As my time at Trinity draws to a close, I have been reminiscing about my horticulture career and my journey to the dizzy heights of Head Gardener at Trinity College. Especially remembering how difficult it was at the beginning.

I have now written a couple of posts about how difficult it is for people entering and working in the world of horticulture. The first post I wrote on this subject  was about my own problems I faced in the eighties, the second being about the problems many are facing in more recent times. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how things were for people starting out in horticulture before the eighties.

I started working at Trinity as an Under Gardener in May 2000, where I met a gentleman called John page, who had worked in the gardens dept since 1984; John still works in the gardens to this day. So the other week I asked him if he didn’t mind writing a few words about, where his interest in gardening came from and how he entered the world of horticulture in the 1870’s (sorry John, typo) 1970’s. To see if anything had changed over the years, or is it or always will be, the same for years to come.

So John in your own words mate and remember, no swearing…… because I never f***ing do!

Picture apr2011 1327

I was ten when I decided I wanted to do gardening as my future career. I am sure it was a combination of parental enthusiasm for gardening combined with a fascination with nature. My father was a civil servant following military service and he was keen that I should consider something more secure (and more well paid !).

Careers advice at school was even less enthusiastic about my choice. They considered horticulture as a real last resort only to be taken up by those with a barely detectable intelligence and would put as many alternatives in front of me as they could. I can still remember being told ” are you sure you would not rather go into banking or insurance?” Forty odd years later I feel that the path I chose has been a rich experience if not as financially rich as banking.

I stayed on at school to do ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels inspired by an older friend of mine who after getting the same went to the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute which was not too far from where I lived in Sussex. My parents decided to move, however, and we went to Norfolk just after I left school which coincided with the start of a recession and no- one was keen to take on a young school leaver with no experience other than Saturday gardening jobs. I had a few temporary jobs such as farm work and a grass research project but it was not until I began writing to firms all over the country that I made a breakthrough.
I wrote to Unwins the seed firm in Histon having got their address off the back of a seed packet. I moved to Histon and spent eight years as a Seed Manager’s Assistant which meant doing anything and everything. Most of all I enjoyed working on the trial ground and I was fortunate to be sent on day release to Milton College to do City & Guilds in Horticulture. This facility has sadly closed recently with nowhere local to Cambridge offering the opportunity to get qualifications in this way.

As the years went by I found I was spending more time working indoors and hardly any outdoors on the trials so I applied elsewhwere and was able to get a gardening job at Trinity College in Cambridge and last month we had a little celebration as it was thirty years since I first started there. I have actually been at the College more than twice as long as I have ever lived in any one place!

John Page

So there you have it, very similar problems to what I and many others had a few decades (bloody typo’s) years later! With the closure of many courses/colleges in horticulture, the future is looking very bleak indeed. It’s such a shame, as the world of horticulture has so much to offer and is such a great place to be… more ways than one! This is a subject that I will revisit again in the future.

On a lighter note and as a little thank you to John, I thought I’d leave you with a little music (any excuse) and let you into a little secret.
At the end of the day, John is often the last one to leave and when most have gone, he often whacks on a few tunes to unwind and to have a little bop too and funny enough……he likes his Rock music!

Thanks for the post John and for all the help and advice over the years!!


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