My great outdoors!
Self-styled Lady Horticulturist CLAIRE FORSTER explains how she overcame adversity to pursue a job she loves
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’