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Article published in The Wiltshire Gardens Trust Journal 
For the next
three years I will be juggling my work as a freelance horticulturalist with a
busy family life whilst studying for The Royal Horticultural Society Master of
Horticulture course. When I tell people that I am studying towards the MHort – that
for three years I will be submitting essays and reports, completing
assessments, sitting exams and, eventually, writing a dissertation – some think
that I am truly mad. Most, however, are very supportive. They can see that
horticulture has become my passion, not just a job but a vocation, and it is to
these people that I am very grateful.

Wisley in early October 2017
 Embarking upon the
MHort course is rather challenging when the previous academic essay I wrote was
a decade and a half ago. Luckily it appears that most of my peers are in the
same boat, some have never written an academic piece of writing at all before.
The launch weekend at the beginning of October 2017 was, in equal parts,
inspiring and terrifying. A group of about sixteen of us were welcomed at RHS
Wisley by the team of tutors. This was only about half of the 2017 cohort,
other MHort students are located in far flung corners of the planet. There are
students from South Africa, Canada, Seychelles, USA, Hong Kong and Singapore,
to mention but a few.

To be a student at Wisley is quite awe inspiring – even if it is only for a few
days per year. Not only is it a wonderful garden, full of year-round interest but
my fellow MHort cohorts and I enjoyed a weekend in the company of some of the
finest contemporary horticultural minds. Our tutors for the next three years
include a lecturer from the prestigious Department of Landscape at the
University of Sheffield, a horticulturalist named as one of the 100 most
influential people in Garden Retail in the UK and two lecturers from Writtle
University College.

We have access to the tutors and other MHort students via an
online Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) – a kind of Facebook for
horticulturalists. All of our work is submitted via the VLE and we can send
messages privately or post publicly on a forum. The tutors will often reply to
our queries within hours. This kind of mentorship is exactly what I was looking
for in my career. I have been self-employed for eight years, having spent my
earlier horticultural career working in public and private gardens. I started
out at Highgrove at the impressionable age of 15 when I applied for, and
successfully got, a couple of weeks summer work experience in the garden. I
worked there during the summer holidays for a number of years after that, in
between gaining qualifications in Fine Art, Design and Photovisual Studies
followed by an HND in Organic Horticulture from Pershore College and Worcester
University. I was incredibly lucky to spend my sandwich year working in Sting’s
organic garden, Lake House, near Salisbury. Positions at The Abbey House
Garden, Malmesbury and Cole Park followed.

Self-employment has allowed me flexibility while, with the
help of my husband, I bring up my young children. It has also encouraged me to
grow as a horticulturalist, fuelling my passion for horticulture, particularly organics
and sustainability, planting design, topiary and organic fruit, vegetable and
cut flower production. Recently I found myself searching for new challenges. I
want to be able to successfully convey my passion for horticulture as a way of
life, not simply a job, to more people. I think that undertaking and achieving
the RHS Master of Horticulture qualification will give me greater authority and
more confidence to realise my ambitions within the horticultural industry. It
has already provided me with the community that I felt I lacked since becoming
freelance. I have missed the camaraderie of the mess room in a large garden. I
feel that I now have that back! My fellow MHort candidates and I will only meet
up once or twice a year but their support via the VLE is invaluable.

It has been a good year for carrots in the garden of
one of my clients

As soon as I found out that I had been awarded a place on
the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Master of Horticulture course I
knew that I needed a little extra help. Together with the generosity of one of
my clients, this help has come from The Wiltshire Gardens Trust who have
awarded me a grant to cover the cost of a new computer with all of the relevant
academic software plus a further annual grant to help with the books and other
expenses that I will need to ease my journey on this adventure. I am thrilled
to have this opportunity and I am determined to do it justice.
I am under no illusions that it is going to be easy. This is
mainly a distance learning course so candidates must be self-motivated and
disciplined with their time. I am having to adapt to evenings in front of the
computer or reading through journals after my children are tucked up in bed.
What is most surprising is how much I am enjoying these evenings. I was worried
that I would find academia, and the slightly drier topics of management and
funding, hard to settle down to but because they relate to the larger subject
of horticulture I am finding all it remarkably scintillating! I am also aware
that, at the time of writing this article, I am only two months into the course
and there are plenty of long nights of studying in front of me.
I am most of the way through the first unit of eight. This
unit is titled ‘Horticulture Now’ and three essays must be completed to the
required standard in order to progress to the next unit. We have been asked to study
the horticultural industry in general and analyse some of the different
organisations that influence it, to understand and articulate the wide-ranging
benefits of horticulture on society and discuss different external factors that
affect horticultural organisations. The tutors are looking for an understanding
of the contemporary horticultural industry, an ability to articulate this
understanding and a capability to use a range of sources of information and
evidence it in the correct academic manner. I am looking forward to units
titled ‘Horticultural Research and Development’ and ‘Sustainable Horticulture’
and not looking forward so much to units titled ‘Operational Management’ and
‘Business Growth’. I am keeping an open mind and I am prepared to work even
harder at the subjects that do not come naturally to me – who knows? I may
surprise myself!
Along the way there will be online tests and something
scarily titled the ‘Applied Knowledge Assessment’. It all culminates with a dissertation
conference and the submission of a dissertation. Just writing these words fills
me with a mixture of fear and excitement! This is an inspiring start to the
rest of my horticultural life.

2 thoughts on “”

  1. Hi Nicola

    I read your blog with interest, as i am currently studying RHS level 3.
    Completed my level 2 diploma.
    When i do eventully finish level 3,
    i would also like to take up the M Hort.
    I am also a self employed gardener studying at Writtle University on a part time basis.
    I had the privelege revently being chosen to be a plant finder at this years Chelsea flower show.
    Please can you tell me about the course and how to apply for the grant.


    Steven Bull

  2. Hi Steve, so sorry for the late reply, I didn’t get a notification of your comment and have only just found it. Sorry! Please ask me any questions and I’ll happily answer as best I can. Probably best to email me at nikki@nicolahope.co.uk
    Best wishes,

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