21st Century Women Gardeners
Head Gardener of The Stoke Poges Memorial Garden
I was lucky enough to grow up in central Switzerland in a small town near Lake Lucerne. From age five I knew that I wanted to be a gardener. We didn’t have a garden as we lived in a flat in the middle of town. However, my mother grew lots of things with us children in window boxes and containers on the balcony, the most memorable being little round carrots – just enough for a mouthful! It was enough to hook me for life and when I finished school, I went on to do a three-year apprenticeship in horticulture. After that, I worked at an organic market garden, trialling lots of old and new techniques in organic gardening – and growing lovely fruit and veg.
A one-year stay in the UK to work as an au-pair, turned into many more when met a lovely man who is now my husband and ended up staying rather longer than I had originally planned!
I started my own garden care business and later diversified into garden design upon completion of an HNC in Garden Design and Plantsmanship at the Berkshire College of Agriculture. My apprenticeship had equipped me with all the basic skills I needed to be a successful horticulturist including lots of plant knowledge. The design course and my work experience built on this, and I’ve been able to continue to expand my knowledge and practical skills over the years. One of the great joys in horticulture is that there is always more to learn! More recently I completed the degree level Master of Horticulture with the RHS and I am a Chartered Horticulturist.
I would definitely recommend horticulture as a career. There are so many areas to choose from; production, design, history, science, sustainability, conservation, psychology, technology and more. What an amazing industry to work in!
I’ve been working as Head Gardener of the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens since 2012. The Gardens were designed and built in the 1930’s and are Grade 1 registered. Apart from looking after a beautiful place, which holds significance for many people who come to visit their loved ones, I love the historic aspect of the gardens and the surrounding area. It gives the garden a tremendous sense of place. Over the last couple of years I’ve been able to design an extension to the Memorial Gardens. The design draws on a number of models used in bereavement counselling and aims to help visitors think and work through some of the emotions encountered after a loss.
The Memorial Gardens are open every day of the year. We also open under the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday, 14th May 2023 from 1.30-4.30pm. There will be guided tours of the gardens and refreshments will be served. Entry is £5 per person.
We host a number of events throughout the year including an Insect Day, Heritage Open Day, Bat Walk, Fungus Foray and Bereavement Cafe. Our volunteer groups, the Friends of the Gardens and the Garden Ninjas are always looking for more members. If you’re interested in any of these, please get in touch for more information. Franzi.firstname.lastname@example.org
Gardener at Turn End, Haddenham
I am the Gardener at Turn End in Haddenham, the home and garden of world-renowned architect Peter Aldington.
My introduction to horticulture began with my grandparents. My maternal grandmother had a magical garden behind a 1930’s semi in Amersham, with deep, dark borders and huge trees. A tiny stone path snaked across a rockery to an informal pond, around which grew yellow Mimulus. I made miniature ballerinas from the scarlet and amethyst-skirted flowers of Fuchsia magellanica, topped with a Calendula petal as golden hair.
My father’s parents had a formal, hilltop garden in Chesham. The low privet hedges, tiered levels and steep paths made an excellent obstacle course for my brother, cousins and I. There was a gnarly old cooking apple and patch of blackberries from which my grandmother made luscious fruit tarts.
My own childhood efforts included sowing wild flowers for a ‘meadow’ and crafting miniature seed tray gardens with ponds made from compact mirrors and lawns made from moss for the Holmer Green Horticultural Society shows. When I purchased my first house in Marlow I became very enthusiastic about researching – and buying – plants for the different aspects and soil conditions by visiting garden centres and reading plant encyclopaedias.
I studied Archaeology and my first career was as a museum curator, in London, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, mainly at Wycombe Museum where I loved the furniture collection. Gardening remained a passion and I attended evening classes for the RHS General Certificate and Level 3 Diploma and volunteered at Hughenden Manor. I took the plunge to change career and spent 3 years full time studying all the subjects that I was fascinated by – a National Diploma in Horticulture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset, photography evening classes and a MA in Furniture Design at Buckinghamshire New University. Alongside, I worked as a seasonal gardener at Greys Court and undertook some garden design and maintenance for friends. It is thanks to the knowledge and support of Lindsay Engers at Bucks Adult Learning, Frank Parge at Hughenden Manor and Rachel Roncon at Greys Court that I was able to start my own career in horticulture.
My MA thesis explored furniture within garden design and I interviewed Peter Aldington at Turn End as a case study. We kept in touch and he offered me the job here as Gardener in 2010.
What I enjoy and value at Turn End is the variety of work in this small but complex garden, constant opportunities to learn new skills, freedom to plan my work and being innovative with modest resources! The rhythm of the seasons is both joyous and grounding and it is rewarding to gradually evolve and expand our plant collection whilst staying true to Peter’s original design. I also help manage the properties and love sharing my enthusiasm for Turn End through group visits, a growing programme of public events and developing new collaborations with local partners. I currently work with Turn End Trust on fundraising and future strategy, as Turn End’s creators Margaret and Peter Aldington step back after 60 years of welcoming visitors from across the globe to their home and garden.
I’ve been fortunate to work with and share friendships with many women gardeners. Common to all is an incredible passion for plants, impressive work ethic and generous sharing of knowledge (and plants!).
We are looking forward to welcoming the new Buckinghamshire Gardeners Network to Turn End on 30 March and partnering with Bucks Gardens Trust for ‘Tree Treasures’ walks on 30 May. Would you like to hear about forthcoming events at Turn End and special activities with our Friends scheme? Visit our website: www.turnend.org.uk .
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Senior Gardener at Stowe
My passion for gardening started at an early age and I remember helping my grandfather in his greenhouse prick out and pot on his seedlings, I think he valued my small hands. I was about 10 when my parents gave me a piece of the garden to grow flowers and vegetables on and by the age of 12 I had my first greenhouse. This really was a turning point in my life as I realised I wanted a career in horticulture but it wasn’t until I turned 30 that this became a reality.
In 2010 I had started volunteering in the garden at Wrest Park (English Heritage) in Bedfordshire and the opportunity came up to be one of 4 new Apprentice Gardeners on a 2 year contract. We had practical training in the historic gardens, learning about the daily maintenance and restoration work and studied for our RHS Level 2 and 3 in Horticulture once a week. We were also awarded funding through LANTRA for training that was specifically aimed at women as they had themselves noticed a shortfall in the amount of women training in the horticulture sector and wanted to address this balance, this was used to fund our NPTC Tractor training and also PA1 & PA6 Spraying certificates.
In 2012 I was successful in securing a new job at National Trust Stowe as a Gardener. When I started I was given the Western Garden to look after, which was around 60 acres. My first project was to restore an area called the Labyrinth which involved tree felling, designing planting plans using the original plans of the area, contract management of the hard landscaping and eventual planting of the area with the help of staff and volunteers. In 2019 I secured the job of Senior Gardener at Stowe and since then have been involved in lots of different restoration projects including the removal of the golf course and the subsequent expansion of Sleeping Wood and restoring Queens Theatre and its planting.
When I think about the future I want to focus on sustainability, climate change and Nature at Stowe as these are very important areas that we should as an industry be focusing on as they affect all of us and am always working on ways to reduce our need for plastics and reduce our impact on the environment around us. Climate change is also a big concern, and I am working on what it means for us at Stowe and the future planting we do as our native tree species are suffering the effects of climate change and I need to find other species of trees that still give spirit of place within the Grade 1 listed landscape but will withstand our new climate for generations to come.