Garden Academy – Road to Chelsea (Part 1 of 3)

It all started with an advert for a job. In May 2014, I was working in a clothing store, not my happiest times, nor my ideal job, but a job nevertheless. So I started looking for a career more around my interests and love for plants; when Malc found an advert for the Homebase Garden Academy Programme. It sounded fantastic. The Garden Academy had been set up by Homebase and award-winning garden designer Adam Frost, to help raise the profile of horticulture and to inspire a new generation into pursuing a career in the industry. It was exactly what I had been looking for.

Over a year long course, candidates would be working full-time in a local Homebase store, while going to top garden suppliers to develop product knowledge and learn practical horticultural skills; working towards an RHS Level 1 Award Qualification. To top it off; spending time learning from award-winning garden designer Adam Frost and the chance to work with him on the Homebase Show Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

I set about working on my application straight away, but my lack of confidence and worries around my mental health were holding me back. The application included submitting a video, which was extremely daunting; but I summoned up the courage, answering questions on why I wanted this opportunity and where my interest of gardening had came from. To be honest, I didn’t think I had a chance; the laptop kept losing connection, so I had to keep repeating my answers, which then felt rushed and in the end, I wasn’t sure if I’d made all my points. I can only liken it to leaving a voicemail, knowing the beep was coming.

I couldn’t believe my luck when 3 weeks later, after assuming I hadn’t been successful, I had a phone call asking if I could come to Nottingham for the day and a face-to-face interview with Mr Frost himself! I was amazed.

Off to the interview

I wasn’t keen on travelling there alone, so Malc offered to drive me and off I went to Nottingham. I was in one of two large groups selected for the interview stage, so wasn’t quite sure what to expect which made me very anxious. On this rare occasion, it actually helped, as I don’t shut up when anxious; so it made talking to other people easier. There were around 20 other applicants from all over the country and after a brief introduction, we were asked to do group and individual tasks. My favourite individual task was making a garden in a small paddling pool, using a few potted plants, plus some bits and pieces they had provided; then explaining why we chose each plant and the idea around the little garden. Ideally I would have liked to have just filled it with water and said it was a water garden, as we were in the middle of a heatwave, much like our recent hot temperatures. After the morning of activities, came the interview with Adam Frost. I was so nervous and again talked as if at any moment I was going to run out of oxygen. Mr Frost put me at ease, joking that; I reminded him of his wife, as she never stops talking either (I hope for his sake she doesn’t read this, sorry Mr Frost). Despite being a bit star struck, he was a pleasure to talk to; to the point that I’d forgotten that I was even having an interview. 

I left the interview knowing I’d done my best and with a car full of plants they let us take home, (never say; “take what plants you like,” to a room full of garden enthusiasts, unless you want the place cleared out) I felt pleased with myself, that I had came and conquered some of my fears and anxiety.

Now, I was over the moon when I got called for interview; so imagine my excitement when I found out that from over 1400 applicants, I had been successful and was chosen for the next group of Garden Academy students.

Starting a new job/routine

The excitement of being selected for the Garden Academy, soon turned to panic, as the thought of starting a new job and changing my routine was a bit overwhelming. We’d only just been through a stressful time of moving house, which was a major change in my life and a new environment; so getting into a routine was still a work in progress. At times I could feel myself getting anxious and overthinking all the changes happening in my life; but I reminded myself, this was an amazing opportunity, something I wanted to do and it would be worth it in the end.

My first day in the new job, was much like the first day at school; full of apprehension and fears, but deep down, knowing you have to go and push through all those feelings trying to hold you back. Luckily, much like school, I quickly found new friends and those willing to help, who made joining a new team, all that much easier. 

I’m pleased to have worked alongside some great people in store, some of whom are friends for life. I’ll always be grateful to those who supported me the most (they know who they are), despite the ongoing challenges with my mental health.

The new job, was just the beginning. Part of being a Garden Academy student meant travelling the country to meet suppliers and bring back product knowledge to share with colleagues in store. This is where my travels around the UK begun. To be continued…….

In part 2 of this 3 part blog, read about my journey up and down the country and studying for an RHS Level 1 Award at the beautiful Barnsdale Gardens; and the group of amazing and quirky individuals I met, known as the Bees Knees and the Acers.