Chris Howell spent over two decades in the retail industry before changing careers and studying for a Level 2 Diploma in Horticulture. He is now completing 75 hours of work experience here at Winterbourne before graduating in June. We asked him to tell us what he has learnt so far and share some pictures of the garden that he’s snapped along the way.
“Since a very early age I’ve been an avid gardener. My family are all keen gardeners, in particular my Grandfather, who was a member of a number of plant societies and used to show spectacular Fuchsias. In 2017 I had the opportunity to take redundancy so I decided to take the plunge and pursue a career in horticulture.”
“My greatest passion is plants and propagation. I’ve always been amazed how anyone can just push a stick or some seeds into soil and they’ll grow into something beautiful. However, during the course I’ve found my focus constantly changing with each new subject I’ve learned. I think now I’d probably like to find a job somewhere with a wider variety of tasks.”
“No matter what branch of horticulture I move into I’ll still be dealing with customers, whether I’m designing gardens, cutting hedges or producing plants. Retail has taught me the importance of deadlines and time management. Oh and it’s also taught me that the customer is always…. always right.”
“If I was to offer advice to somebody considering a career in horticulture it would be – it’s not a walk in the park (excuse the pun). Horticulture is hard work but rewarding. There’s a well known Confucius quote, “Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life”, though I may not seem so cheerfully philosophical when riddling half a tonne of poor quality leaf mould!”
“I’ve also spent a lot of time volunteering at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses and I’ll be staying on to do some volunteering at Winterbourne. Working with other gardeners is invaluable. I ask lots of questions, it’s important to tap into that experience. Just reminiscing with them about things which went well and things which could be done better can really help in your future career.”
“The most memorable plant I’ve photographed at Winterbourne has to be the Agave victoriae–reginae inside the house. It’s huge! What’s really caught my eye though are the glasshouses, they’re so well maintained, the Alpine House in particular. I’ve taken many pictures in there as there’s always something new to see. My least enjoyable moments have all been due to badger damage on the lawns. It’s been such hard work shifting barrows of turf and topsoil!”
“The most useful thing I’ll take away from Winterbourne is the appreciation of specimen plants. In order to have such a great collection you have to appreciate that some areas of the garden might not look at their best at all times, this goes for all botanical gardens. This said, there’s never much of Winterbourne which is not at its best!”