Horticulture - A little more than meets the eye

Horticulture - A little more than meets the eye

RHS Ambassador Jamie Butterworth discusses his passion for gardening.

I’ve had a passion for gardening since the tender age of 9, after watching an episode of Gardeners’ World, I’m still not sure why. Anyhow, Monty Don was sowing some seeds, and I remember thinking, ‘that looks easy, maybe I should have a go’. So I did.

I asked my mother to get me some seeds, compost and pots, and I still remember to this very day the feeling of excitement and awe I got. It was just like real life magic, seeing something as small as a pin prick germinate, grow and flower. It was only a simple cornflower, but this was enough to captivate my imagination.

After experimenting in both my own back garden, and converting my grandparents back lawn into my allotment, there was no hesitation when it came to choosing what I was to study at college. Defying my careers advisors advice…“Don't go in horticulture, you're a bright lad, you should do your A levels, do a degree, study medicine or law, contribute to society.” I think it’s fairly safe to say I’ve proven them quite wrong.

I studied for two years at Askham Bryan College in York, before migrating ‘darn sarth’ to spend two years working in the magical RHS Wisley garden. This was the most incredible opportunity, and one I relished. Being able to live, work and study on one of the country’s most beautiful gardens was an enormous privilege, and gave me the knowledge and connections with some of the biggest names in horticulture, that led to the dream job that I have today.

Since leaving Wisley, I now work at Hortus loci, a nursery based in Hook, Hampshire. My job here is ‘Joint Show Plant Manager’, which in essence means I am responsible for growing the plants for the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and all the other major flower shows for that matter! 

I have been watching the show since I was 12 years old, and always one day dreamed of visiting. I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be responsible for growing the plants for no less than 5 main avenue gardens. An incredible honor, albeit it a bit of a nerve-wracking one.

The thought that the plants I am growing will be admired by people from across the world is one that truly excites me and scares me in equal measures.  Chelsea is the one week of the year where gardening and horticulture suddenly becomes cool to the rest of the world, the epicenter of horticultural excellence. And as such, I think it’s a great platform to show the rest of the world exactly what a career in horticulture actually can be about.

As an industry, we face somewhat of a negative image, seen only as a career option if you’re either reaching retirement, or have failed academically. This simply isn't true. Horticulture truly is one of the most fun, exciting and diverse careers I can think of. From travelling the world to find plants that no one has ever come across before, to working with NASA trying to find ways in which to grow plants on Mars, yes, this is actually someone’s job.

A career in horticulture really can take you around the world. A big part of my job, growing the plants for RHS Chelsea Flower show, is to find some of the most rare, weird and wonderful trees, that will be used to bring the garden to life and create that illusion the garden has been there forever. In the past month, I’ve been to Barcelona, Hanover, and Valencia, not bad for a Yorkshireman who had never left the country prior to working for Hortus.

As a child, my grandfather always told me to find a job that I love doing, and by doing so, I’ll never have to work a day in my life. He couldn't have been more right. It sounds clichéd, but I genuinely don't feel like I'm going to work on a morning. Instead it’s another day of getting to practice my hobby, the thing I love to do the most. Sometime you can have your cake and eat it.