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Life as a Fulham Palace garden apprentice

by Chris Self, garden apprentice

I started my two-year apprenticeship in horticulture at Fulham Palace in August 2012.  I had a keen interest in being outdoors and working with plants but other than that knew very little about horticulture as a subject.  My main experience up to that point had been from vegetable gardening at home.

I was lucky enough to be offered a place as part of the first ever intake of students and went straight into working full time having just finished my ‘A’ level exams.  Soon after I started my college course at Capel Manor, Gunnersbury Park, studying the RHS level 2 qualification one day a week.  I found the combination of working in the gardens and going to college at the same time a very direct and rewarding way to learn.  My course was all theory and what I studied one week I could be doing the very next day at work.  The constant cross over between college and the job was very engaging for me.

When not in the classroom I’ve been helping with all the everyday tasks in the gardens.  Fulham Palace has a team of six full time gardeners including students so we aren’t really big enough to have different internal departments.  This is good for an apprentice.  One day I could be mowing the grass or chopping wood, and the next be propagating plants in our glasshouse or working in the Walled Garden.  The variety is what has made my apprenticeship so enjoyable.

One of the highlights has been my involvement in the restoration of the walled kitchen garden.  When I started the walled garden was nothing but grass.  Now I’m soon to leave and one quadrant is back to full vegetable production with a second quadrant ready to be planted full of fruit trees this autumn.  Most of the produce goes to the two Michelin Star restaurant, The Square, run by chef Phil Howard.  After eating at the restaurant last week and finally tasting our own produce I’ve decided it’s definitely a worthy cause! Not to mention the fundraising they do for us.

Due to the success of my apprenticeship I’ve been offered places as a student studying to a higher level at both RHS Garden Wisely and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.  I chose Wisley and will be starting their two-year Wisley Diploma course this September.

I want to thank Lucy and the two Chris’ (head gardener and two garden supervisors) for taking their time to train me from a novice and allowing me to move on to such great places.  I would definitely recommend Fulham Palace as a launch pad to a rewarding career in horticulture for any student.