Monday, 11 January 2010

Planting Seeds of Success - Isle of Wight County Press Interview

Chris Barnes; Garden Designer, Plantswoman, Lecturer

How long in your present field?

15 years

What attracted you to this type of work?

The sheer and utter joy of creating beautiful gardens whilst working outside in the natural world.

What was your education like?

From St. John’s Primary School, Sandown to the first intake at Brockenhurst 6th Form College, with a few schools in between . I had some great teachers who inspired me to believe in lifelong learning but the careers advice was naff!

The pinnacle was going to College in Weymouth where I met my husband and my life-long friends .

How well do you think it prepared you for life/work?

Well, whilst at Brockenhurst studying for my A levels my parents ran a pub in Lymington during the heyday of the IOW Festivals. One prepared me for life and the other for work! At Weymouth we were thrown in at the deep end – within 5 weeks confronting a class full of children. The initial drop out rate was quite high…

What was your first job? Casual/Career?

A string of casual jobs from stable hand, waitress, bar maid to stall holder in Lymington Market. Me and my Gran had a thing going with crocheted accessories!!!

My first ‘proper’ job was as a Medical Secretary at a Child Guidance Clinic at the Belgrave Hospital for Children in London. I worked for Anna Freud and Melanie Klein (oblivious to their impact in the world of psychotherapy) but fascinated by their work. I was encouraged to go on to work with young people.

What was the significant choice/breakthrough that got you onto your career path?

Well, Horticulture is my second career and what made me make the big career switch choice was - Redundancy! Both my husband and I lost our jobs within 2 months of one another. . There is nothing like facing the abyss of unemployment to make you take a big jump.

What do you like about your job?

I mostly have to pinch myself that I am paid to design gardens. I am fascinated by plants and planting and love creating, building and experimenting with planting combinations. I still do it in my sleep…( sad but true….) Coming to it as a second career I have to make up for lost time…But I also like helping other people to fulfil their own gardening dreams and connecting them with the joys that growing plants can bring.

What advice would you give to a young person starting out?

Find a knowledgeable gardener and learn all you can from them. Read all you can, visit gardens everywhere, study the natural world and just get going, sow seeds, plant vegetables, grow borders – never be afraid to experiment. Horticulture is a joyous, optimistic activity in a rather jaded world.

What sort of hours do you work? How does that fit in with your family/social life?

When I ran my plant nursery I worked all the hours under the sun. My family helped but there were many long, wet, cold and lonely days when I had to tough it out. Nowadays, as I just focus on Garden Design I have regained weekends and reclaimed a social life. But, oh I do miss the abundance of the nursery and the inexplicable thrill of seeing row upon row of fresh young plants lined up.

How do you relax outside of work?

I love the natural world and so walking, cycling, swimming are great physical activities for me. I practise the Pilates technique to keep my back in good shape but a recent passion is singing! And I have been known to enjoy the odd glass of chilled white!

What skills do you think are important to your work?

Many things, but top of my list is a good eye for detail and a sense of place so that gardens sit comfortably within their surroundings. Trusting your knowledge of plants and planting combinations is also very important.

How do you think you make a difference at work?

I’m a good communicator. Working in education taught me this and it is very important in the sustainable aspect in garden design. Building beautiful, environmentally sensitive gardens that are attractive to wildlife and to people, encourages a connection with the soil and the sense of happiness that gardening brings.

What sort of thing do you wear for work? Favourite outfit?

I recycle my son’s old surfing clothes – they are great for gardening, and a lot more colourful than a boring old wax jacket! I rely on my Brasher walking boots though for comfort and waterproof feet!

Do you have any useful grooming tips?

Yes, get a great hairdresser! She may discover strange gardening debris in your hair so you need her on your side and to keep your secrets…

What is your favourite place on the Island?

That’s easy…Freshwater Bay, where I have lived for the past 26 years. After a hard day’s work in the summer it’s lovely to walk down and swim. In the winter just a walk and blow away the day’s troubles.

Where would you like to go on holiday this year/next year?

Being an Islander I like discovering other Islands. I am slightly obsessed with New Zealand but Cornwall is a spiritual home too and anywhere with stunning wild flowers is top of my wish list.

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