The English Garden

Guy Barter

The RHS chief horticultu­ral advisor has been helping the nation with all manner of gardening quandaries since the 1990s


I started my career working for the government in a lab as a microbiolo­gist. Over time it became quite tedious, and after 11 years I decided to pursue horticultu­re instead. I’ve always been interested in gardening. My parents were great gardeners and my family grew watercress, so it wasn’t entirely a leap in the dark.

At 29 I left London to study at the University of

Bath for four years where I specialise­d in crop protection and vegetable production. I had my first allotment at 14 so I’ve always grown vegetables. The university was o ering free training placements, so after graduating I worked at a nursery in West Sussex, a lettuce farm, and then a cauliflowe­r farm in Kent, all of which gave me so much practical knowledge.

I worked at a nursery in Yeovil for a year before joining RHS Wisley with the glorious title of ‘child superinten­dent’. I ran the trial fields and grew 35 di erent crops every year. The trials are overseen by experts – often nurserymen or breeders – who have been growing plants all their lives. In terms of practical, handson horticultu­re, they were the very best teachers, so that was a valuable experience.

The chance then arose to work for Which? Gardening magazine. I was there for three years, which sharpened my writing skills. Afterwards I returned to Wisley to run the RHS Members’ Advisory Service and stayed for 18 years. Any RHS member can approach the service; there are over 640,000 members, so there are thousands of questions. There are some amusing ones – inevitably in October you’ll get a call from someone concerned that the leaves on their trees are turning brown and falling o !

We’ve built a vast database of knowledge on the RHS website, which is free for anyone in the world to use.

The RHS is full of incredible people – soil scientists, plant physiologi­sts, botanists, entomologi­sts, and plant pathologis­ts – who can answer even the most niche enquiries.

I later moved to the RHS press o ce, working with the media and providing horticultu­ral advice. The focus of my role now is bringing the RHS flower shows to life. It’s a satisfying challenge watching the e ect that a great garden can have on a community.

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