So wonderful to go back to my roots and visit Hall Barn at Tendercare, where Andrew and Angela Halksworth were generous (and brave enough) to give me my very first job, and with it cultivated a lifelong passion in me for plants.
On graduating back in the mid-nineties from Capel Manor College with Higher Certificate in Horticulture in Garden Design and Hard Landscape, I had no doubt what my next move should be. I simply needed to immerse myself in a world of plants.
It was the plants that first seduced me into this new world, and I wanted to know their secrets – how they grew, flowered and performed in their annual cycle through the seasons – as individuals, but also grouped together to work within a landscape.
But who would take a chance on an overly enthusiastic graduate, desperate to learn, experience and grow into a foliage and floral-filled future?
I knew I wanted to work with designers, and ultimately to design, but I didn’t have the confidence to set myself up in practice in my mid-twenties. I was fortunate that Angela and Andrew Halksworth of Tendercare Nurseries saw something in me that they wanted to cultivate. I went for an interview and suddenly I was planted into a world where plants were king. I priced quotes for landscape architects and garden designers, for councils, celebrities (including the occasional world-famous musician!) and was able to walk the nursery choosing plants that looked good and bringing to the fore those plants that Andrew thought might capture the interest of those plantsmen and women who were already in the know.
I was in a horticultural wonderland, observing how trees, shrubs, ferns, perennials and climbers behaved over the course of the year and were soon putting together plant groupings besides the sales office to better understand and promote just how plants could bounce off each other, individuals supporting a group which worked together in harmony. Imagine my surprise and delight when a customer walked in and bought my first grouping lock, stock and barrel.
The Halksworths encouraged me to learn and experiment, so I got to work early, pinching myself for my good fortune and stayed talking about plants late into the evenings with Tony Betteridge, a lifelong plant enthusiast who came out of retirement to satisfy his joy in working with plants and people to create landscapes brimming with colour, soul and wildlife. Indeed it was Angela who replied to a faxed circular looking for presenters (without my knowing!), which led me to my first television job appearing on Channel 4 back in the late nineties.
I shall ever be grateful to the Halksworths and Tendercare for their support and encouragement when their own business was so young.
And what a pleasure it is now to return, enjoy and buy plants from the very first nursery that encouraged me to get out there and grow.