First up, how I got to where I am and why...
I’m Verena, a mum of two young boys, a wife of the loveliest man and a (whispers) mid-life career changer – a gardener and planting designer with a passion for nature, gardening sustainably and helping people enjoy whatever outside space they have.
How did I get here? I’ve always enjoyed growing plants and appreciated gardens, working on allotments to produce food, having plants in pots in my concreted back yard. However, I had never considered working in the industry, it didn’t seem to be a choice suggested by family or school and so not really knowing what I wanted to do I fell into a career in social housing, which was actually going incredibly well, but, in all honesty I was very stressed and unhappy – regularly hiding tears at your desk is not a good sign…
Then back in 2007 I suddenly became seriously ill with pneumonia which led to sepsis and a long stay in intensive care followed by surgery. It’s a classic, or dare I say it clichéd, tale of a near-death experience making you re-evaluate what is important to you! Whilst in hospital, in my hazy state, I remember watching an episode of Gardener’s World and it was a lightbulb moment connecting with the idea that I could work with plants. As you can see from the timeline that was over 13 years ago, so why has it taken me so long?
Well, life and the need to earn money has a pesky habit of getting in the way. I did take big steps to change things, I took redundancy from the stressful job, I travelled the world, went back to the stressful job (that money thing again) but quickly realised it was the wrong decision and left, then my children came along. I wanted work that was completely flexible around my family’s needs so decided to work for myself and started a couple of small food businesses to see what worked and that I learnt a lot from. I then had success with two businesses that I thoroughly enjoyed, but fate dealt another blow, or was it the universe pushing me in the right direction? I developed an ear condition which means I can’t work in noisy environments, exactly like the family rave events I had been running, this was upsetting and time for a re-think.
Moving to a house with a garden in 2012 had given me the space to develop my passion for gardening and growing and I had caught the bug, particularly for cut flowers. It’s something I love, that gives me a feeling of contentment and peace, is always rewarding and simply makes my heart sing. Over time I just knew it was the right path to explore and so when I had to look again at possible future careers, and because I don’t have access to lots of land to just grow flowers, I decided to embark on a horticulture degree to give me the professional skills and knowledge and time to work out how I could achieve the dream of working in the industry – a brilliant decision!
2020 has been a crazy year for the whole planet but it is encouraging to see the increased appreciation of nature and green space, and more recognition of the proven benefits it holds for our physical and mental wellbeing. From beautiful rolling countryside and woodlands to local parks, back yards and gardens I think that understanding how important they are to us and looking after them is such a positive step in connecting with nature, and with that connection a sense that we must take seriously and seek to undo or minimise the effects humans are having on climate change, habitat destruction and bio-diversity loss. As individuals we can all make a difference by working with nature, such as improving soils, encouraging wildlife, avoiding pesticides and synthetic fertilisers and using peat free composts and making our own.
I now help people make the most of their gardens, whether that’s by maintaining them, giving advice on the plants they already have or designing new borders or containers. They may want help in encouraging wildlife into their gardens or knowing which plants that suit their conditions to give all season interest but with minimal maintenance, or help with setting up raised beds, or a wildflower area – the possibilities are as varied as the spaces and people. Now it’s not just the gardening that makes my heart sing, it’s the smiles on customers faces.