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The Estate Gardening Team

Comments from Previous Trainees

Many of our trainees have gone on to successful horticultural careers at prestigious gardens around the country.

I completed my Horticulture diploma with SRUC in Edinburgh in 2019. I was eager to back my new theoretical knowledge with hands-on experience to improve my skills and efficiency in a professional garden environment. The MacRobert Trust Horticultural Training Scheme offered more than just hands-on experience in an RHS Partner Garden the traineeship provided the opportunity to achieve a Chainsaw Maintenance and Cross Cutting (CS30), PA1 and PA6 Pesticide Safety and Application and RHS Level 2 Practical qualification. To be awarded a position on the traineeship was amazing. The location of the traineeship was definitely important for me, the stunning area of Deeside and the opportunity to explore Aberdeenshire was brilliant. I live in the Cairngorms National Park and to expand my temperate, cold hardy plant knowledge whilst learning to work in very similar conditions to my home was brilliant. This has given me so much confidence to go forward and run a horticultural business in my local area. Despite the COVID problems of 2020, the year with MacRobert Trust has been incredible. The traineeship helped to better my understanding of the entire garden calendar; prioritising and organising work for maximum efficiency and benefit to the gardens appearance. All areas of Horticulture are covered; from ornamental propagation to fruit training and pruning, bulb forcing for indoor displays, ploughing of the vegetable plots with the tractor, Christmas wreath making as well as harvesting vegetables, herbs and edible flowers for the hotel restaurant. The list of jobs goes on and the variety of work carried out on a day to day basis kept it fresh and exciting. The guidance and training given daily on an array of garden machinery and tools has been invaluable. I plan to use my new skills to progress my horticultural career, gaining further experience abroad with the future goal of owning a market garden and crofting business in Scotland. The traineeship has enabled me to become a hardy, efficient, hard-working gardener. The precedent for high quality work that is set by the gardeners has helped massively to develop my own work to a professional standard. Absorbing their wisdom and horticultural knowledge throughout the year has been amazing and I can’t thank everyone at MacRobert Trust enough for this outstanding opportunity. I highly recommend any budding horticulturist to apply for this traineeship.

Jamie Trinder: 2019-2020

Training at The MacRobert Trust is a gardener’s dream, working in a rural idyll with expert tuition. I applied because I wanted a year of structured practical training and work experience to complement my HND in Horticulture with Plantsmanship which I gained at Scotland’s Rural College and Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. During my studies, I found some seasonal jobs in public gardens but knew that I was very limited by my lack of practical experience. The prospect of living, training and working with similarly minded young people really appealed to me.

During my time with the Trust, I gained so much competence and now feel confident in many and various aspects of gardening. Everything we did was explained clearly and we were supported and given feedback at all times, the perfect immersive-learning environment. It really was a fantastic year and I feel so lucky to have trained here. I could not have done it without the brilliant support of the gardens team. Stephen, Roddy, Stuart, and Willie – you have been fantastic teachers and a pleasure to have worked with.

I know for certain now that training at The MacRobert Trust has given me the knowledge and experience that is required for a truly successful professional career in gardening. I have now returned to the RBGE to complete my BSc Hons with a much better understanding of horticulture. I am excited about the future and will always remember the time I spent at Douneside Gardens, and just what that has done for me personally, and for my career prospects.

Nic Craven: 2018/19

Following a year volunteering with the National Trust at Castle Ward, I knew that I needed a structured training scheme that would offer professional practical experience, as well as recognised horticultural qualifications. I found both of these and more with The MacRobert Trust. The course is intensive, demanding, and extremely rewarding. With a high standard of work expected in every aspect of training, from machinery maintenance to plant propagation, the aim is to produce fully competent and well-rounded horticulturalists. In this goal it succeeds consistently. Thanks to the dedicated team of training gardeners, the two years I have spent with the Trust have vastly improved my knowledge and confidence as a gardener.

Alongside the experience that comes with working full-time in a garden kept to the highest degree of horticultural excellence, you can expect to earn the RHS Level 2 Certificate in Practical Horticulture, as well the Principles of Horticulture if required. This was a huge help to me as I previously had no qualifications in horticulture, and will allow me to begin my career with both the craft skills and expertise required of a professional horticulturalist.

