An interview with Pam Smith


Pam Smith, National Trust
Pam at the Polar Exploration
Museum, Oslo

Tell us about your role?

I’m the National Trust Gardens and Parks Consultant for the Midlands region and I support about 30 gardens like a floating head gardener. The role means I lead large garden-related projects as well as providing advice on P&D, presentation, visitor engagement, recruitment and whatever is needed

How did you get to where you are now?

Everything I’ve done has led to this role. I’ve always been interested in the outdoor environment, always worked in horticulture since leaving school and have worked across the amenity and historic/botanic sector. I was freelance before I applied for this job, which is the best job I’ve had in horticulture!

What horticulture career pathway did you take?

I was brought up near the coast on Anglesey and knew I wanted to do something outdoors – from farming to forestry. I could find lots of places to do a pre-college year in horticulture so decided on horticulture, doing YTS in Bangor before going on to do the OND in Horticulture at Askham Bryan College – a very intensive course with a middle year placement working in public parks and a botanic garden. I then worked in public parks before moving to Birmingham as director of Winterbourne Botanic Garden. I then went freelance before taking on my current role. I have taken a lot of risks and tried different roles and jobs to see if I liked them – although that gets harder as you get older with more commitments!

What do you enjoy about your current role?

There is a lot of respect for the passion that National Trust staff bring – whether it is for furniture, piano stools, picture frames – often things I’ve never heard of! I like working with the gardeners and it is a privilege to visit a garden and have the opportunity to sit and talk to the volunteers. I don’t enjoy the driving – in the lockdown, I’ve realised how much traveling I do . I’m involved in two large projects: creating a garden for children at Sudbury Hall (home of the National Trust Museum of Childhood) and renovating a curved walled garden at Berrington Hall, Capability Brown’s last garden.

Do you have a favourite garden?

Biddulph Grange has always been a favourite – a real plantsman’s garden, with an amazingly strange landscape and possibly the first stumpery in the country. My real favourite is Benthall Hall which was home of botanist of George Maw, a crocus specialist who introduced 4,000 plants to the UK via the Benthall Hall garden. I’ll talk about this at the PlantNetwork/Sibbaldia conference in October!

What or who has inspired your career in horticulture?

My grandad was a keen gardener and got me interested. My time at Winterbourne, however, was life-changing. I learned new skills and could try out new ideas. It scares me the things I did there now that I look back!

What three plants would you take with you to a deserted island?

I love monkey puzzle trees but I would like to take something luxurious and practical. I would take myrtles – I’ve lost all mine but I love the smell, history and they are edible too. I’d take lavender for a similar reason and my third would be a damask rose (rather than the very practical parsley!). A little shrub bed…..

Is there anywhere you would like to go to see plants?

For plants I would like to see monkey puzzle trees in Chile. However, I’m cutting back on flying and am saving a flight for the one place I’d really like to go – Antarctica, where there are no plants!

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?

Other than my fascination with Antarctica, I’m a brewer! I’m also getting into garden writing….

See Simon Toomer’s interview with PlantNetwork for another National Trust perspective.

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