Finding the silver lining
“When life throws an obstacle, there’s always the garden.”
Written By Tyler Howard 26/03/2020
Recipient of the 2019 BBM Horticulture Scholarship in honour of Sir John Pagan
In lieu of recent developments with regards to the Covid-19 pandemic; its evolving nature and its far reaching tendrils across the world’s continents, the recent statement made by the Australian Federal Government to issue for the first time a level four travel ban has meant the sudden halting of progress for the BBM Youth Support scholars who have not yet departed, including myself.
The journey I had planned:
My plan was to travel to the UK in May 2020 for three months; working at Chelsea Flower Show with a Gold Medal designer, Hampton Court Palace among the extensive picturesque gardens, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London, the gardens of Buckingham Palace, and then I would make my way to the stunning grounds of Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France, to return to Sydney by August.
The pattern of these placements is to gain a critical understanding of innovation and sustainability in horticulture by utilising modern techniques, at some of the most influential institutions within the realm of horticulture.
It has taken me over a year of networking to build up my repertoire of knowledge, experience and contacts that I have, to be able to arrange work placements in these pivotal locations, all with the guidance of critical industry figures. The ready-to-help nature of those industry leaders has been instrumental and invaluable for impressionable young horticulturists, take it from me.
Bit of a Backstory
The passion I hold for plants and gardens stems from the influence of my plant-savvy grandfather and his love for roses, veggies and orchids. We grew heaps of veggies and fruit in my childhood home in Bilgola Plateau, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. He was a champion produce grower as a boy at James Ruse Agricultural College and Nan’s always been there with wisdom for any challenge you face.
I graduated TAFE NSW in 2018 with a Diploma of Horticulture at Ryde School of Horticulture. At the 2019 graduation ceremony I met a man who had always impressed and inspired me: Graham Ross, Chair and Founder of the Australian Garden Council.
He gave a stand out speech and encouraged us to take on a once in a lifetime opportunity, a BBM Global Industry Scholarship. What on Earth is that?
I grew up listening to 2GB with my grandparents. Listening to Mr. Ross on weekend mornings and coupled with a lifelong fascination for plants, I knew I had to corner him for a chat. Besides that, if I could have the chance to travel across the oceans and work in the gardens I’ve been enamoured with for years, well that’s for me…
I exchanged many emails with Graham and we arranged for a meeting at the Garden Clinic office in Beecroft, where I also got a great chance to catch up with a dear friend I met in my time at TAFE, Elizabeth, who works with Graham at the Garden Clinic. We had a great discussion on potential placements and other worldly topics. He provided constructive feedback and suggestions, via email he introduced me to some previous scholars and we got the barrel rolling for the 2020 BBM Tour of Duty.
I had set my goals high. Everything came into focus when I got the email from BBM; the confirmation that I had been chosen for a 2019 scholarship. I couldn’t believe it. I felt ecstatic reading that email, and the plotting of this great course to the UK and then France began.
Once I broke the news to friends and family that I was heading on this amazing journey, it was on. My emails had never been so busy. I got to build a stable level of correspondence with some world class leaders in the field of horticulture in the UK, and let me tell you that was an experience in itself.
I never thought I’d get the chance to network with the founders and leading members of so many industries. One of the highlights of this experience was on November 5th when us scholars all got to meet with not only each other, but key industry leaders and figures. It was an honour to meet with people such as Matt Carroll (Hortiman), John Mason (ACS Distance Education), Narelle Smith (Growth Point, Australian Garden Council), Graham Ross (Chair and Founder of the Australian Garden Council, whom I had met prior) and so many others.
With the respect I have for them, what they stand for and what I aspire for in my own career, the whole situation reinforced my goals as a contemporary horticulturist and quickly removed all anxieties I had in the communicative process. This would be my way forward.
Don’t get me wrong, there were moments when I’d be emailing industry figureheads and I didn’t have any certainty on the result, but the fact is I had the support of Graham Ross and Andrew Fisher Tomlin, an instrumental figure in UK Horticulture and co-director of the London College of Landscape Design, behind me, and they had the motivation and connections that got me precisely where I needed to be.