The quality of training we received, the focus on time management, balanced with a fastidious eye for detail marks this scheme out as one of the most comprehensive and effective training schemes available to aspiring horticulturalists. Its thanks in no small part to this fact that I was offered and have accepted a place on the RHS/GCA Interchange Fellowship. I will be spending a year training at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania to further consolidate my skills, learn new ones, and make international contacts within the industry.

I will always recommend The MacRobert Trust to anyone committed to a career in horticulture.

Henry McBeath: 2017-19

Prior to joining The MacRobert Trust Horticultural Training Scheme, I studied horticulture at Glasgow Clyde College whilst working for a garden maintenance company. I felt that, although theoretical knowledge is necessary, I had to find somewhere that would give me the practical, hands on experience that any aspiring gardener/ horticulturalist needs. With that in mind, I came across The MacRobert Trust, which provided exactly the training I was looking for, and it was salaried. To be offered a position having competed against many other applicants, and then to be offered a second year was just fantastic. I would say that it’s one of the best decisions I will make in my horticultural career.

In the two years, I gained the RHS Level 2 Diploma in the Principles and Practice of Horticulture. It’s great that the Trust offers this, along with the highest standard of training from the permanent gardeners who put so much time and effort into training you. Without that, I wouldn’t have the rewarding work ethic and competence I do now, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Working at Douneside House and Alastrean House is amazing, I would look up from my work to find I’m surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in Scotland, and although the weather can be challenging at times, I was still left in slight disbelief that I had the opportunity to work there.  As sad as I was to leave, I did so with the confidence in being a professional, competent and skilled gardener, with training in fruit and vegetable production, chainsaw use and maintenance, ornamental horticulture, plant propagation, soil preparation and cultivation, and so much more that will benefit me for the rest of my life. I would highly recommend The MacRobert Trust Horticultural Training Scheme to absolutely anyone looking to start or progress their professional horticultural career.

Brennagh Cole: 2017-19

Where do I begin explaining my time with The MacRobert Trust and what I’ve gained from it?

I can honestly say that; without my two years as a horticultural trainee with the Trust, I would not be in the position I am in today.  As a career changer, I had found voluntary work in public gardens but was finding it a challenge to find the correct training course for me.  I needed a course that I could support myself and that would combine the practical skills I required. I believed this was unrealistic until I applied to The MacRobert Trust. It’s all been so perfect, I can’t believe my luck.

Under the schooling of a team of highly skilled (and patient!) training gardeners, I have gained the confidence, competence and proficiency in a wide range of gardening skills and machinery use. The Trust gardening team are committed to helping you reach industry standard in a way I feel other gardens could learn from.  It’s also great to have three other trainees to share the experience with and if it all gets too much, you can run to the beautiful mountains that surround the area!

From gaining a CS30 chainsaw licence to propagation, working in the kitchen and terraced garden, no two days are the same.  Some days your body aches from strimming all day, some days you’ve been pruning so much that when you close your eyes all you see is more branches. Yet, it’s all worth it when you look back and recognise your progress and just how far you’ve come in such a short time. Whilst my first year was based on learning best practice, my second year has been about consolidation and independent thought, having my own responsibilities and projects.

Another game changer for me was being able to study and sit my RHS Level 2 Theory exams at the gardens, gaining the RHS Level 2 Diploma in Horticulture (theory and practical). All this has led me to where I am today, about to embark on a further one-year horticultural training placement with the RHS at their Rosemoor Gardens in Devon where I’ll be working and studying towards the RHS Level 3 diploma.

Helen Louise Watts: Trainee 2016 – 2018

Getting a place on the MacRobert Trust Horticulture Training Scheme was a real turning point in my horticultural career.  Having completed an HND in horticulture, I had a good theoretical knowledge but lacked in the practical skills and an understanding of what it takes to manage and maintain a large garden all year round. The gardens at Douneside, Alastrean and across the estate are the perfect training ground for trainees to learn. We got set to such a variety of tasks it certainly kept everyday interesting. Each day I was excited to learn something new, feel challenged, solve problems or progress a skill. The professional gardening team were excellent instructors and their knowledge and time has been invaluable. The guidance and encouragement throughout, I will be forever grateful for.

My fellow trainees completed what was a fantastic team to work with. We had great fun living in a house together and all got on very well and developed friendships which will last a lifetime. The area around Tarland is a beautiful place to live. There are plenty of opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the countryside at weekends with hills to climb and paths and rivers to explore.

