I came into the garden design industry with a passion for houses, design and nature but very little knowledge of horticulture. I have always gardened - but it's not until I started learning about plants that I realised how little I knew. Our college planting tutor was Chris Marchant from Orchard Dene Nurseries - anyone who has been taught by her cannot fail to be impressed by her knowledge and passion and I found her incredibly inspiring. A couple of things really stuck in my mind from her lessons; the importance of looking - really looking - at colour, texture, the way light might pass through plants to how they grew in nature and even what worked in a painting. She also likened planting design to musical composition, with repetition and rhythm being key to the composition working. Taking this on board, on my drive to college one morning, I spotted the young, lush leaves of a plant on the roadside, pulled over and took a branch in to show Chris - I didn't know what this lovely plant was that graced the verge to Oxford - she glanced at it... "Common hawthorn, Craetagus monogyna"...oh - I could have crawled into a box - I knew so little! However - I have moved on - and 3 years after this distinct lack of knowledge I like to think that I'm getting better and am really delighted every time I look at a plant and know what it is.
At college we learnt mostly about herbaceous perennials, which was fantastic as they are so diverse and can add so much seasonal interest to a garden. But I soon realised that most of my clients wanted low maintenance, year round interest from their gardens. So I had to learn about shrubs - in fact listening to Andy Sturgeon speak last year, his thoughts were that shrubs would be a big trend from now on as they have been slightly over looked in recent years.
I bought Shrubs by one of the UK's leading gardening experts, Andy McIndoe. and got reading. At the same time a unique online gardening school, My Garden School, was being set up by Elspeth Briscoe, a friend and contemporary of mine whilst at the Oxford College of Garden Design, and the college director and renowned garden designer, Duncan Heather. I saw that they had a shrub course run by Andy - which I signed up to and have just completed. You get access to an audio lesson every Saturday for 4 weeks. I found the course incredibly convenient - you can listen whenever suits you - and even do 10 minutes here and there when you have time. Although I like being in a classroom situation where you can discuss matters with other people - this is a totally different experience - but very good if there is a subject you want to know more about from the comfort of your garden bench!.
What I think makes My Garden School really stand out is the quailty of the tutors. Having personal access to some of the best minds in horticulture and design is a gift. The course had assigments to do each week which are not compulsory, but well worth doing for the personal feedback, advice and tips that you get back.