Growing with confidence

For five years the National Garden Scheme has supported a traineeship at The Garden Museum – with the Leffman Trust – designed for a talented graduate in horticulture to explore options within the horticultural industry. Based at the Museum, they work alongside Head Gardener Matt Collins, but also have ten placements in other gardens, from private gardens by leading designers to established scientific collections.

In 2019, Elena Donovan came fresh from Writtle University College with her horticultural interests nurtured as a child of a military family in Japan. At Writtle, her dissertation was on the use of hemp in industry, and her interest in herbs has continued with a planting scheme for a medicinal garden in a park adjacent to the Museum; the first phase was planted during the Museum’s summer holiday Botany Camp with teenagers from Brixton’s Evelyn Grace Academy.

Elena’s placements began with assisting garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith in the build of his RHS Bridgewater garden at the Chelsea Flower Show and have continued through the kitchen garden at Gravetye Manor, and at Bedgebury Pinetum, where she learned about tree maintenance. At the Museum a new project is a cutting garden with Elena’s freshly-picked bunches of flowers on sale to visitors.

Elena says: “Ever since I was child, I had imagined a career that allowed me to work in and with nature. I would constantly plant in the garden with my mother, and throughout my teens I worked at various garden centres. Later, I studied horticulture at Writtle University College, and the trainee position for The Garden Museum was at the top of my job applications.

Planting bulbs in the museum garden

“The fact that the Museum not only allowed me to work with plants, but also provided placements was a major influence on my decision. These placements allow me to explore areas I would like to grow in. My first placement at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) was an amazing experience, and offered me the opportunity to work in a historical herb garden.

“Herbs are a great interest of mine, and it was fantastic to garden alongside Jane Knowles, whose knowledge about the plants in the RCP gardens is truly remarkable. Additionally, The Garden Museum’s Head Gardener, Matt Collins, has been extremely supportive in arranging placements, providing me with experiences in historical sites that would otherwise be hard to access. I was also able to gain a sense of what it’s like to build a show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, which was amazing.  Through my placements at gardens and my experience gained thus far at the Museum, I have grown more and more confident in my horticultural knowledge. So I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the garden owners and the National Garden Scheme for giving me this wonderful opportunity.”

For more information about the National Garden Scheme apprenticeships and trainee programmes we support click here

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