My great out­doors!

Self-styled Lady Hor­ti­cul­tur­ist CLAIRE FORSTER ex­plains how she over­came ad­ver­sity to pur­sue a job she loves

Devon Life - - The Lady Horticulturist -

As a dyslexic per­son I have been on a long jour­ney to be­come recog­nised as a pro­fes­sional hor­ti­cul­tur­ist. I didn’t en­joy school much, it was very stress­ful, I knew I was dif­fer­ent, I felt dif­fer­ent and saw things dif­fer­ently.

How­ever, I was fas­ci­nated by bi­ol­ogy as it en­abled me to see how things ticked and gave me an un­der­stand­ing about how plant cells grow. I also en­joyed art, us­ing my draw­ing skills by us­ing shape, tex­ture and colour to in­ter­pret my ideas.

I had al­ways loved plants, even from an early age and was en­cour­aged to ap­pre­ci­ate Mother Na­ture for its bounty as my par­ents took me around Devon ex­plor­ing. My ear­li­est mem­o­ries are of spend­ing many hours in the gar­den, es­pe­cially when it came to grow­ing veg­gies with my dad. I started to re­train in hor­ti­cul­ture at Bic­ton Col­lege, study­ing for my RHS level II and III Ad­vanced when I was about 22. I did not find this easy, it had been said to me at school that I would never be­come aca­demic, but I wanted to prove them wrong. I was ex­tremely priv­i­leged and proud to spend 18 months with the Na­tional Trust, vol­un­teer­ing in the gar­dens at Killer­ton.

With many years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the South West work­ing for com­mer­cial nurs­eries/ gar­den cen­tres and vine­yards I de­cided, with guid­ance from com­mu­nity in­ter­est com­pany, Pluss, sup­port­ing me, to start my own busi­ness, trad­ing as “Lady Hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist of­fer­ing tra­di­tional gar­den­ing, be­spoke plant­ing schemes, con­sul­ta­tions and gar­den talks”.

As time went on I needed more struc­ture in my busi­ness and de­cided to con­sult a busi­ness coach, Chris Catt of The Life Coach Sta­tion, to develop busi­ness strate­gies.

I am pas­sion­ate about gar­den­ing and the ben­e­fits plants can bring; it is not just a job, it is a way of life en­abling me to ex­press my feel­ings and giv­ing me a sense of well-be­ing. Many clients I have met over the years have been very sur­prised when I say that I am dyslexic and yet have learned all the plant names – this took real de­ter­mi­na­tion and a lot of tears.

I very much en­joy work­ing in my home county of Devon, which I call “my of­fice”. The land­scape has many dif­fer­ent mi­cro­cli­mates and soil types with dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments. This all must be con­sid­ered when deal­ing with clients’ gar­dens as plants have dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments to be able to flour­ish well.

I en­joy meet­ing new clients and shar­ing their pas­sion for their gar­dens. It is so im­por­tant to lis­ten care­fully to a client about their wishes and ex­pec­ta­tions as our gar­dens to­day have be­come a lit­tle piece of tran­quil­lity away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of ev­ery­day life. Many of our gar­dens to­day sup­port our wildlife, and many clients are keen to achieve habi­tats with the right plants. My favourite plant­ing styles are Gertrude Jekyll and Piet Ou­dolf. My clients have dif­fer­ent style gar­dens, from con­tem­po­rary to the very tra­di­tional, but one thing I find is, sadly, there is a short­age of peo­ple of­fer­ing tra­di­tional gar­den­ing skills. I am a great be­liever in get­ting on my hands and knees and say­ing my prayers to the weeds!

One of my old favourite tools is my hand fork - I am lost with­out it. This is a great way of work­ing around plants, study­ing them and giv­ing them per­sonal at­ten­tion and gain­ing a greater un­der­stand­ing of them. You can­not rush a gar­den; it takes time, pas­sion, en­thu­si­asm and an un­der­stand­ing of plants.

The big chal­lenges fac­ing gar­dens to­day is the lack of skills and the need to en­cour­age more young peo­ple into the in­dus­try. My lat­est ven­ture, of which I am very proud of, is be­ing in part­ner­ship with Bic­ton Col­lege, sup­port­ing young adults with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, giv­ing them op­por­tu­ni­ties, as all too of­ten they are pushed to one side, not giv­ing them chance to shine. I also find when gar­den­ing all their wor­ries and fears dis­ap­pear, and they feel re­laxed.

In con­clu­sion, do­ing what I do I’ll never be a mil­lion­aire, but I am rich in the sense of my sur­round­ings. la­dy­hor­ti­cul­tur­ist.co.uk

‘Do­ing what I do I’ll never be a mil­lion­aire, but I am rich in the sense of my sur­round­ings’

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