Giselle Silvester completed her level 2 horticultural apprenticeship at The Royal Horticultural Society RHS Garden Rosemoor in 2020 and is now employed as an edibles specialist horticultural placement
Horticulture is the career I always wanted but I didn’t realise this until a few years ago.
I’ve always loved the outdoors, practical and creative work, underpinned by theory and with the ultimate purpose of making the world a better place.
Originally, I trained in technical theatre which ticks a number of boxes but not all, and after a couple of years in industry I sought out a different direction, working in a variety of roles supporting adults and children with additional needs. It was during this time that the penny dropped – I found that working outside, particularly in a multi-sensory environment, not only benefited their physical and mental health, it also benefited mine and had the potential to positively relate to the environment.
After an unrelated move to Devon, I had planned to do an RHS level 2 correspondence course but, by chance, I heard about the apprenticeship at Rosemoor. For me it was important to be trained well so that my impact would be informed and I feel incredibly lucky to have found this work-based option; being able to learn and apply new-found knowledge every day for two years is incomparable.
If you haven’t been to Rosemoor, I recommend a visit and if you have, I still recommend a visit! It is a garden of two halves, nestled in a small north Devon wooded valley. As an apprentice I rotated through teams (Lady Anne’s old garden, formal garden, nursery and edibles) covering all areas in all seasons during the two years. The staff here are super supportive and hold a wealth of knowledge that they readily impart.
In terms of the apprenticeship standard, it was taught through a combination of block week and online learning, which prepared me to take the LANTRA end-point assessments: theory, practical and a portfolio-based professional discussion. I completed the professional tickets PA1/6 and emergency first aid at work as part of the course requirement, but I was also lucky enough to do professional competency tickets in strimming, hedge trimming and tractor driving.
As an apprentice at Rosemoor, opportunity was always thrown in my direction and I was able to gain a well-rounded education that I would have struggled to find through home study. Some favourite plant discoveries are the Azara microphylla, which smells of chocolate in early spring, or the vibrant yellow joy of Coreopsis ‘Schnittgold’.
The edibles garden is one area where I felt particularly inspired by the connections between edible plants and people. I love the orchard and some of my favourite tasks have been learning different pruning requirements and the harvest. This led me to apply for further work-based training on the one-year specialist placement, which I have just started.
In the future, I’d like to work within a kitchen garden or to support others to add edibles to their own or their businesses gardens. Plot to plate has the potential to improve health and wellbeing, while also being a more delicious, sustainable way of eating. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.
My hesitations were based on age and salary. The RHS pays a living wage so my salary was comparable to that of a teaching assistant, which meant I could still pay my bills, and the RHS welcomes diversity, so age was an unfounded worry.
The world of horticulture is essential and future career options are hugely varied. My advice to anyone is: Don’t hesitate.
To find out more about apprenticeship training at the Royal Horticultural Society, visit www.rhs.org.uk/training