30 Jun 2020

Our Garden Educators – Rebecca Thomas

Bruce Langridge

If your child and grandchild have taken part in a weekend or school holiday organised child-focussed activity in the Botanic Garden, there’s a fair chance that Rebecca would either have run that activity or organised it.

Since her first involvement with the Garden’s education department in 2011 Rebecca has been instrumental in developing our family activities from just a few days a year to over a hundred days a year. She’s recently been developing these as Growing the Future online resources for families to do at home, especially during the Covid pandemic.

Where were you brought up Rebecca?

I was brought up on the Cotswolds at the Cotswold Farm Park, my father was the Shepherd. It was an amazing place to grow up, the outdoors and the animals were my playground. My father is a bee keeper and has many rural craft hobbies. Both my parents have always been keen gardeners.

How did you become a trained educator? Didn’t you used to be a shepherdess?

After leaving school I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps into farming. Prior to completing a National Diploma in the local agricultural college, I came to Wales to gain six months’ work experience. It was here that I milked cows on the farm next door but one to where we now live.

Having completed agricultural college I worked on a farm milking cows. However sheep have always been my first love and I was fortunate to have a job as a shepherdess on a large sheep farm which I loved.

I started a little gardening business around Llandeilo, going into people’s gardens and looking after them. I enjoyed the job, the plants and the people that I worked for.

I have always wanted to share the knowledge that I have gained with others, as I feel so privileged to have learnt from so many experienced and inspirational people. I realised that it was necessary to get a qualification to achieve this dream. In 2010 I gained a degree in Early Years Education at Trinity St David’s Carmarthen.

Whilst in Trinity I started to volunteer at the National Botanic Garden of Wales and fell in love with the Gardens. I am still in love with the Gardens after nearly 10 years.

What is your current job role?

I am currently working for Growing the Future which I am thoroughly enjoying, I am planning and preparing online activities, for adults and children to do in their own gardens and the countryside around them. Inspiring people to engage with nature, learn more about gardening and growing your own intermingled with health and wellbeing. It has given me an opportunity to widen my skills by writing, and to think imaginatively of activities, using resources that are available at home. The activities are available on the website and are free to download.

You help out on Waun Las NNR too don’t you?

The national nature reserve at Waun Las has a herd of 20 Welsh Black suckler cows and a flock of 40 Balwen sheep. I help Huw Jones the farm manager.

It is a job that I feel very privileged to do. The Balwen sheep are my favourite – they are a small hardy breed with enormous character. The nature reserve is full of wildlife, and wildflowers – a joy to be in.

You’ve had to create activities for an incredible amount of different events, each requiring new learning on your part. These include chickens, plant medicine, lichens, trees, pollinators, history, fairies, gardening, wildlife, fungi, cooking and even astronomy. Have I missed anything?

I have a wonderfully talented team of volunteers and co-workers, who help to put together and deliver the activities without whom they would not happen.

Each time we embark on a new subject, I compare it to opening a small window into a world that many people spend their whole lives working in and studying. We step into that world and try to gain as much information as possible from the experts.

We then collaborate together, to create activities and information that enables others to be inspired, informed and enthused, be it about pollinators, fungi or any of the other events that we have hosted. We always learn more information and useful ideas from the visitors who partake in the activity, and the week of activities often develops and grows as we learn more.

Over the years we have made many good, firm friends from individuals and families, who return year after year to the activities.

We have enormous fun as a team, and we are always looking for people who would like to volunteer – it is a very rewarding job.

We’ve seen you get dressed up for a lot of your activities. Do you have a favourite outfit?

The herb lady: She knows so much, much more than I will ever know about plants and their uses. When I put on her outfit and walk around the garden, I am transported.

Do you have a favourite part of the Garden?

The Apothecary’s Garden. It fascinates me, all the plants have so many uses including medicinal, culinary and horticultural. There is so much to learn about each plant, the Apothecary’s Garden is a never ending encyclopaedia.

Finally, is there something surprising about you that you’re prepared to share?   

A few years ago I took up jogging very slowly around the lanes. Last August I challenged myself to run 26 miles… I set off to the Brecon Beacons on my own and had a fabulous day. I ran all the way and ached so much for the last 5 miles but it was worth it. I enjoy running and when I run I feel close to God, and close to nature, which unfolds in front of me as the seasons change.