In 2013, I became the coordinator for the Work and Retrain as a Gardner Scheme (WRAGS) run by the Women’s Farm and Garden Association (WFGA). I was delighted to be able work for this charity as this was my chance to give something back. I knew the WRAGS scheme well because I had been a trainee myself soon after I trained to be a garden designer. To explain what the scheme is all about, this is what the website says:
“The (WRAGS) scheme provides part time training in practical gardening skills in a working garden, as part of a gardening team or with an experienced garden owner”.
My placement garden was Lyegrove in Gloucester; a beautiful small estate with three walled gardens that had been re-designed in 1930’s. I spent a blissful year learning ‘how to garden’ from the best ever gardener Barry Holman. I had the best of both gardening worlds, maintaining an historic garden that had been gardened for decades and creating and looking after a newly planted garden. Lyegrove’s owners were keen to leave their mark on the grounds and were always adding new parts to gardens.
The WFGA is an old and interesting charity; its key aims are training, employment and advancement for those working on the land. One famous member, Louisa Wilkins, is credited with the concept of forming a women’s land army working on the land to combat labour shortages during the First World War. Other notable members include Gertrude Jekyll, Eve Balfour, Brenda Colvin, Beatrix Havergal and Katherine Courtauld who were the movers and shakers of their day. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll was our first President and today Prince Charles’s garden at Highgrove has a WRAGS trainee who I am personally responsible for.
Although there is formal training available for gardeners from the National Trust and the Guild of Professional Gardeners, the beauty of WRAGS is that it is part time and runs for 12 months. Many trainees carry on their other work alongside their placement or some choose to study a one year RHS theory course. It seems to work well for people of all ages who want to explore their passion for gardening further. If the trainee wants to pursue employment in gardening after their placement then there is the Christine Ladlely fund available for financial support. This fund aims to “support members to further their education, learn specialist skills, travel or design projects to help schools and local communities”.
Apart from the WRAGS scheme, the association is well worth joining if you have a keen interest in all aspects of gardening. There is a wide ranging of workshops and workdays to enjoy. Looking at the 2014 listings, the planting design workshop with Rosemary Alexander the founder of The English Gardening School stands out for me. Additionally, the garden tours are brilliant. These tours are carefully planned and you get to see some well know gardens as well as unusual ones. All events are very reasonably priced. The newly launched Garden Recruitment Network is proving increasingly popular as a place to posts job adverts. In addition, if you have a gardening query you can post a question on the forum and get a choice of answers.
Personally I am really grateful for the gardening skills I learned under WRAGS as this has helped me become aware of what is involved in looking after a newly planned and planted garden. I can give something back by helping trainees find their gardening feet and support them with their next step. In the process, I have loved finding new gardens for an ever-increasing waiting list of trainees and have discovered some hidden gems.