Clair: From Apprentice to Gardener

Published : Wed 5th May

Clair first came to us as a volunteer, then applied to be an apprentice studying Horticulture or Landscape Operative level 2 as she was keen to change her career. Post completion she was able to secure a role with us a few months later and we are delighted to have her back working as part of the team and building on the valuable skills she learned during her apprenticeship.

Why did you first choose to apply for an apprenticeship?

I was looking for a role in the heritage and conservation sector of horticulture, and had always been a fan of the National Trust having been a volunteer for the Countryside team for a number of years. As this would have been a career change for me the apprenticeship was a great opportunity to re-educate whilst gaining valuable hands on practical work experience - a bit like a fast track route to my goal.

Best thing about the apprenticeship?

The people: It was great the way the course was set up to bring all the apprentices together from all over the country and not just from the National Trust. I found it really motivating being able to share all our experiences and best practice with each other. I believe it gave us a much broader knowledge of how the National Trust functions; it was also advantageous to see how other organisations function outside of the NT. Pershore College were a lovely team too; supportive and knowledgeable.

Any challenges?

Juggling a full time role and studying was challenging. It is important to know you have support at home.

Also, getting used to the daily (if not hourly) changes of the weather in this country! Never leave your waterproofs in the mess room, or that extra layer, unless you want a lot of wasted journeys. The phrase “four seasons in one day” springs to mind.

Have you done anything that you didn’t expect whilst on your apprenticeship?

I have done many things on my apprenticeship that were unexpected as Mottisfont Abbey has a very diverse garden. It contains elements you might expect to see these days like a Kitchen Garden, Winter Garden, lush green lawns and meadows and a selection of majestic mature trees, and of course the Rose Garden. But it also contains some beautiful and unusual elements such as the deep blue waters of the ancient font, the magical meandering font stream garden and the Abbey Stream, a River Test tributary full of trout. It is this area that really had me doing something unexpected - having the opportunity to get some waders on and get into the sparkling waters of the river! What a treat! Every July the river weed is cut and left to move down river to Romsey where it is collected. We have to make sure it does not get caught up on the central pillar of the brick bridge and in the Mill Race on the other side.

What happened at the end of your apprenticeship?

Unfortunately my contract ended in October 2020, a month after receiving my exam results, and due to the COVID induced reset I had to leave.

Before I left I was very open and honest with the team about what I wanted for the future, and made it clear that I was keen to continue working within the National Trust. I kept in touch with the Head Gardener, keeping my ear to the ground for any developments within the gardening team.

I kept my options open by getting involved in private gardening work as a freelancer to tide me over, which there is always plenty of from my experience. My patience paid off and a vacancy became available after a couple of months which I applied for. I went through all the necessary interviews etc. and was offered the position I wanted at the beginning of January 2021. The whole journey of a career change from being a (very bored) office based CAD technician to a (very fulfilled) full-time gardener for a conservation charity took me a number of years but it was time very well spent!

Any advice for anyone thinking of doing an apprenticeship?

I highly recommend an apprenticeship with the National Trust. It is very rewarding and every property is different, bringing its own unique challenges and learning opportunities.

It is always worth volunteering in the field of work you are thinking of focusing on if you get the chance; this enables you to see if the job really does suit you or not.