Skip to main content

A day in the life of a WRAGS trainee...

Matt Croucher, a Work and Retrain as a Gardener Scheme (WRAGS) trainee, talks to Helen Roberts about working at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, what first got him interested in botany and his aspirations within the horticultural profession.

I met up with Matt mid morning in the potting up area of the Garden. He was delicately placing seed into pots to supplement what is already planted in the ballast seed garden, an area for which he has sole responsibility. As he carried on with the task at hand, I asked him what first drew him to study horticulture, having previously come from a background in website design.

“My girlfriend and I had moved house and decided to get an allotment. Plants became important to me when I first started working on our own allotment and my interest in horticulture just emerged from that. However, even as a child I always had a small piece of the garden to grow something; I think an interest was probably always there.”

Matt started volunteering at the beautiful 10 acre gardens at Goldney Hall in Clifton, owned by the University of Bristol, and from there secured a WRAGS traineeship at the Botanic Garden. WRAGS provides hands-on practical training in horticulture, with the trainee working under the guidance of staff at a host location. WRAGS trainees do not receive funding from the scheme itself; rather, the scheme acts as an organizer and coordinator, helping to find trainees suitable host placements. Matt is funded by Perennial, a charity organisation that helps to support people in horticulture. He has also gained experience at a number of larger estates, including the National Trust property of Tyntesfield.

Matt started his traineeship with the University of Bristol Botanic Garden in August 2014, and will work two days a week there for a year. When he's not at the Botanic Garden, he is working for a local landscape firm and studying for the RHS Level II course at the Garden.

As we take a walk through the gardens I ask Matt about a typical day’s work and what it involves.

“A typical day at the Botanic Garden is never really the same. One of the first things I do when I arrive is water the tropical houses. After that, I could be working on a range of different tasks. For instance, last week I was helping to re-pot the water lilies in the main pond and apply a solution containing nematode worms to control vine weevils to different plants. No one day is the same and that makes the work really interesting.”

He also had the chance to go further afield with work when he took a trip down to Chelsea Physic Garden with fellow trainee, Zoe Parfitt, and curator Nick Wray to collect eight specimens of Welwitschia mirablis, a rare ancient cone-bearing plant from the Namib coastal desert.

Matt holding the Welwitschia mirablis.
Matt showed me the Welwitschia mirablis potted up very neatly and snugly sitting in a specially constructed heated planter. They are indeed very weird looking plants and although I thought they looked small and were therefore probably not that old, they are already 25 years old. Matt was obviously really pleased to be involved in the collecting and potting up of these plants, which are a valuable addition to the plant collection.

“It was amazing to go to the Chelsea Physic garden and have the chance to help out with the Welwitschia. Nick Wray said to me that I would probably only get the opportunity once in a lifetime to pot up something that is so unique.”

Matt's deep-rooted (excuse the pun) fascination with horticulture was evident as we talked about the plants whilst strolling through the different areas of the gardens. He relishes the time he spends on his own allotment and is now successfully growing and selling plants from his plot to friends and clients. He is also an avid collector of interesting plants, taking cuttings whenever and wherever he can; his home is crammed full of greenery. Towards the end of the tour, Matt sums up his training at the Botanic Garden and tells me of his plans for his horticultural career.

“The experience I have gained at the Botanic Garden has been invaluable and has enabled me to secure work at large estates, such as Tyntesfield. Ultimately, I would love to secure a full time position at a botanic garden.”

WRAGS was launched in 1993 and was originally intended for women returning to work after starting a family. Though the scheme is still administered through the Women's Farm & Garden Association, it is no longer just for women. Matt is among an increasing number of men applying for the scheme - many of which are career changers. To learn more about the scheme, visit wfga.org.uk.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Botanic Garden community by Andy Winfield

Easter sees one of our biggest events of the year, the Sculpture Festival, come around again. This is a lot of work to put on but an occasion that we all enjoy very much; the Garden lends itself well to sculpture and has such diverse displays that there is a perfect place for any piece of work. Dinosaurs in the evolution dell, a barn owl under the old oaks and metal flowers among the story of flowering plants; it’s good fun helping the artists place each work.
Over the weekend we have a large number of visitors enjoying the Garden, and this is what working in a place like this is all about. I get a bit misty eyed when I see people walking amongst the Mediterranean flora with classic stone sculptures placed amongst the foliage because I remember barrowing the soil to create the slope; crowbarring the huge stones up the bank; digging in sand and chippings to create the Mediterranean soil and planting the olives, rosemary, lavender that soaks up the south facing sunshine. Seeing the peo…

Christmas and the Botanic Garden

Being out and about in the Garden gives a sense of the changing of the seasons, a sense brought about by the combination of light, temperature, wildlife and, of course, plants. This is felt most keenly at this time when we are the furthest from the sun that we will be, until next year. I find mid-winter an uplifting time; leafless trees show their bones and wildlife is easier to spot. It’s amazing how much life is flitting around in an old oak tree when you take the time to look into its branches. The sky seems bigger in winter and the sunsets more vivid. This might just be that we don’t get to see them so much in midsummer, but at this time of year we see the sun rise in the Garden and set in the Garden.
From this moment the days get a little longer and we begin to see movement in the soil, small signposts to spring that don’t occur before midwinter. Snowdrops and winter aconite emerge in January; tiny and fragrant flowers emerge on shrubs such as witch-hazel, Daphne, winter flowerin…

The Beast from the East, by Andy Winfield

It's colder here in the UK than its been for a number of years, but probably not as cold as the rest of Europe as the so called ‘Beast from the East’ whips across the land. Only last week I was thinking that we’d made it through winter and the only way was spring now; primulas were flowering, blossom buds were swelling and the garden birds were flirting. Now they’re all in a frozen stasis waiting for this period of cold to end, and it will.
One thing that I have learnt in my years as a gardener is to try and enjoy this unpredictability. We often have volunteers who come from warmer countries and I’ll always remember our Columbian volunteer, Bertha. During a long cold, dark and wet spell she told me that she loved the climate here. She came from an equatorial region of Columbia and said that the sun rose at six, went down at six and the weather was either hot or hot and raining; she thought this was boring compared to here. I also remember Tom who worked here a number of years ago…