I was lucky to be offered a second year with the MacRobert Trust and was able to consolidate the skills I had learned in my first year. It was great to be able to take on more responsibilities and I was able to plan work and projects, and operate more independently. It was just what I needed to give me that extra confidence boost to follow on from the training and to apply for the job positions I really wanted.  When I first started my traineeship with the MacRobert Trust, I thought to myself that one day in my career it would be amazing to work at Benmore Botanic Garden with the RBGE. 18 months later and that is exactly where I am now and I have the MacRobert Trust and the gardens team to thank for it.

Sarah Jane Kirton – Trainee 2016 -2018

I joined the MacRobert Trust Horticultural Training Scheme having graduated from SRUC Oatridge in Landscape Management and Horticulture.

When I look back over the last year, I’m amazed at how quickly it has passed. I genuinely feel that I’m unlikely to experience another year of horticultural training/work as enjoyable or beneficial as my time with The MacRobert Trust. I considered some other training schemes but I can say with conviction that I made the right choice. The Gardens team are great to work with and extremely experienced in sharing their considerable knowledge and techniques.

Some of the many highlights of my time in the Gardens include: working in the impressive organic vegetable/kitchen garden from soil preparation and seed sowing right through to harvest, working in the well-stocked ornamental Glasshouse and being a part of the Streambank renovation project. The planting and design of the recently renovated Terrace Gardens was a particularly vibrant and inspiring area to work in and gaining Chainsaw qualifications and experience was another beneficial aspect.

The landscape in which the gardens are situated is truly spectacular and the vistas continue in every direction. I will miss these views, the garden team and the Trust and will no doubt be back to see how things are developing in the future.

Ewan Crighton: Trainee 2017/18

I graduated from the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh in 2017 with a BSc in Horticulture with Plantsmanship but; I knew I needed immersive practical training and work experience if I was to be taken seriously in a competitive job market.  Two of my college and university colleagues had previously completed, and thoroughly recommended the MacRobert Trust Horticultural Training Scheme. I was fortunate enough to gain a place against tough competition from many applicants.

From day one, I was straight into a busy training schedule and hard work, which was thoroughly satisfying and rewarding, even though my muscles ached by the end of most days!  From chainsaws to leaf lamina cuttings, machinery maintenance to glasshouse displays, I was given the opportunity to learn and develop my skills and techniques in a safe and supportive setting.  The training gardeners are so knowledgeable and well versed at answering trainees’ questions, so I was never afraid of asking anything.  Their patience is commendable.

The gardens setting in rural Aberdeenshire gave me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the rural idyll, with plenty of chances to get out and about and see the amazing countryside right on the doorstep.  Also, the trainee’s accommodation at Abermohr is exceptional.  All bedrooms are en-suite and two large communal areas means there is always space to get together with your housemates. Equally, there’s the ability to retire to your own room if it has been a long and tiring day.

I made great friends and will never forget the memories and experiences, some good and some ‘character building’! – like salting and snow shovelling in the freezing cold for months due to the ‘Beast from the East’ that plagued us this year)

I have moved on to new pastures, with a role gained as Gardener at Dumfries House, supported by The Great Steward of Scotland Trust and fronted by HRH Prince Charles.  I never could have dreamed of achieving this without the knowledge and support of everyone at The MacRobert Trust and I will be forever thankful to them all.

Corrie Rowan Crawford 2017/18

               Douneside House Garden, set at the foot of Cairngorms and surrounded by Aberdeenshire forests, is a truly magical and inspiring place to learn and practice horticulture. I applied for the MacRobert Trust Trainee scheme after two years of Horticulture with Plantsmanship studies at SRUC and Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. I felt that academic knowledge, although crucial, was not enough to call oneself a horticulturist. The need to get my hands dirty, work hard and learn from gardeners that are passionate and professional in their field, helped me to step forward and take, what then seemed a challenging adventure – to move away for a year to a remote, wild, but such a beautiful corner of Scotland.

And I would lie if I say that it was easy. We worked and studied hard – my muscles would hurt, plenty mistakes would be made and each analysed, and determination was required to get things right. But now, when someone asks me, what was it that I learned in that year – I can give a 500-page work diary to read: propagation, plant identification, garden maintenance, organic fruit and vegetable production, cultivation of hardy and tender plants, machinery use, lawn care and chainsaws… the list goes on and on.

Now, I am back finishing my degree in Horticulture and also employed part-time by Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. The practical skills that I gained over the year in Douneside House Gardens are truly invaluable and I will be forever thankful to all the gardeners that helped me to make it happen.