The speed at which this was hurtling was pretty damned fast, and I won’t lie I was stressing out as February 2020 loomed. London is an expensive city, so I’ve heard, and will I have enough money to financially support myself? Will I be okay for accommodation, and what happens when I’m stuck without a place to stay for an indefinite period of time? What if my phone breaks or gets lost and I can’t communicate with my placements? All thoughts which warranted thought and consideration, but not in any irrational manner.
I began planning the placements early, as soon as I got put into contact with them, then I was making draught budgets for expenses abroad to best utilise the $8,000 grant from BBM, and where and when to use what and how. I had accommodation relatively organised without booking it, then I got the new passport in the mail and the visa application was ready to send off.
The day I was to send off my visa application, I looked at the news.
Friday the 13th. On Friday the 13th March, (honestly, I should have realised there was something off with the date itself) the Australian Government issued level three travel advice for travellers, and at that point I was still exchanging correspondence between my prospective placements in the UK and France.
It became clear that there was going to be difficulties ahead, the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic in our country and abroad was already clear, but now I’m involved. I got the email from BBM regarding the level three travel advice and the opportunity to defer until 2021.
‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘we can work with this, it’s not totally ruled out.’ But as the weekend continued, I got emails informing me that the Chelsea Flower Show would be cancelled, and so too the cancellation of my placement at Kew. Two pivotal institutions thwarted.
Monday came and the Australian Government raised the level three travel advice to a level four travel ban. Well that really settled it, I’m not going anywhere any time soon. Naturally, I shut my laptop, poured a coffee, picked up my secateurs, loppers and went out to the garden mid-rainstorm.
If my Nan has taught me anything, it’s that when life throws an obstacle, there’s always the garden. I approached it all with a pragmatic mindset; as irritating as it is, in my earnest opinion this isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact it’s probably a blessing.
I started the process of emailing the placements, letting them know what was going to be in store, and that I wouldn’t be there on the arranged dates. I got the confirmation that deferring to 2021 will be okay and I have the full support of the BBM Team with this, as well as the continued support from the industry leaders who paved the way for my journey ahead, Graham Ross and Andrew Fisher Tomlin.
So now I have all the positives: I’ll have a whole year ahead of me in which I can focus on establishing and progressing my current horticultural career, I’ll get to spend more time with my girlfriend and our families before departure, and I can put more money away for the tour of duty ahead in 2021 with the chance for a longer stay and more placements on the schedule.
As for the negatives? Well, there are none for me regarding the scholarship situation. Self isolation however… As a family, we haven’t reached our wits end quite yet! But I think Monopoly will be the real test.
All in all, I still get the same amazing opportunity!
To end this story, I am still as ecstatic as I was two weeks ago (prior to all of these recent events), if not more so and I cannot wait to embark on this horticultural adventure in 2021. There’s really no point to being distraught and disappointed by it because life will always have setbacks, and you just have to pull your socks up and keep on going!
The profound impact of this multifaceted opportunity has been a life changer, and I am so thankful for it. I will continue to correspond with my placements periodically, as time goes by, to ensure placements for 2021. I intend to keep all involved parties in the loop with relevant updates regarding this situation, and I encourage all other scholars to do the same!
It’s pretty clear to me that having the opportunity to correspond with industry leaders is not an everyday occurrence.
These are doors that should not be closed; regardless of reason/whether it’s in the face of adversity or disruption.
What I would say to other scholars is to keep your correspondence going and make it a conversation by adding personal flares, allowing them to gauge your character and build a better bond, these are connections that will be instrumental through your career.
Always remember to keep positive!
I wish to express my deep gratitude and many thanks to the team at BBM Youth Support, to Graham Ross, Andrew Fisher Tomlin, Matt Carroll, Narelle Smith and everyone else who is part of this journey.