Making gardening dreams true

By Geoff Harris

Learning with Experts student Gayle reveals how online study gave her the confidence to transform both her garden and her career plans.

Why did you decide to do a Learning with Experts course?

I decided that I wanted to work outdoors for the remainder of my career. Gardening and the environment have always been my passion, so this was the obvious choice; to turn my hobby into a profession.

In March 2016, I applied for work as a temporary seasonal gardener with my local council to learn about the machinery side, for example, maintaining a petrol mower, or strapping equipment to trailers.

At the same time, I looked for learning opportunities to improve my horticultural knowledge. Learning with Experts was the perfect option, enabling me to study in my own time whilst working full time.

What was the process like at the beginning

The format of Learning with Experts makes it a very enjoyable way to learn. My first course was “The Lawn Expert.”

The tutor Andy McIndoe, contacted me straight away to offer advice on using the classroom. The classroom wall is a fantastic way of interacting with other students to offer advice and support. In addition, being able to view other assignments is inspirational if you are struggling to think of a starting point for your own work.

The level of the courses is perfect for me personally. Every course has provided an excellent starting education on a specific subject, and has always left me eager to research more fully.

After doing the Climbers and Clematis course, for example, I learned how climbers attach themselves via suckers, tendrils or even thorns, so I was inspecting everything above nose height for weeks.

The more recent Planting Design with Perennials course taught me how plants spread – previously I had not heard of phalanx and guerrilla-style growth patterns, so this became my new obsession, as I tried to work out what is happening underground.

What's more, the Learning with Experts Community is a wonderful hub to share information. A recent request on a plant ID for my neighbour received numerous responses from students and tutors.

How does online learning help compared with more traditional methods?

I find it more helpful. I have a library of gardening books and regularly buy magazines, and while they inspire me, there is no deadline for to work through them with an assignment looming, no direct access to the author should you have further questions, and no classmates to encourage you along the journey.

For me, the online route is the main way forward for my professional development.

What has been your proudest gardening achievement so far?

Since completing the Wildlife course my garden has been transformed into a veritable haven for invertebrates, birds and mammals alike, so I probably consider this to be the greatest achievement. But there have been lots of other positive experiences.

The Lawn Expert Course made me think out of the box and explore creative mowing patterns, so I ended up with a huge vortex in my lawn which was a talking point for the whole season (and the wildlife got the benefit too).

The Wildlife Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies course challenges the way your garden is used to a create a habitat rather than a place where creatures pass through. Understanding the harm of pesticides needs more publicity as they are doing immeasurable damage to the planet.

What tips do you have for other students?

I cannot recommend Learning with Experts enough. There are many courses to choose from, so I think maybe planning an order of courses is the way forward.

Carry a traditional notebook with you at all times to jot down ideas, or use the memo pad on your phone, as ideas appear at the strangest times.

With tutors, it's easy to become star-struck, but you need to stay focussed. Having one to one contact with a famous author, designer or Chelsea gold medal winner is such a privilege, so I try to cram in as many questions as possible during course time.

Have you any exciting future plans you want to tell us about?

I am nearing completion of the Gardening with Grasses course and will soon be embarking on Perennial Meadow Gardening. With the combined knowledge from these courses, I am hoping to transform my traditional shrub and perennial garden into a more naturalistic setting.

This will take patience, time, finance and knowledge, but with the support of Learning with Experts, all dreams can become a reality.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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