Way back in 2001 I applied to the Women’s Farm and Garden Association to train via their scheme, which places women (and now men) into gardens to learn about horticulture and I have not looked back! When I’m not running my own business I also work with the Association managing gardens and trainees in the South West.
The WFGA began with a small group of professional women determined to provide training and opportunities in 1899. Over the next 100 years this charitable organisation set about providing training and career opportunities for women working in horticulture and agriculture, having set up the Women’s Land Army in 1914, courses and examinations in farming subjects, Gardening Apprenticeship Schemes and Commercial holdings to teach the growing of fruit and vegetables.
The Women Returners to Amenity Gardening Scheme, follows in this tradition. Set up in 1993, WRAGS, as it is known, has been designed to cover a training opportunity for which none of the existing educational programmes appear to cater for.
The aim of the Scheme is to hold a national register of placement gardens, mostly private but some public, where practical instruction in amenity horticulture is offered to students who are seeking a career in gardening. We are lucky enough to name the Bristol Botanic Gardens amongst our training gardens in this area.
This teaching is supervised by an experienced Garden Owner or a Head Gardener and is arranged to allow for a flexible approach to training on a part-time basis, within a fifteen mile radius of the trainee’s home location. This set-up makes it ideal for people with children of school age. My own daughter was only 5 when I did my training but I could still be there to drop her at school and pick her up.
This is an essential element of the Scheme, that allows for the fact that many trainees are changing careers, have experienced redundancy or unemployment and must combine their training with other employment during this period.
The Scheme now has a register of 140 placement gardens in England, Wales and Scotland, these range from large estate gardens, open to the public to smaller private gardens that may open 3 or 4 times a year. We have royal gardens, gardens in the squares of London, Community gardens, National Trust gardens, school gardens, nursery gardens, walled gardens, heritage gardens, gardens set within the grounds of castles and palaces - Hampton Court Palace, Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, Hever Castle to name but a few.
All chosen for their level of expertise, within a gardening team or an experienced owner and variety offered within the garden, the facilities to propagate, collection of tools and machinery, composting, mostly organic, vegetable growing, coppicing, fruit trees, bog planting, cutting gardens, lime walks, lawns and nutterys.
The training takes place over 15 hours within a week, for a period of one year and a training allowance is paid to the trainee to cover basic costs.
Once the trainee has been interviewed and accepted into a garden, a probationary period of 30 hours is worked and once confirmed by the Wrags Co-Ordinator, the Association then requests payment of the registration fees, £115 for the Garden Owner and £350 for the trainee.
They have a national register of trainees, some coming back into horticulture after raising a family, others changing career, or choosing horticulture as a new career path. Most are amateur gardeners and many have their own gardens or allotments and often combine local college courses, RHS examinations with the Scheme.
They are enthusiastic, good time keepers, reliable and do not require constant supervision. Many of them finish their training and set up self employed gardening businesses, and some decide to work within a gardening team with a long term goal in climbing the career ladder in horticulture, others will add design and specialist planting to their repertoire.
To prepare them for working out in the gardening world, the Women’s Farm and Garden Association has set up a programme of workshops. Covering specialist skills, planting, and business aspects, these are organised to give trainees an opportunity to network with experts, in small groups, all are ‘hands on’ learning experiences and are vital to the training year.
It is the only Scheme to utilise the expertise of Owners who have toiled over many years and gained valuable knowledge to pass on, which is often lost when they retire from gardening. The WFGA also runs fantastic workshops, work days and training days which include ‘rural skills’ and to date has tackled dry stone walling, bee keeping, chickens, hedge laying, coppicing and bread making amongst many other subjects.
I am a huge fan of the WFGA, having trained with them and having been on many of their courses and garden holidays. If you are interested in being a trainee or you have a garden that would benefit from having a trainee, you can contact me direct or for information on membership of the Association and to register as a WRAGS trainee, please contact the Women’s Farm and Garden Association,
175 Gloucester Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 2DP