Scotland’s youngest head gardener says success is down to School of Heritage Gardening

Company: National Trust for Scotland

Meet Tim Keyworth, head gardener at Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire, at 26 he’s one of the youngest gardeners to take charge of a heritage garden in Scotland, if not the UK.
So how did he rise through the ranks so quickly? It turns out, as is often the case in gardening, it was all about finding the right conditions in which to thrive.
Tim from Leicester took up his place at the National Trust for Scotland’s School of Heritage Gardening in 2008. The school offers one and two-year full-time courses at our main training centre - Threave Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway, and at many of our heritage gardens around Scotland.
Tim explains why this was the right choice for him:
“The school provided the opportunity for me to experience real hands on practical horticulture. I was basically learning on the job and working as a gardener at the same time.
“A special emphasis was placed on learning and building plant knowledge through weekly plant identification which was a big draw for me as I have always fancied myself as a ‘plantsman’.
“I had already been to college for two years and earned the National Diploma in Horticulture qualification but most of the teaching was done in classrooms. Threave offered me the chance to put this learning in to practice while building up experience in an amenity garden open to the public.”
And this is one of the school’s biggest assets, as well as being the ONLY place in Scotland to offer training specific to the heritage sector, its hands-on emphasis gives gardeners much needed practical experience.
It’s this practical experience which makes gardeners coming from the school just so employable, and has helped Tim move quickly up to the role of head gardener at a heritage property – his dream job.
Tim continues:
“I have always had an interest in history. That, coupled with the fact that the only thing I ever really wanted to be was a head gardener, meant that I was only going to go in to heritage gardening.”
In a heritage garden the focus can be different to working in other types of gardens, as Tim explains:
“The biggest thing really is being able to learn how jobs and projects can be undertaken in the spirit of what was originally in the garden. Every garden may be different and I think it is just being able to adapt to that. The great thing about Threave is that they are able to cater for many different styles of Horticulture whether it’s the veg garden, glass houses or rock garden.”
Tim went straight from his qualification into employment with the Trust, which was an important factor for Tim when he was choosing where to train.
“I was keen to progress and have a career in the Trust. I guess I have shown that it is more than possible if you work hard and hopefully I will be able to carry on working for the Trust for decades to come.”
So has Tim’s dream job delivered? It seems so…
“Six years on from Threave and over three years as a head gardener, the thing that excites me most about being head gardener at Leith Hall is being able to undertake large bits work to put the garden back to its former glory like the rock garden restoration project we’re working on at the moment.
“I never stop learning and I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t learn something, big or small.”
Employers such as the National Trust for Scotland, look to employ gardeners with a sound horticultural training – both practical and academic, but whilst colleges offer excellent classroom training in the important scientific and artistic aspects of horticulture which underpin good practice - it has become more difficult in recent years to find students who have gained sufficient hands-on experience and understanding of the skilled practical aspects of heritage gardening. Many of the traditional and modern skills can only be taught in any depth on a full time practical course. The School of Heritage Gardening offers practical gardening skills to equip the future custodians of our heritage gardens.
Applicants to our courses can apply for a bursary and free accommodation to support them in their studies.  For the second year running the National Trust for Scotland is offering its course in conjunction with the RBGE to provide a Diploma in Heritage Horticulture which combines the HND in plantsmanship with 2 years practical training at locations around Scotland.
Applications should be submitted by 30 April for courses beginning in September 2014.
For full details of the practical studentships, bursaries available and accommodation, please contact: School of Heritage Gardening Coordinator
The National Trust for Scotland, Hermiston Quay, 5 Cultins Road, Edinburgh, EH11 4DF

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