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National Trust’s first ever horticulture scholar begins work at world-renowned Sissinghurst Castle Garden

The National Trust’s first ever horticulture scholar has begun work at world-famous Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent.  


Claire Margetts was selected from 59 candidates as the inaugural recipient of the Sissinghurst Scholarship, designed to cultivate the Head Gardeners of the future. The scholarship is generously funded by donations and legacies. 


Claire will now spend 18 months gaining practical hands-on experience in the art and craft of horticulture, with a particular focus on the approach of the garden’s founders, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. 


Claire said: “The pull of applying to be a part of the traditions and practices used by Vita and Harold, under the tuition of Head Gardener Troy Scott-Smith and his team, was irresistible.” 


The daughter of plantspeople, Claire grew up helping with landscaping and planting at her father’s nursery and arboretum. She initially studied Law, majoring in Human Rights; later managing an Arctic research project and developing educational summits and festivals in the UK and internationally.   


The death of her father, a skilled gardener, prompted Claire to pursue a career in horticulture. She volunteered at historic Iford Manor in Wiltshire and spent a year working in private gardens while undertaking RHS Level 2 studies, before spending a season at Aberglasney Gardens in Wales as part of The Historic and Botanic Gardens Training Programme, managed by English Heritage. 


Claire – who says ‘chlorophyll is in the blood’, having recently discovered her great great grandfather was a Head Gardener and his son a Market Gardener in the Cotswolds – was completing a week’s voluntary work experience at Sissinghurst when the Scholarship launched.  


Claire said: “The programme looked truly unique, a historically-rooted finishing school for gardeners if you will. A rare opportunity to work-on-the-tools as a senior gardener, while also learning the conservation, garden management, design, and arts and crafts skills you can’t learn in books.  


“As a Head Gardener of the future I look forward to learning to navigate and help solve some of the great challenges in the garden, namely; balancing historic garden conservation with climate change, accessibility, access to nature, the professional skills shortage and biosecurity. 


Claire continued: “As the first Scholar I feel a great sense of responsibility to legacy, to hopefully in-turn inspire future Scholars and to go on and teach these skills to the next generation. I’m pretty sure, that if little me had seen more female Head Gardeners at historic gardens I would have thought, how do I get that job?”  


A separate 10-month Growing Scholarship will begin at the garden next March, with an emphasis on nursery skills and kitchen gardening (recruitment will begin in the New Year). Applications for the 2023 Sissinghurst Scholarship will open in mid-May. 


The National Trust’s Head of Gardens and Parklands, Andy Jasper, said: “As custodian of some of the world’s greatest gardens, we take heritage gardening, our horticultural assets, and the profession seriously. 


“We want to nurture and develop the very best talent, cultivating horticulturists who can lead internationally significant gardens with confidence.  This will help address the skill shortage that horticulture faces, provide exciting career paths, and ensure that heritage gardening skills and historic gardens are in the best possible hands.” 

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