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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, including a number of National Trust for Scotland (NTS) properties.

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

“Douneside gardens are beautiful; so many visitors I met over the year were quick to praise the well-kept, colourful grounds and, of course, this is all down to a brilliant team of skilled horticulturalists.  As a trainee I was given the opportunity to work alongside a proficient garden team. I had very little practical experience and this meant that I was thrown straight in at the deep end and had to learn quickly. But, with a thorough introduction and explanation of what to do, including detailed training in the use of tools and machinery, I never felt out of my depth and there was always someone to help if needed.

The year is very structured with regular meetings to assess the skills that you are learning and ways in which you might improve. This continual review of your personal development keeps you engaged in the bigger picture; how much you still have to learn and what you want to do next.  The plant identification, plant profiles and diary that we had to write in order to successfully complete the traineeship have created a great foundation for continuing my training. The garden team work to such a high standard that I feel that my year with The MacRobert Trust has been invaluable in improving my employability within the horticultural world”.
Emily Lauren Hutchison – Trainee 2014-15

“I applied for the MacRobert Trust horticultural training scheme because I wanted to use it as my final year of training with the intention of consolidating my theoretical and practical knowledge. I had gained an HND in horticulture from SRUC Edinburgh and a year’s practical training on the HBGBS programme.

Working in a small team at Douneside House created countless opportunities over the whole year to do just that. It is an excellent garden to learn in, with a syllabus covering a broad range of useful horticultural skills and the training gardeners who pass on their valuable expertise along the way too. Thanks to completing this year’s training I have secured a full time job at Drummond Castle Gardens. A year spent at the MacRobert Trust was an invaluable experience”.
Robbie Paterson – Trainee 2014-15

“During my year at Douneside I learnt an enormous amount through the careful guidance of the training staff, they show you not only how to do a job, but how to do it efficiently and effectively given the materials and resources at hand. I made great friends and settled in quickly which made living away so much easier. I think the best thing about working at Douneside was enjoying the work and seeing the happiness that we give to our guests; whether they enjoy walking around the gardens, sitting and taking in the wonderful surroundings or consuming fresh produce cooked in the kitchens from the walled garden. I also passed the additional qualifications including an RHS level 2 in Practical skills as well as CS-30 cross cut – safe use and maintenance of chainsaws that I will take with me and continue to use elsewhere. It’s really hard to write a paragraph about a year of my life that I enjoyed so much and took so much from, given the opportunity I would do it all again immediately and will miss Douneside greatly.”
Liam Busby – Trainee 2013-14

“Douneside is situated in a very remote beautiful location. I felt so lucky to be there it was stunning! I was 1 of 4 trainees who lived and worked together and I couldn’t have asked for better people to share in this experience with – making friends for life. Starting any new position can be very daunting, but I was made to feel at ease straight away thanks to the wonderful gardening team there. Over the course of the year, under great supervision, I accomplished so much such as my PA1&PA6, CS30 chainsaw maintenance, RHS level 2 practical, and a certificate of completion from the MacRobert Trust, not to mention the confidence I grew over the year, regarding all aspects. My plant knowledge is better than ever which has helped me significantly after leaving.  Before I started my year I struggled to get work in horticulture due to ‘lack of experience’ I ended up working in pubs – not what I wanted to do.  I saw this placement advertised and it was the best thing I ever did. I now have a great full time job as an estate gardener at Heckfield Place, which I love. And that’s all thanks to my year at Douneside. I’m very grateful, and miss it so much.  They did a lot for me.”
Abi Peppiatt – Trainee 2013-14

“I am not sure I am able to put into words just how fantastic my year at The MacRobert Trust as a trainee gardener was, but I shall try.  From the well planned and thorough induction week, through the year of varied, fully explained and well recorded experience, to the very last day, I learnt so, so much.  Every working day was enjoyable which made learning and remembering much easier. Gaining RHS level II in Practical Horticulture, Chainsaw and Pesticide Application Certificates and the MacRobert Trust Certificate through the year has provided me with a great start to my horticultural career which I am progressing with a further year’s training at the University of Dundee Botanic Garden through the Heritage and Botanic Gardens Bursary Scheme.  If this year is half as good as with the MacRobert Trust, I will be very happy”
Kim Riley – Trainee 2012-13

“After completing two years and gaining an HNC in Horticulture at Oatridge College, I applied for a placement with the MacRobert Trust Horticultural Training Scheme. I had developed a good theoretical knowledge and what I next sought was training and experience in practical horticulture. The year with the MacRobert Trust was to deliver exactly that. It has proved to be gold dust; a truly vital experience in furthering my horticultural career and expanding my career potential. On completion of my year with the Trust, I was awarded a further two-year horticultural training placement with the National Trust for Scotland at the renowned Threave School of Gardening in Dumfries and Galloway”.  Isaac Robinson – Trainee 2012-13

“When I started on the Horticultural Training Scheme at Douneside with the MacRobert Trust, I had previous experience in landscaping and my own interest in gardening, possibly not the strongest base to start from. However, after my year with The Trust and working in the varied gardens alongside knowledgeable, helpful and friendly staff, that has all changed. I received my Chainsaw and Spraying Certificates and successfully completed my Royal Horticultural Society Level 2 in Practical Horticulture, doing all the training and assessments within the gardens. The experience, training and qualifications I have gained over the year have now led me to a full-time position as a Gardener with the National Trust at their flagship gardens at Inverewe. I would highly recommend this Training Scheme to anybody who is seeking to pursue a Horticultural career”.  Tim Viney – Trainee 2012-13

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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