A second podcast featuring bursaries available to horticulturists. This time we interview Adrian Thorne, who is the Awards Manager for the Professional Gardeners’ Trust.
Transcript of the PlantNetwork podcast with Adrian Thorne from the Professional Gardeners’ Trust.
Today the PlantNetwork podcast follows on the theme of bursaries available to horticulturalists, and we’re very pleased to have Adrian Thorne from the Professional Gardeners’ Trust joining us. Adrian was kind enough to record a mini biography for us ,so tell us about yourself Adrian.
My name’s Adrian Thorne. I’m the Awards Manager for the Professional Gardeners’ Trust. I do that part time, the rest of the time, I work as an Horticultural Advisor for the RHS based in Wisley. I’ve been in horticulture for something over 15 years now, being a career changer in my early 30s. Spent most of my time self employed but now I’ve moved into the RHS .
It’s very nice of you to come and chat to me for the PlantNetwork podcast. Would you like to tell us a little bit about the Professional Gardeners’ Trust?
Hello, Mercy. Yeah, it’s really kind of you to invite us on. The Professional Gardeners’ Trust is a charity that was founded in 2004, we’re 20 years old next year which is a nice little milestone for us, and our aim is to fill the gap financially when a professional gardener can’t afford training that they’d like to undertake
We administer funds on behalf of a number of donors. Some you might have heard of: National Garden Scheme, Scotland’s National Garden Scheme. Some you might not have heard of, but still do excellent work: The Finnis Scott Foundation, for example perhaps slightly less known. We organize the applications for these moneys and administer it all.
I can’t believe that they’re coming up to 20 years old. That’s amazing.
So who are the PGT? Who’s behind the initials?
Well, there’s myself, I’m what we call the Awards Manager. Our chair is Sarah Wain, who you might know from West Dean Gardens. Herself and Jim, her husband, did an awful lot of work getting West Dean a fantastic reputation. On top of that we have a lot of volunteers, which we are very grateful for. So we’ve got eight trustees, a treasurer, a secretary that all give their time for free. You know, we really couldn’t do any of this without our volunteers.
We have Penny, our social media lady, who you might come into contact with as well. But most of the contact with gardeners and people in the industry is often through myself or through Penny on social media.
So what does the Professional Gardeners’ Trust fund?
Well, we fund horticultural training courses of many different types. We have quite a wide range of applications, anything from short day courses, little lectures, et cetera, all the way up to three year degree-type. courses, and even less frequently, but occasionally study trips where a gardener might like to improve their knowledge of a particular style of garden or a plant. And they might need a little bit of financial help to get to a specific place. We do our best to help those.
So if I wanted to, for example, attend a Plant Network event…
If it was going to be a financial stretch for you, that’s what we’re here for. What we don’t fund is equipment and we don’t fund core training courses that are already in progress. We need you to talk to us before you start. And, we don’t fund full time courses either. So, it’s part time study courses that are the most common applications I would suggest.
No new chainsaw for me. That’s a bit sad. So what sort of people do the PGT fund?
Professional gardeners in the UK.. We do ask that you earn the majority of your income from gardening or horticulture, but we don’t mind if you are employed or self-employed. We do need you to make that qualification of being a professional gardener though. You can be a career changer or you can have been in the industry for 30 years. We don’t mind.
We often find gardeners who are looking for some form of retraining to improve their career. And that’s quite often the important thing. If you look at our application form, it’s very much orientated around how this is going to improve your horticultural career. Where are you going? Why are you looking at this training and how is it going to get you there? So, people looking to improve their career.
So there you are, as Awards Manager, sitting in front of your keyboard, what makes a good application when you see it?
Oh, that’s a good question. Well, first off, I’d say before you apply, have a good look at our website, have a look at the guidelines for applicants there. We’ve got a very up to date Frequently Asked Questions page that’s got a lot of information on.
And feel free to talk to us before you submit your application. We’re absolutely open to emails, et cetera. Give us your thoughts if you’re interested or at all worried. But a good application, I would suggest if you’re considering applying to us, firstly give yourself plenty of time, don’t rush it.
Applications can take four, six, sometimes eight weeks. So leave yourself plenty of time before your course starts. Fill out all the information on the application form. We’ve got all the boxes there, and it can be tempting to skip some of them. Often it just delays it, with us coming back to ask for the extra information.
On the flip side, occasionally people are tempted to put War and Peace in, which is lovely, but sometimes it can just slow things down. So just giving us what we need, in a nice clear format will help to get your application through, and quickly.
Feel free to ask for the application to be checked first. You don’t have to submit it and say, here’s my final application. We’re more than happy for you to say ‘What do you think of this? What needs improving? What have I left out?’ That’s absolutely fine.
And I think, as I said earlier, the good applications are the ones that have got some thought as to where the training will take the applicant and how is this going to help your career in the long term. Is it the right course for you at this point in your career?
