Growing a Career

by Jennie Pina

May 2006 was the turning point for me, the point at which I realised that horticulture was the path I wanted my life to take. Plants had long been a love of mine and my garden had increasingly become my haven. Life as a single mother of three young children was rewarding but hard and I needed to think long-term about where my life was heading. So, with this in mind, I enrolled on the RHS Level 2 course at Duchy College Rosewarne. Within weeks of starting the course, I knew I was doing the right thing in the right place with the right people. While waiting for my results, I contemplated what was next. I had loved my year at Duchy, surrounded by people with a passion for what they do. The natural step seemed to be to enrol on the HNC [Higher National Certificate] Horticulture course. Then result day brought me a commendation in my RHS exam. I had worked hard and loved every minute and here was proof that I was on the right path.

I am now on the second year of HNC Horticulture at Rosewarne and am enjoying my studies immensely. My course constantly inspires and challenges me. I have the opportunity to specialise in landscape design and plantsmanship while continuing to study the fundamentals of botany and plant physiology. Learning about plant use in design has allowed me to develop my knowledge of plants while putting them in the context of design situations. In particular, the design element has been entirely new ground to me; I never imagined I could be so scared of putting pencil to paper! But I have pushed myself and in doing so I have discovered a new string to my gardening bow. At present, I am unsure whether I will pursue a career as a garden or landscape designer but nevertheless it is a valuable skill to have acquired as it allows me better to understand how to read garden spaces of all shapes and sizes. This year brings propagation, soil science, landscape construction and (my particular favourite) landscape and garden history.

It has been hard at times, juggling family life as well as trying to meet the financial demands of higher education. When I discovered that government funding would not be an option for me (as I already hold a degree) I questioned whether I would be able to continue the course. To my enormous relief, I discovered that there is support out there. I was successful in my application for a bursary from the Cornwall Gardens Trust and consequently much of the financial burden has been lifted.

The bursary has allowed me to devote so much more of my time to learning about all aspects of gardening, be it on an academic or practical level. In particular, it has given me the opportunity to take up voluntary work within the horticultural sector. For a year now I have spent one day a week with a great team of gardeners at Trelissick Gardens as a volunteer, putting horticultural skills into practice, meeting new people and gaining experience working in a public garden setting. I’ve gained confidence in my practical abilities (having been out of the workforce for over a decade!), it has kept me active and it has also given me valuable experience to demonstrate to future employers. I recently joined Enys Gardens at Penryn as a volunteer too. It’s an exciting time to be involved as there is so much work to be done in this very special garden. My time here ties in nicely with my studies as I am currently researching the gardens with the view to writing a garden history assignment on Enys.

Jennie Pina at Enys Gardens where she works as a volunteer

Jennie Pina at Enys Gardens where she works as a volunteer

In February 2009 I started a gardening club at my children’s primary school in Truro. Once I had mastered the basic techniques of crowd control, my little army of gardeners and I embarked on a gardening adventure. We have grown tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, broad beans, runner beans, peas, sunflowers, nasturtiums, marigolds, various herbs, bulbs . the list goes on. Each week the children have lovingly sown seeds, watered them, nurtured them, forgotten them, remembered them again, willed them to grow . and it has (more or less) worked, for we now have a garden. It is basic, with tractor tyres for raised beds and wellies and milk containers as plant pots but, like all gardens, it is constantly changing and growing. Over the coming year, we plan to create a proper school garden, with zoned areas for different plants and activities as we are very lucky to have expansive grounds at the school. The children and I are in the process of drawing up our plans; it is very much their garden. I find it endlessly rewarding and so much fun. And I am reminded of all the reasons I love gardening. I have recently approached the Cornwall Gardens Trust about becoming involved with the education programme and hopefully in the spring I will get the chance to become involved in gardening with a secondary school in the Truro area.

As for my future, my mind remains open to the many possibilities of a career in horticulture. In particular, I would love to work in a public garden here in Cornwall. I love being a student and I would like to take my education as far as is practically possible, ideally to a degree in horticulture. This will give my career prospects a real boost and I hope it will continue to give me the personal fulfilment I have gained so far from my studies. I also intend to continue my voluntary work in Cornish gardens as well as my work with school children, for I’ve found this work as valuable as all that I have done academically.

I would like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to the Cornwall Gardens Trust and all its members for supporting students such as myself and enabling us to overcome financial obstacles in order to pursue careers in horticulture in Cornwall. The bursary really does mean the difference between being able to gain a valuable professional qualification or not. Thanks to the support I have received from the Cornwall Gardens Trust, I have been able to immerse myself in my college studies and in my voluntary gardening work and for this I am grateful. My knowledge is growing, my practical skills are developing, my career prospects are brightening and my confidence has flourished.

Thank you, Cornwall Gardens Trust .