Garden Academy – Road to Chelsea (Part 2 of 3)

My first trip out of the store was to Milton Keynes for a couple of days, where I would meet up with the rest of the successful candidates. This would be the first time we had met as the new group of Academy students.

Malc drove me there and tried to reassure me, he obviously couldn’t stay, so I was left all on my own; my safety net removed. I was incredibly anxious about this trip away; meeting new people, a new environment and the thought of having to stay in an unfamiliar place and later finding out I would have a complete stranger as a roommate. Although Aiste, (my roommate) was away for this meeting so I had yet to meet her.

I waved bye to Malc and I took my large suitcase (it seemed I may have over packed) and walked through the hotel doors; where there were already lots of new faces waiting, all looking excited; and then me looking perhaps the most terrified and nervous. We spent time in the hotel lobby getting to know each other with some ice breakers and general chatting about anything and everything. I soon started to feel at ease, as I learnt about my fellow students and realised these were a lovely and friendly bunch of people.

The “Bee’s Knees”

The next day we spent time learning about the outline for the year ahead and were split into two groups aptly named A and B. As we sat thinking of a better name than the B team; there were lots of suggestions, so I was delighted when they picked my idea of the “Bees Knees”. The other group called themselves the “Acers”. Now we’d been assigned teams, it was time for some team building!

This was perhaps the most memorable moment from that first trip; the high ropes challenge at Aerial Extreme. Something I’d always wanted to do! I was so excited to finally get the chance.

Now……….. when you are a child who has no fear and loves to climb, you kind of assume that will follow you into adulthood and you will have the courage to tackle anything. This however, was not the case for me and as I got 10ft off the ground, I froze and could go no higher. My team did try to encourage me; Justin (aka Granddad) was great in trying to help me along, but this was one “Bee” that would not be flying high in the treetops today, having established my new fear of heights. My shame was to complete the low rope course alone, while the rest of the team dared to reach the top.

My team, the “Bees Knees” quickly became my second family; as we travelled the length and breadth of the country together; each of us taking on roles within the team (complete with nicknames). The most memorable being; Aiste, who quickly became the ”Mummy Bee”; Justin the oldest member of the group, became known as “Granddad”; Jon, our driver; and Mike, Owen, Liam and Adam each with their own wonderful and unique personalities, completed our strange, yet functional family.

The way I function

We would meet up for a few days about once a month for our training; this was by far the best part of being on the Academy, but also my most nerve-racking, tiring and full on experience. It was a big challenge for me each time I left home for my next adventure; disrupting my routines with long drives, visiting new places, seeing new people and nights out in unfamiliar surroundings. None of the “Bee’s” knew about my invisible illness, only seeing an outwardly confident and somewhat quirky personality; so I felt quite alone at times. The other “Bee’s” found it funny and if not a bit odd that I had a set bedtime and wasn’t always able to join them in the evening for a chat and drink; but I knew I wouldn’t be able to function the next day without a good sleep routine and alcohol is a no no. On hindsight it may have been easier explaining this to them at the very start, but I didn’t have the confidence at that time to share this with them.

Something that didn’t go unnoticed and quickly became an ongoing joke made by my fellow “Bee’s”, was the size of my suitcase. It was by far the biggest in the group and accompanied by little extras for every eventuality, (as I like to bring everything just in case) was an amusing site in comparison to everyone else’s. It also gave Malc his affectionate name and would forever now been known as; “Malcolm Logistics”.

Learning from the best

The highlight of the away days came when visiting Barnsdale Gardens, where we would meet with Adam Frost for our garden design masterclasses and complete our RHS Level 1 training with Chris Allen our RHS tutor. I decided to pluck up the courage and drive myself to the first week of training, as I convinced myself it wasn’t too far to drive to Kettering (Malcolm Logistics taking a well earned break). This was also the first time I would meet two missing “Bee’s” from the induction session; Adam, aka Tex and Aiste, my roomie.

It is surprising the amount of information you need from a client and the plot you’re working with, to do a garden justice. As well as teaching us the basics of garden design, Adam Frost also shared with us, his design for the Chelsea Flower Show 2015. This included looking at the overall context, materials and researching the planting. It was amazing to see the extent and work needed to even plan a garden at Chelsea, let alone the dynamics of the build itself. I can see why it takes up to a year to accomplish.

Barnsdale Gardens was an amazing backdrop for our training; and it was here that Adam Frost learnt his trade from the great Geoff Hamilton, who originally created the gardens for “Gardeners World” TV programme. They are truly beautiful, with so much to see; the autumn colours, winter structure, frogs in spring and summer beds in full bloom. We were fortunate to be able to work on them as part of our RHS training with Chris, who was a great teacher and taught us everything from; how to prepare the soil for sowing, planting, plant division and taking cuttings amongst other things.

RHS training at Barnsdale Gardens

On the road again

The next trips away with the Academy were spread across the country and I decided it would be better for me to travel with some of the others, rather than driving myself; partly as Norfolk roads are a bit different from the rest of the country; for a start, roads in Norfolk don’t have more than two lanes! So Malc kindly drove me to Chelmsford where I would meet up with Aiste and Jon (our driver).

We visited numerous suppliers, learning how products were made and grown, seeing the mass production of Christmas trees, seeds, pots, compost and paving too. My best bit was of course visiting the garden nurseries, seeing how the plants were grown in giant glasshouses. A visit to Weber taught us that you can cook everything from a whole chicken, to banana cake on a BBQ (subject to weather of course). Even the suppliers I thought might be uninspiring to visit, turned out to be very interesting (I mean how exciting can making a fence panel be? Turns out it is!!). It was great learning about the processes and effort that goes into what might seem quite mundane items that we see everyday in store; yet never fully appreciate the work that has gone into making them. This was extremely useful knowledge to take back to our local stores, to help customers with gardening dilemmas and giving me the confidence to talk to people about the products we sold.

Visiting suppliers

Even though I found going away very stressful, it was also something that I looked forward to each month; made even more special, as I knew it was building up to the Chelsea Flower Show.

In the final part of this 3 part blog, read about my days on the Chelsea Garden Build; and why these memories will stay with me forever…….

One thought on “Garden Academy – Road to Chelsea (Part 2 of 3)

  1. I always hate coming to the end of your blogs. You always seem to have that nack of keeping the readers on a knife edge always waiting for more lol. Love your life story. So proud of you. Keep up the tremendous work. Can’t wait for the next slice of your life . . . 👍😜😘

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