Emily Marston completed her Level 2 horticultural apprenticeship at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in 2019 and is now on the level 3/ level 4 diploma student programme at Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Garden Wisley.
I had a strong sense that I wanted a career that would have a positive ecological impact and could improve urban living. However, I knew I needed to understand a lot more about how plants grow and what kind of maintenance they require.
I found that university was not right for me, so I did various volunteering and temporary roles to try to build my skillset, before I applied for an RHS apprenticeship at Harlow Carr. The two years I spent completing my apprenticeship were probably the best of my life.
A two-year apprenticeship is the best way to learn a practical skillset. The work is always varied, and the RHS has a fantastic wealth of resources. There are field trips and opportunities to take on different responsibilities, or gain experience of other areas of the horticultural industry. My mentors have all been really generous with sharing their time and expertise. The best part of anything at the RHS is the people; they make working enjoyable, even on drizzly days!
One of the key factors in being able to apply for an RHS apprenticeship was the fact that it is a salaried role, and the RHS pays a living wage, which far exceeds the minimum apprentice wage. I was also able to live with my parents while I studied, so I saved up and took driving lessons.
During my day release sessions at college, we received first aid training and a PA1 pesticide awareness course, and lessons on soil testing and tool maintenance.
Work-based training in an RHS garden is the most valuable experience an apprentice could wish for.
At the end of the two years, I was completely equipped for the end-point assessment, consisting of 40 multiple-choice questions, three practical tasks, and a plenary interview. I passed with distinction, and think this is a reflection of how well the RHS prepared me for my next career steps.
So, should someone apply for an RHS apprenticeship? Absolutely!
Should someone apply for a horticultural apprenticeship generally? My advice is to choose carefully, and determine whether the breadth of experience you can gain from the work placement will prepare you for your next career step.
I am now employed at RHS Wisley garden on the level three RHS diploma programme, learning a deeper understanding of aspects such as soil chemistry, and the coursework element is challenging me to develop skills in terms of project planning and management.
To find out more about apprenticeship training at the Royal Horticultural Society, visit www.rhs.org.uk/training