The Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the heritage attraction and independent educational charity, has welcomed a new trainee gardener as it continues its commitment to teaching the next generation of horticulturalists.
It has secured funding from the National Gardens Bursary Scheme to enable 32-year-old Liz Jones to complete a 12-month traineeship. She has joined Matt Padbury, aged 25, who began his trainee programme supported by The Finnis Scott Foundation in September, 2020, and has had his contract extended until December 2021 because of the impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
The programme has been made possible thanks to a special partnership BBG has established with Working For Gardeners Association (WFGA), which administers the innovative Work and Retrain as a Gardener Scheme (WRAGS), providing training in practical horticulture within private gardens.
Liz, who lives in Stirchley and works in the public sector, developed an interest in plants through a love of botanical art and growing fruit and vegetables organically on her allotment.
“I heard about the scheme when studying for my RHS qualifications as a WRAGS representative attended the college to talk about it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being at the Gardens, in particular increasing my knowledge of plant care and propagation, and maintaining their environment.”
Matt, from Solihull, decided to retrain as a gardener after working in IT. As well as training in the Gardens, he is also a part-time gardener working for private clients.
“I quickly realised that an office-based job wasn’t for me,” he said. “I’ve loved the outdoors and gardening from a very young age and grew up doing my parents’ garden, so I decided gardening was what I wanted to do,” he said.
“The scheme was recommended to me by some previous students whilst I was studying horticulture. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work in a botanical garden and also complete my studies. I love the huge diversity of plants, extremely knowledgeable staff and just being in the gardens.”
The trainees work for two days a week with the Gardens’ small team of horticultural experts at the charity in Westbourne Road, learning a variety of practical horticultural skills. They have the opportunity to work on high priority, seasonal jobs, tend to the collections in the four display glasshouses and help the horticultural team with their busy workloads.
They also learn to handle the industrial-size power tools, including mowers, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and grass trimmers, gain knowledge of plant propagation in the nursery and planting displays in the gardens and display glasshouses.
Elizabeth Frostick, development director at the Gardens, said: “We are so pleased to have secured funding to support another trainee gardener. It’s not just fantastic for the Gardens to add to the strength of the team, it also continues a long tradition of us helping to train the gardeners and horticulturalists of the future.
“Those who have trained at the Gardens can be found all over the country and in many of the most prestigious gardens. As a charity, we rely on income from admissions, events and catering, grants, memberships and donations, so we are enormously grateful to our funders, Finnis Scott Foundation and the National Gardens Bursary Scheme, for their invaluable support. We could not do this without them.”
Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which opened in 1832, comprises 15 acres of grounds, four historic glasshouses and more than 7,000 species of plants – one of the most diverse collections in the Midlands – and also holds the British National Bonsai Collection and the National Cyclamen Collection.
Wayne Williams, head gardener at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, said: “It’s always a pleasure to welcome trainees who are keen to learn new skills from our experienced team of gardeners and we’re looking forward to welcoming Liz and extending our work with Matt so they gain a solid foundation for their future horticultural careers.”