Modesta Peckaityte – Trainee 2016/17

My year on The MacRobert Trust Horticultural Traineeship was a fantastic experience, and extremely beneficial for me.  After completing two years at college, I had an NC and HNC in Horticulture but limited practical experience.  My time at Douneside with the MacRobert Trust gave me an excellent grounding in every aspect of maintaining and developing a large ornamental and productive garden through all seasons of the year.  I greatly expanded my plant knowledge and husbandry through familiarising myself with many of the plants in these stunning gardens and particularly benefited from using a wide variety of machinery, becoming much more confident and skilled in its use.  I also obtained the RHS Level 2 Certificate in Practical Horticulture, plus chainsaw and spraying certificates which gives me a great advantage in the industry and makes me much more appealing to potential employers.

 The gardens team at the Trust are fantastic and do all they can to guide and             help their trainees.  I thoroughly enjoyed living and working alongside my               fellow trainees, and we developed a strong bond.  I am certain that my year             on the Traineeship was a major factor in me subsequently gaining employment     with the National Trust for Scotland at Falkland Palace Gardens.

                       Charles Hughes – Trainee 2016/17

What a fantastic year I have had at the MacRobert Trust’s garden at Douneside! I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is passionate about gardening; are looking to improve and advance their skills in horticulture, and to progress their career in this industry. The training scheme truly opens doors to explore and progress into the field of horticulture.

I couldn’t fault the Douneside gardening team for their dedication, hard work and guidance throughout my training year. The gardens are truly beautiful and contain all the traditional aspects of a working, amenity garden so one can gain practical experience and skills in different areas of gardening from greenhouse management to fruit & vegetable production.

I cannot emphasise enough how much The MacRobert Trust’s horticultural training scheme has provided me with the experience, knowledge and qualifications which has allowed me to progress as a valuable candidate as I move onto other professional gardens. I would like to wish future trainees all the best and I am sure the above statement will resonate with you after working at Douneside.

Holly Anthony – Trainee 2015/16

My trainee placement with the MacRobert Trust was perfect for me. I had just left college, where I had learned the basics of horticulture but had never worked in a garden before. I had no idea how to go about finding valuable work experience, until a college tutor pointed me in the direction of the Trust. As soon as I arrived for my interview, I knew that I wanted to be there. As soon as I started, I couldn’t believe I was in such a beautiful part of Scotland, never mind living and working there. It was a wonderful back-drop to everything we learned.

The practical skills we learned touched on everything you need to know about taking care of a large garden, and these are skills that I can confidently take to any other garden I work in. I was so grateful to be taught by such an experienced team – the gardens team were brilliant and gave us enough time and practice to feel confident and able to complete any task they asked us to do. This, alongside plant identifications, PA1 & PA6, chainsaw CS30, garden visits and other gardening events and, of course, the RHS Level 2 Certificate all made this year so worthwhile.

I’m very grateful for the chance to work and learn so much, and in such a small space of time. A year seems nothing when I think about how much experience I got. It was definitely the right choice I made and I got everything I needed to help me take the next step in my career. I am now spending a further year of training at NTS Threave School of Heritage Gardening.

Julie O’Rourke – Trainee 2015/16

 Having graduated with a BSc in Horticulture and Plantsmanship, I had gained a broad range of theoretical knowledge but felt I was lacking in important practical skills which would be necessary to further my career in horticulture.   With this in mind, I applied for a trainee horticultural placement with the MacRobert Trust to develop my practical skills and gain insight into how a large garden is maintained and managed throughout the year.

The highly experienced and knowledgeable gardens team really helped my development by creating a good learning environment through instructions, demonstrations and supervision.  This important aspect of the trainee scheme allowed me to continually practice and become proficient in a broad range of skills throughout the year.  I also got the opportunity to achieve the CS30 chainsaw certificate and PA1 and PA6 pesticide certificates, the RHS level 2 Certificate and to improve my plant knowledge through plant identification tests.  All of this allowed me to improve and develop over the course of the year with my progression documented through diary keeping, assessments and regular appraisals.

I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a trainee with the MacRobert Trust; it has provided me with the practical knowledge and skills to ensure a successful career in professional horticulture and to gain a progressive training placement specialising in alpine and rock-garden plants at RHS Wisley.

Craig Hutton – Trainee 2015/16

If you would like to apply for a place on the Horticultural Training Scheme, please read the guidelines carefully before filling in the application form.

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