pro landscaper magazine
pro landscaper magazine

Q&A with Tessa Johnstone

by | 07 Mar 23 | Features, News, Opinion, Website Exclusive

For International Woman’s Day, Johnstone Landscapes’ director sits down with Pro Landscaper to talk diversity, education and authentic changes.

Tessa Johnstone. Credit: @jasoningram


What has been the most exciting change for Johnstone Landscapes and/or the British Association of Landscape Industries in recent years?

Johnstone Landscapes’ ability to work on projects we choose and want to undertake and work with clients we enjoy working with. I never take it for granted that the projects keep coming, but I am no longer inclined to accept a project if we are not happy with the elements that I know will make it a fun and worthwhile project, rather than taking it because we feel we have to say yes. We need to align with the client around their choice of design, material choices and are they going to be a lovely client. Our confidence has grown over the last five years. Our professional growth is reflected in the projects we are offered rather than the size of the business and team numbers.

British Association of Landscape Industries are revitalising our Go Landscape offer and currently looking for an exciting and innovative individual to lead the education side of the British Association of Landscape Industries. It involves the training of more ambassadors and refreshed tool kits for those ambassadors to go into schools and colleges and talk to students – to show them the significant career opportunities the landscape industry offers. There will also be the unparalleled offer of the BALI Academy, soon to be piloted – before the end of 2023. Exemplar industry standards only. Jake Catling, The Landscaping Consultants, is the dynamic and industrious lead on this.


In your ‘Let’s Hear it From’ 2020 feature you said: “All businesses benefit from a diverse workforce and leadership.” What changes has British Association of Landscape Industries and Johnstone Landscapes made to encourage more diversity?

Johnstone Landscapes involves the team more – rather than just having a top-down approach we ask them about the kind of projects they like to implement. We joined Disability Confident – any business with the will to involve more people in their business can do this but you need to open the opportunities and then support them. The Disability Confident ‘badge’ has resulted in far more neuro-diverse applicants applying to our Apprentice roles. And we are more equipped to support these applicants in their careers.  We have a Mental Health First Aider and I want to roll this out for more MHFA before the end of the year.  We are still actively seeking our first female Apprentice, but I haven’t achieved this yet. I aim to change this in September!

British Association of Landscape Industries has achieved our 2022 goal which was to create the ED&I Charter and involve many of the other Associations. We commit to create an inclusive culture and measure how we engage and improve representation.

  • Support the development of our industry from an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion perspective – regardless of area of specialism, through the sharing of work and good practice. To recognise and monitor Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion across the industry, using a set format to benchmark performance.
  • Provide access to resources for educating and upskilling colleagues and members on diversity and inclusion.
  • Promote the Industry as a fully inclusive and accessible environment with opportunities for lifelong rewarding careers.

We will build on this work during 2023 and ensure that we, alongside the other Associations, act and not just discuss the diversity agenda hoping something will happen. It needs commitment and authentic changes to how we work.


Are there any women who you believe are making a great impact in the horticultural industry?

There are lots of women making an impact. Aside from the women we do see regularly on television and in our magazines (and thank God we do), there are many others in the industry but perhaps are not so visible. At Futurescape in the Autumn I was thrilled by how many women attended – they came to the exhibition, and they attended the events – equal numbers of women to men were taking part in the events too.  – there are many women shining a light on what we do in horticulture, Flo Headlam, Millie Souter, Holly Youde, Mollie Higginson, Sue Morgan, Lynne Marcus, Hannah Gardner, Kirsty Smith, Kate Gould, Libby Russell and scientists Heather Lindon and Dr Bat Vorontsova to rightly name check a few!  I’m a big Charlotte Harris ( fan. Charlotte suggests we need better representation at events for women and challenges us to look at the event we are invited to ensure that men and women are equally represented – don’t accept that invitation if you can see the whole panel already looks exactly the same as you!


How are the British Association of Landscape Industries celebrating IWD?

British Association of Landscape Industries plans to showcase some of the women who are in the industry – hopefully some of the lesser-known ones. The campaign is based around:

Equality being the goal, with equity being the means to get there.

It is what we do, not what we talk about. Showcasing women who have made the journey and helping more women make it.  We will have some sound bites and some vlogs.


What tips would you offer for women in horticulture?

If you can find some time – please support and promote those women around you. Going back to Charlotte Harris, she quoted the Internal Hewlett Packard report that concluded that a man would apply for a job even if he can only fill 60 per cent of the requirements, but a woman won’t unless she has 100 per cent of the requirements. Let’s be braver and just go for it more – support each other, promote each other, and shift the paradigms that can exist. Put yourself forward to speak at an event or be on a panel – keep learning and share your knowledge. The industry is so dynamic and right now, in a time where a lot of traditional roles seem to be disappearing, there only appears to be more and more opportunities in horticulture.  There are currently 225 women in the House of Commons, more than a third of MPs for the first time. Let’s keep moving forward and increase female representation in our industry. Equality is the goal, with equity being the means to get there.

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