From fashion student to globetrotting gardener in Japan

Published : Thu 19th Feb Author : Student Gardener Rhiannon

Our exciting new Triad project gives gardeners the opportunity to spend four months in three of the world’s leading gardens. Rhiannon was one of the lucky recruits chosen to jet off on the global gardening adventure. We caught up with her in Japan to discuss her experience so far.

I studied Fashion at university and went on to work as a research student in Women's Dress studies – very different to gardening! I hated being deskbound and I enjoyed gardening at home so I started volunteering at Peckover Gardens in Wisbech. I then enrolled onto the National Trust Academy Gardener Training Scheme and completed my one year Academy Foundation Certificate followed by the two-year Academy Diploma in Heritage Gardening at Chartwell, Kent. During my time there, I entered the Institute of Horticulture’s Young Horticulturalist of the Year and came in the top four! When my manager gave a talk on the Triad Student Gardener opportunity, I thought it sounded great, I applied and was delighted to be successful!

On Tuesday 6th January, Phil and I touched down in Kansai airport, Japan. We were greeted by our Japanese TRIAD coordinator and treated to a delicious meal of sushi and kitsune udon before heading to our new home on the beautiful Awaji Island. Awaji Island is a large island, considered by many as the cultural birthplace of Japan. It’s known for its natural bounty and stunning scenery – its extravagant fields of flowers, delicious fresh vegetables, field-strewn hills, beautiful sea views and hazy-blue mountains. Right from our first day, we were made to feel incredibly welcome on the island and even thrown a welcome party, laden with homemade Japanese dishes.

On Sunday, Tomoko, the creator of the Miracle Planet Museum of Plants where we’re working took us to the Nagoya Flower Market for a lesson on Chrysanthemums. I didn’t know a huge amount about them before so I learnt lots of useful information to take home with me. After a restaurant stop for more yummy noodles, we headed to a nearby nursery for a talk from a Camellia grower and were shown some really interesting species and cultivars.

The Miracle Planet Museum of Plants (Kiseki No Hoshi) is an experimental botanical museum where plants and nature exist alongside art, music, drama and dance to create a truly magical environment. A lot like the National Trust, the museum aims to showcase nature, build the bridge between people and nature and provide inspiration and learning. It has six exhibition rooms and the museum changes display seven times a year. To see the wonderful museum transform from magical winter wonderland into a spectacular Orchid house in just ten days has been amazing – and to be part of the transformation, a real privilege.

My first job was to create six colour-themed orchid ‘paintings’. I started by selecting suitable plants and wrapping their rootballs in sphagnum moss. I inserted the moss-balled foliage plants around the edges of upcycled mattress frames to create the picture frames for my pieces of orchid artwork. Then, it was time to have some fun being creative and artistic, arranging my orchids (you can see the finished orchid ‘paintings’ in the photo). Tomoko stopping visitors to show them my work was a particularly proud moment for me! So far, the whole experience has surpassed my expectations and I’m excited to see what the future holds…