Last year I decided to take my passion for plants a step further. I became a Horticulture student. I ran an online search and found that my local college did a great selection of horticulture courses, including RHS courses. I made my selection and enrolled straightaway.
I was very excited to get started. My course was part-time, I attended one Saturday per month for a year, which is very flexible if you work full-time. During my course we were incredibly blessed weather wise too, which meant we didn’t have to seek shelter in the classroom or greenhouse, which didn’t hinder practical play.
It did take a couple of sessions for my tutor to get used to how outspoken I am, but I built a brilliant relationship with my tutor, despite not always seeing eye-to-eye (she’s non-organic, I’m an organic gardener) she supported me 100% when I was ill towards the back end of my course. She also pushed me in my classes too, knowing I had some horti knowledge and experience she would make my life harder – but in a good way!
I love college, my fellow pupils were great and each of them so different from one another, with different outlooks on horticulture paths. We had the community worker, the tradesman, the teacher, the conservationist and more. Each of them offering a different take on the vast world of horticulture.
The sad thing for me, unfortunately, was discovering half way through the course that the practical certificate just wasn’t enough. I had gardened for the last 10 years and have always been very proactive in self-learning, so when we would do a new workshop I kind of already knew how to do a lot of them, maybe not quite to the standard of the RHS though. Therefore I don’t feel I personally took away all that much in terms of new skills.
My other reason for disappointment, is that the RHS didn’t make it clear on there course blurb that actually this course is just a basic certificate and you need your theory too if you want to be taken seriously in the horti world. These were the new skills I needed really, the science and theory behind plants, soil etc. And having learnt this the long way round, I’m now enrolled for a two year course to turn my certificate into a diploma. Wish me luck – I’m going to need it as I’m also taking on my Level 3 practical alongside it too – Nope I don’t do things by halves!
However, just because it wasn’t completely right for me doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be for anyone thinking of doing this course. Some of my fellow students found the vast majority of the course a brand new experience and are now confident gardeners because of it. If you’re new to gardening and don’t want to make it a career, then the Level 2 Practical certificate is brilliant for that. If the idea of studying and reading text books isn’t your cup of tea and you prefer a more hands on approach to study then this is a brilliant course for that – there is very little study involved except for your plant identification tests.
I caught up with a Horti buddy of mine Lucy Clements (who some of you may already follow on social media). Lucy has recently finished her RHS Level 2 Diploma. I asked her about her horti student experience. Here’s what she had to say:
Becoming a horticulture student was an exciting challenge after not being in education or having exams of any kind for over 20 years. So far I have completed an entire level 2 diploma and one certificate of level 3. I took one year to complete the level 2 diploma at Bristol City College. I assumed it would be informative and interesting but was very surprised by the huge amount of work required and how time consuming it eventually became. The theory was fascinating and I was taught by an incredible horticulturalist, author and lecturer, Tim Foster. I found the sessions engaging, detailed and thoroughly enjoyable. There was also additional reading and research that could be done following lessons if you wanted further information. The level 2 practical, I found less engaging but this was mostly because I had a lot of gardening experience.
I would advise anyone taking the theory exams, for both level 2 and 3, not to under estimate the size of the syllabus and the amount of data and info you need to absorb to pass. There is nothing particularly taxing about this information, no analysis is required, but the sheer amount is overwhelming, especially if you are working or have a busy family life. I’d recommend getting photos of plants and their names on the wall and cover your house with diagrams at least a month before the exam date!
The level 3 certificate I studied at Bristol Botanic Gardens which was a fantastic location and amazing to attend lectures by Nick Wray, Curator. Once again the course material was fascinating and far more in depth than level 2.
Overall I would say that studying horticulture has been like learning a new language. I look at the world around me in a totally different way. I like to think that now plants talk to me but people might think I’m mad!
Are you a horticulturist, what was your student experience like? Or are you thinking of becoming one? I’d love to know your thoughts, please comment below or tweet me @bohoraspberry