge area that there is so much inspiration around! I would still like to do more in garden design….

If you had the opportunity, would you have done anything differently?

I started as a volunteer and then was taken on as a gardener. I did all the practical aspects first before moving onto the RHS qualifications, then onto the MHort and a Masters in garden history. I was reluctant to go back to school at first as I was a career changer. There are so many routes into horticulture and you have to find a pathway that suits you but do look at the formal training opportunities and qualifications to back up practical experience. Garden visiting is very important to learn more about plants.

You’re stuck on a desert island: what three plants would you want to be stranded with?

I would take….. [listen to the podcast to find out what Nick’s three plant choices are!]

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?

I was an archaeologist and my proudest achievement was excavating a Neolithic skeleton…..

Ness Botanic Garden

Visit the Ness website or take a look at the PlantNetwork Directory for more detail about the plant collections Nick mentions in his interview.

Find out more about PlantNetwork events at Ness:

Betula identification and cultivation

Betula identification and cultivation

Held at Ness Botanic Gardens in September 2018, this Tree Forum Day was led by Ness Botanic Gardens staff and focused primarily on the identification of birches and their allies, with discussion of propagation, cultivation and Betula conservation.

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