And I say this as someone who is very guilty of looking through many courses and thinking, ‘oh, that’s interesting’. I could easily spend a year looking at some. obscure plant in New Zealand or some particular style of garden, but perhaps it’s not actually useful to my career or maybe not the right time in my career to undertake that. So, make sure it is relevant and show that.
Any applications that are supported by other bodies are really well looked at as well. And we fully encourage those. So don’t feel that you’ve just got to apply to us the PGT, or the RHS, for example.
If you’re looking for a thousand pounds, then If you split £300 from each body, then that’s absolutely brilliant, and it tends to look better as well. So we fully encourage people to get support from many other bodies.
Having your references ready does help as well, a few applications will stall or take a long time because referees aren’t particularly prompt in replying. So you might want to just prime them first to expect an email from us and that keeps things moving along.
What I hear you’re saying is that the application isn’t looked at by some form of AI which stamps it yes or no. You look at it as an individual, on a holistic basis for each person.
What happens to the application once it’s past your beady eyes?
They’re not that beady! and we look at each application as a whole individually, and it is looked at by people. So after I’ve tidied it up and we’ve put it all together. It goes off to our eight trustees and we ask their views on it.
They’re the people who make the decision and they bring it back to me. That process can take two to four weeks and then it comes back to me and then I get in touch with the beneficiary either way.
I would say, though, if you have put in an application and you’re not successful this time do keep in touch with us. Many of us have got a long career in horticulture ahead of us, so if it isn’t the right time for us to help you, that doesn’t mean it may not be the right time in five years. So keep in touch.
All our trustees are very experienced horticulturists, with a great deal of knowledge and some of them are very well known in the horticultural world. And they do occasionally come back with suggestions in terms of ‘well, I think this might be the wrong time in your career to be looking at this course. Perhaps you’d like to look at something else instead’.
It’s almost a bit of career counseling alongside the application process.
I happen to know that you’re a past beneficiary of the PG Trust. What funding did you get and what did you spend it on?
I got funding to support my RHS Master of Horticulture degree which was very, very welcome. I was a self employed gardener at that point in my career, and there was absolutely no way I could have afforded to do that course.
It’s not the cheapest of courses. It’s a very, very good course. And PGT funding basically allowed me to take that course. That has had quite an impact on the way my career has gone. It’s given me a lot of skills that I wouldn’t have been able to gain from being out in the garden, such as researching and writing articles.
And that’s now led me to working for the RHS, where I work as a horticultural advisor at the moment. It’s had a huge effect and it’s opened up opportunities and pathways that are there. So yeah, I am hugely grateful for that.
What do you see as the future of the Professional Gardeners Trust?
Well, I think we’re going from strength to strength to be honest. So far this year, we’ve made 63 awards with nearly £45,000 worth of funds handed out to gardeners. And that figure seems to be increasing year on year. The average value of awards is going up as the cost of living goes up.
Unfortunately, most gardeners’ wages are not keeping pace with the cost of living. And so in my view, it’s going to be harder for gardeners to afford training, especially gardeners who are at the start of their career where wages are more challenging. I hope that we’re going to be making a lot more awards year on year and helping a lot more people.
That’s really nice to know. What were the most, if you can say, popular things that people have been applying to do this year?
It does vary, interestingly, between the time of year and even the part of the country. This year from Scotland we’ve had quite a lot of interest in chainsaws. We’ve just had quite a big flush of applications for the RHS qualifications, which are always very very popular, which is nice to see. I think the RHS qualifications are, and whilst I do work with them, I’m not on commission, they are always a good solid grounding for horticulturists.
We had a few different ones, botanical art, I thought, was one that I wasn’t expecting. There were some lovely pictures that came back from that particular award.
So do the beneficiaries have to do anything in return for their award?
Well, we do like them to write us a report at the end of the training course. It’s not a long report, quite often it’s just a couple of paragraphs, a nice photo is always really helpful. And what that allows us to do is to take it back to the donors, the people who have given us the money, and say, well look, this is how your money’s been spent. This is Joe Bloggs, and it’s made a real difference to his career, and you know, he’s really impressed by it.
So really it’s a fulfilling circle that the funders get evidence that their money they’ve spent has done some good, and the beneficiaries get to show their achievements .
Yes and we hope that that circle continues, that the more happy well trained gardeners we can show funders then hopefully the more funds will become available and the more awards we can make.
Do you have a message that you would like to pass on to potential applicants listening to this podcast?
Yes it’s worthwhile getting extra training. It will help your career. It does make a difference. It may not be immediate, but in the long term training nearly always pays off. If you do think that you are going to be struggling to afford it you are not alone. Do come and talk to us..
So thank you Adrian. Is there anything else that you would like to pass on to potential applicants or even potential donors who might be listening to the podcast?
Well, if I can put in a quick plug for our social media channels, if you want to get in touch with us.
Facebook and LinkedIn search for: professional gardeners trust
You are very welcome to send me an email.
So do feel free to interact with us. Tag yourself, follow and speak to us there.
Fantastic thank you so much for your time, Adrian. And I hope that you get many applications as a result of this.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to come on.