From footwear design to garden design

By Amy Nightingale – Second year horticultural apprentice at RHS Garden Rosemoor

One of the silver linings to the many lockdowns is the pause on life it has given, to evaluate what really matters. For me it is my family and pursuing my love for gardening. During the first lockdown our garden became our oasis of calm, a sanctuary to retreat to and nurture. To accommodate the bees, butterflies and moths that were visiting our cottage garden, I cultivated the borders with nectar rich plants; Verbena Bonariensis, Nepeta, Scabiosa. I even resisted removing a surprise intruder, the prolific Buddleja Davidii which attracted a host of pollinators. I also began to help my parents at their allotment more, becoming absorbed in the labour, relishing the reward of picking berries with my raspberry stained toddler in tow. Unsurprisingly, I am following in the footsteps of my father, who retrained at the same age and became a horticulturalist and worked in fruit farm management. Many a childhood summer was spent picking strawberries and sitting on his knee driving tractors!

At the age of 35, I have enjoyed a successful and dynamic career within footwear design, most recently as a Colour and Materials Designer. During my design career I became skilled at creating themed stories with colour and material moodboards, which I would present back to designers and buyers, engaging and inspiring them on their product journey. I enjoyed the creative aspect and eventually I would like to develop my creative flair within garden design, understanding a client’s brief and bringing their dreams to life in the garden.

Amy Nightingale with snowdrops at RHS Rosemoor

I love being in the beautiful surroundings of RHS Garden Rosemoor, especially the early hours before the visitors arrive and you have access to this secret garden which takes on a much more serene atmosphere before the bustle and excitement of visitors arriving.

At Rosemoor, the first few months were quite heavily packed with masterclasses on planting, pruning, digging and propagation, as well as gaining our tickets for tractor driving and hedge trimming, and getting to grips with college assignments. So although initially the schedule is very full, this eases up and gives you a lot of confidence as you feel more competent.

One of the senior gardeners in the team, Susie, has taken on the role of pastoral mentoring and this made a huge difference – having been a former student she can relate to our experiences, and she has also encouraged a supportive community amongst us apprentices.

It has been lovely seeing the garden change throughout the seasons and I have especially enjoyed winter rose pruning and spring planting.

I am also enjoying how sociable the role is, whether as part of a friendly team or talking to visitors who often share their happiness and appreciation of their experiences.

I am currently working in the formal garden, mostly learning to prune shrub and hybrid tea roses. Despite the frosty mornings, I have loved learning to rose prune.

I have to focus on which bud to cut, the angle, which stems to take out etc. I find the time flies as I’m in the moment and absorbed by the task. I also keep a bag of bird seed for the robins who come and sit on my bucket and keep me company!

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