Apprenticeships in Horticulture

We offer apprenticeships in horticulture that help to give a new start in life through a mix of practical experience and paid-for studies. I spoke to two apprentices, past and present, to find out how they’ve benefited from their time here.

“I’d never thought about gardening as a possibility, I didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted to do,” says Chris. “I didn’t really enjoy school, I just knew that I wanted to be outside.” After leaving school with 13 GCSEs, he did some painting and decorating, and trained in the Merchant Navy, but didn’t feel as if anything fitted.

Chris Bent learning an essential horticulture skills of Bee Keeping at The Pines Garden.

The Future Jobs Fund – a way into work through apprenticeships

It was while he was unemployed that Dover Jobcentre Plus, under the Future Jobs Fund, recommended that he came to the Bay Trust for an interview. The Future Jobs Fund is a 6-month scheme that offers work experience to help people get into work.

Chris was offered a placement, and then ended up working full time here for the next three and a half years. He undertook general gardening duties, as well as building maintenance and green building projects, hard landscaping, nursery work, propagation, sustainable living and recycling.


Training in Horticulture and Permaculture

While he was here, the Bay Trust paid for Chris to attend a number of courses. These included a 10-week gardening for wildlife course, and a year long RHS Level 2 Practical Horticulture course, both with Hadlow College. He was released from work to study one day a week, while still receiving full-time wages. He also studied on a Bay Trust permaculture course, and then took a Permaculture Design certificate.

Teaching and mentoring from our gardeners

It was both the academic studies and the learning on the job that helped Chris. He talks with great respect about Chester, our head gardener. Chester asked Chris to learn one Latin name for a plant each week, then one name a day, and it went from there. At the time, Chris didn’t really understand why, but he wanted to gain the gardener’s respect. “Chester was a really, really good teacher. He did all his own research and didn’t take any shortcuts. I saw it as a goal to reach the same level of knowledge that Chester had.”

Now, Chris says that he is a self-confessed plant geek, and has a reputation for it among his friends. “I quite enjoyed learning the Latin names, once you know them the names describe the plants. Blackthorn is Prunus spinosa. Prunus means it’s part of the cherry family, and spinosa means it’s spiny. Now, if I walk past something I don’t know, it really frustrates me.”

Passing on expertise in gardening and horticulture

As his experience grew, Chris wanted to give back some of what he had learnt. He enjoyed teaching Jamie, another apprentice. “We helped to keep each other on the ball,” says Chris. “We’d be walking through the garden, and if there were 30 plants, I might know 29, and Jamie might know 10. So we’d go back in the tea break and look them up to learn more. It’s addictive.”

Branching out – my own gardening business

Chris got to the point where he felt he could branch out on his own, and he now runs an organic gardening business, Need for Seed. What he learnt at the Bay Trust, he is now trying to bring to the wider world. “I don’t understand why people go straight to weedkillers, when 99 per cent of the time there’s an organic approach available,” he says. “With blackfly and greenfly, you can use ladybirds or, in a greenhouse, parasitic wasps. Powdery mildew can be treated by using diluted full fat milk or by using drenched camomile leaves. In order to control aphids, you can blend garlic up and use a dilution of this.”

Dan formed a strong bond with the Pigs who helped to clear land on Steps Bank

Our new gardening apprentice Dan

The mix of studies and on the job learning is something that’s also valued by our current apprentice, Dan. He spent the first year learning about food growing under the supervision of Food Growing Manager Sean Giles. During his second year, he’s been working in the gardens under Chester. As part of the apprenticeship, he’s also studying for the same courses as Chris. “My tutor comes down from the college every week to go through the work I’ve done and what I need to do next. I email them the work, they check it and send it back. I’ve done Pests and Diseases, and now I’m learning Plant Nomenclature.”

“I’m getting qualifications and experience, and I’m not paying for it!” Dan says. “I started from scratch and I’m learning day by day. I’ve learnt from the other apprentices, Chester and Sean. They all know so much.”

Finding a vocation in horticulture

Dan also feels like he’s found his vocation. “I never knew what I wanted to do, but now I know I want to stick with permaculture and horticulture. I spent a few years at college, then did a couple of jobs working in a factory and a supermarket. I was unemployed when I stumbled across this apprenticeship. I’ve fallen in love with the place. I love being outside and learning new things, every day, permaculture, it’s amazing, I love it.”

Practical skills for running your own gardening business

Just like Chris, Dan is thinking about going self-employed when his apprenticeship finishes. Chris says the experience he gains here will be invaluable. “My experience at the Bay Trust helped massively. All the practical skills I picked up I’m using now, such as pruning, planting, all the maintenance. Now I’m confident I can carry those tasks out to a pretty good standard.”

Interested in our apprenticeship scheme?

Contact us on
01304 851 737