Head gardener at Michelham Priory in Upper Dicker, James Neal, came to horticulture as a career change from the financial services industry. “I was increasingly mired in bureaucracy and the joy of conflicting business targets,” he says. “After those 20 years, I was a different person and craving rejuvenation.
“While working in financial services I had taken on an allotment in Brighton, which I cultivated over ten years. I decided to formalise my knowledge and get a qualification in horticulture at Plumpton College. Having family and financial commitments, meant I really needed to make it work for me as soon as possible. While I was studying I applied for a part-time job assisting the owner gardeners of the Sussex Prairie Gardens in Henfield, Paul and Pauline Mcbride. Studying and working at the same time turbo-charged my learning, everything was directly and immediately relevant and applicable.”
James manages seven acres of formal gardens. The job not only covers the gardening, but also involves propagation, administration, looking after tools and machinery, liaising with contractors, planning, conducting garden tours and addressing groups.
“The best part of the job is being outside most of the time, through the different seasons, in a beautiful location,” he says. “It does make you feel pride, when you see visitors taking photos of the plantings I have created. The people I work with are great. We work toward the enhancement of the relatively small heritage charity, the Sussex Archaeological Society, whose mission is to give visitor’s access to and education about local Sussex History and use their sites as a vehicle for that mission.”