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Gardeners' Question Time

PUBLISHED: 07:07 09 August 2015 | UPDATED: 07:07 09 August 2015

Andy Garland (centre) and panel

Andy Garland (centre) and panel

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Radio Kent broadcaster and producer Andy Garland on completing his RHS Practical Horticulture course

I’m finished…

Well, to be absolutely accurate I’ve got one more session of my RHS Practical Horticulture course to go, but as that’s a final day field trip to Tom Hart-Dyke’s World Garden at Lullingstone Castle, I’m reasonably confident of completion.

What a joy the last year has been sharing gardening tasks with a fun group of like-minded individuals.

Everything from simple softwood cuttings, to new experiences propagating conifers (who knew that you need to use upright growth otherwise you get a prostrate growing plant!), pruning tree peonies and even shedding safety boots to paddle knee deep as we renovated an old pond; although I have to say the comparisons to Charlie Dimmock really hurt.

I’ve written before about the trials and tribulations of studying as a mature student. The advantage of this course run by Hadlow College was no exams, just continuous assessment of the laid-back variety. Oh and weekly plant-identification tasks, learning 10 to 15 plants which, although it sounds innocuous, felt a bit like pouring a quart into a pint pot as I struggled to balance work and family life.

But crucially, it was much more attractive than sitting exams which at this time of life fills me with dread. Not the old teenage fear of a fail, meaning life as we know it is over, but the worry of having to make time to hit the books in an already hectic schedule.

What this has taught me more than anything, is how to do things properly. Not in my usual guesstimating, amateur, fumbly, green-fingered, homespun kind of way, but solid horticultural discipline and technique.

Only using small amounts of rooting powder tipped out of the main pot, mist bench leaf cuttings, I’ve even sharpened my secateurs. This was really brilliant until they inadvertently fell out of my pocket and I think ended up being buried under a bed of canna lilies and pelargoniums.

It could have been much worse; fortuitously, I resisted the temptation to purchase a new posh pair at the start of the course.

Beautiful and very effective they may be, but the £50+ price tag was far from a snip and, as my BBC colleague Zac Daunt-Jones pointed out, “I’ve bought cars for less”.

So what happens next? Although the Practical Horticulture course gives me a certificate in its own right, it’s also part of a wider qualification, the rather grandly titled RHS Level 2 Diploma in the Principles and Practices of Horticulture.

However, to obtain that I need to add two other modules to my portfolio. These are the Principles of Garden Planning, Establishment and Maintenance and the Principles of Plant Growth Propagation and Development, each with two exams per module in February and June.

The latter coincides with my busiest time of the year (between Chelsea and the Kent County Show). Hmm…decisions, decisions.

And finally it’s farewell to my fellow students who’ve trodden the same Hadlow path in the last 12 months, I’ll really miss you all, from the relaxed contemplation of ‘Little’ Dan, the brute strength of ‘Big’ Dan, the throaty chuckle of Katie, to Justine’s exclamations of horror at the carnivorous habits of the insect world.

To Tracey, there’ll always be a warm welcome at my stately home, and Nichola, go on give up that commute from Medway, you know you want to.

To Steve W, I say put your prices up and to Steve P, congratulations Grandad, thanks for the Champagne, I find it’s always a great way to start a day’s learning. w

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