5 Dec 2018

An apprentice’s year in the garden

Laura Davies

When I first arrived at the Garden I was excited and eager to start work and my apprenticeship has only expanded my interest in horticulture.

During my first rotation at the Garden, I worked with senior horticulturist Daryll on the Boardwalk. She taught me that there is no such thing as bad weather, there is only poor preparation. I learned that no matter the circumstances, you can always prepare and plan ahead and with determination a job can nearly always be done. I also learned how to ensure a consistent finish in my work. During this rotation I cut back herbaceous perennials, weeded the borders and prepared the area for winter. Using my secateurs constantly I learned quickly how to maintain and keep my tools sharp in order to maintain efficiency in my work, I was able to demonstrate these skills to visitors of the National Garden Scheme open day this summer.

In my second rotation I moved onto the Nursery Glasshouses with horticulturist Carl.

Here I learned the basics of propagation, something I had little prior experience with. Carl also taught me the importance of good, accurate record keeping so that others can replicate results achieved in propagating materials. I also did a lot of work with an integrated pest management scheme where I learned much about biocontrols for common pests encountered in protected environments. During this time I also spent a lot of time working with Carly and the Welsh Natives project. This was my first encounter of horticulture with the aim of conservation, showing me a completely different side of horticulture and giving me the opportunity to work with some rare plants. I also began to learn how to water containerised plants properly a basic skill to learn but of vital importance.

Next I spent three months working in the Double Walled Garden with Senior horticulturist Martin and horticulturist Blue.

My main task during the spring was weeding mainly the Rosid beds and helping prepare the ground in the Slips Garden. At first, these seemed like endless tasks, however very quickly I learned to break large tasks down into manageable goals and tackle each one at a time. Prior to beginning work the Slips Garden was paved over and had box hedging that was no longer needed. Blue and I removed the paths, broke the soil out, relieved compaction and raked the surface to a fine tilth for wildflower seeds. I found this very interesting because it showed me that you can take a poor site with little growing potential and transform it into land where decorative flowers will grow. While also working with Blue, I spent time working with the top fruit and soft fruit plants. I learned the skill of grafting, and grafted the backup trees for the National Heritage Welsh Apples collection. I was also able to learn and undertake some summer pruning.

My final first year rotation took place in the Great Glasshouse with Senior horticulturist Marilla and horticulturist James.

This was the most challenging rotation as I had to learn to work in high heat conditions of the summer. Here I helped to improve the soil in some of the beds in the boulder garden and planted many plants in this area. It was an exciting experience to work with plants that are not hardy in the native climate, giving me confidence in working with a new area of horticulture. It was also interesting to see a lot of the plants that I was working within the Nursery Glasshouses in a more mature state and planted into a decorative border.

Alongside these rotations I undertook many training opportunities that broadened my skills set. This included the safe use of pesticides and a training course for the Avant 365. I also completed a basic training course on tree surveying and emergency first aid at work. Since starting my apprenticeship I feel that I have gained a lot of confidence and am now a lot more organised in my life. Throughout my first year of working at the Garden, I have faced some daunting and challenging jobs, but I have always looked forward to my work, my enthusiasm and excitement has not waned and I am just and excited about my next year of work here in the Garden and the rest of my career in horticulture.

Nodyn y Golygydd/Editor’s Note. 

The Garden would like to thank the National Garden Scheme and to Patrick Daniell, Coleg Sir Gar, Finnis Scott Foundation and Ernest Cook Trust for kindly supporting our Garden apprentice scheme and for providing Ben with this great opportunity to become a professional horticulturist.