New Beginnings, or the Slightly Painful Birth of a Garden Designer

Designing gardens is a relatively new thing in my life. I had reached ‘that point’ where the combination of disillusionment with my chosen path, a certain maturity in years and an increasing sense of mortality, resulted in a deep desire to do something I actually enjoyed, that might even be fulfilling and in a ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ attitude. Some, I suppose, would call this a mid-life crisis.  And when I say ‘chosen path’ what I actually mean is office administration, or, the path-that-chose-me-when-I-wimped-out-in-my-teens-and-didn’t-follow-my-dream-to-go-to-drama-school.  In practical terms, this new beginning became a possibility when, a few years ago, I moved from the Midlands to Cheshire to be with my Beloved.

Thus, armed with nothing more than an artistic nature and a love for gardens, but no background in gardening beyond amateur pottering, and the massive convenience of having a very good Land-Based College on my doorstep I decided to investigate the possibilities.  Initially I enquired about a workshop; I think it was ‘Planting Hanging Baskets’, which led to sending for a prospectus, attending an open evening and signing up for a Professional Diploma in Garden Design. Yes I know, slightly more ambitious than a workshop on hanging baskets; which, incidentally, was cancelled due to lack of interest, so I still don’t know how to plant one.  <Wink>

So I embarked on the course with a huge sense of trepidation, a new pink pencil case and the obligatory ring binder. My expectations were that I would enjoy it but also be pretty bad at it. Not a particularly happy prospect suffering, as I do, from a terrifying fear of failure. However I unearthed a hitherto buried passion for garden design, some talent I didn’t know I had and acquired some new skills.  These, combined with a very competitive group of mature students, tons of hard work, tons of books (why are gardening books so heavy?!), lots of blood, sweat, tears and red wine (ok, maybe not the blood) resulted in me gaining the Diploma with Distinctions in all modules. I’m still pinching myself.

At this juncture I would like to thank my sponsor, Beloved, for his very deep pockets, his endless patience, encouragement and never-wavering belief in me. Not to mention his willingness to be dragged round endless gardens whilst being indoctrinated with the principles of garden design and to hold the end of the tape when I’m doing a survey.

I started practicing as a garden designer in April this year and feel even tinier than the tiniest of fish in a vast ocean full of very big, much more talented fish. I have re-designed our own garden which is awaiting completion, am working on my second professional design and have also completed a fascinating commission to draw a plan of a ‘well known garden’ owned and designed by one of the ‘talented big fish’ to appear in her ‘forthcoming best-selling book’, more of which in my next blog.

Since gaining my Diploma I have also completed RHS 2 to gain more knowledge of plants and horticulture. I’m beginning to feel less daunted, in no little part due to the amazing support of the online gardening community, who are a lovely bunch, on the whole. And a lot of them are seasoned bloggers, so I hope they’ll treat my first offering with gentleness and honesty; after all, both are attributes that I come across time after time in my interaction with them.

34 responses to “New Beginnings, or the Slightly Painful Birth of a Garden Designer

  1. Libby, I came backwards into your blog, reading from your last post to here. I have to say that your first paragraph here could have been describing me! I’m on my last course of a garden design certificate, and with plans to transition into a new career — full of equal trepidation. I’ll look forward to your unfolding story. Sounds like you’re off to a very, very good start.

    • Hi Helen 🙂 Exciting that you’re also heading for a new career – all I can say is that I know it’s scary but so worth it to follow your heart and your passion. All the very, very best and if I can be of any help just let me know.

      I’ve been very blessed with some wonderful people in the industry who’ve given me a leg up – networking can be much more helpful than going it alone.

      Take care and I look forward to hearing about your progress. All the best with your course/certificate!!

      Libby xx

  2. Wishing you the very best of luck with your new profession Elizabeth ~ it takes some courage to change direction career wise the older you get ~ you must be delighted that you did. Good to have another Cheshire blogger about 🙂

    • Thanks Anna 🙂 not sure about the courage as such, I was in the fortunate position of not having to earn a wage; not something many people have the luxury of. So as I said in my post, I just thought what’s the worst that can happen – I’m really bad at it and fail the course.

  3. Welcome to the world of blogging 🙂

    I really enjoyed reading about how you came to this exciting point in your life all thanks to your beloved. You really do have a great career ahead of you – maybe not monetary wise at times but to be doing something that you enjoy so much is something to be cherished in this day and age.

    Your next post sounds really exciting and I can’t wait to read it.

  4. Elizabeth, great first blog post. My experience was very similar to yours. Worked in a job for 10 years or so that didn’t fire me up, went back to college in my mid 30s and retrained as a garden designer. First design created and built in late summer 2007, business started proper in spring 2008 and I’ve never looked back, despite starting business just as recession started!

    Good luck with it all, if the drawing you posted up on twitter a few weeks back is anything to go by you’ll be very successful indeed. I’ll watch out for your next posts with interest.


    PS I wrote a couple of posts based on experience of being a new designer – most of which you probably have already found out, but here they are anyhow:

    • Hi Tracy, thanks so much for your comments & feedback; I’ve had a quick scan of your articles, which are great, so I shall read & digest. I do find the whole vicious circle of: not much work = lack of money to do marketing = lack of work, a bit of a conundrum. And my next blog will be about said drawing!
      Thanks again for taking the time to respond with so much detail. Very much appreciated 🙂

      • No worries – if I can be of any help, just ask. I enjoyed college, but didn’t feel it prepared me very well for the business side of things – the best way to spend the little cash I had at the start, how to get decent sized commissions etc so that was all a bit trial and error. I did a bit of flyering in the posher parts of Edinburgh, which got me some work but it was once I put any jobs I had done on my website (and getting it optimised) that I starting getting decent design jobs. It did take a while to build up my business, but it was worth the slog, really beginning to bear fruit now. So stick in, it’s the best job in the world (most of the time!) and I wouldn’t swap it for anything…

      • Thanks Tracy, I am very fortunate in that a local, successful designer has taken me under her wing & helped me get my first two commissions. Am hoping to get a website sorted in the next few months – funds permitting. My college was the same – very little about the business side & no support after qualification.

  5. Fantastic blog – I shall look forward to following it over the coming weeks and months. Enjoy your new journey…

  6. Hi Elizabeth,
    Love the beginnings (can very much echo). Am looking forward to the next episode.. loads of luck

  7. Many Congratulations on all your hard work and look forward to following your progress. With all the best from us at Easton

  8. Hi Elizabeth, congratulations on the birth of your new blog. I’m intrigued about your next post.

  9. How fascinating and well done you! I worked at a University for years and was always amazed by how much the ‘mature’ students gained and gave to the experience throwing themselves in to all aspects of student life with verve. The internet world has helped me realise some of my talents too although sadly they are not as useful as yours.

    • Thank you! Yes, we were told there was a huge difference in motivation & quality of work between the mature student groups & the younger groups. I think that’s mostly down to life experience & a more disciplined attitude. And hey, don’t knock yourself, I’m sure you know way more about plants & gardening than I do!!

  10. Great start, Libby! This is going to be really useful and interesting for garden designers starting out or for people thinking of becoming a designer…Bit anxious about your next one though!

  11. It was interesting to read how you became a garden designer and I hope you do really well and enjoy your new career.

    • Thanks Gilly – it’s early days but I’m so glad I did it. Of course, the reality a of client’s requirements & restrictions is rather different from the ‘dream’ of being able to design a garden the way I really want to. I’ll probably write a blog about that in the future!

  12. Good for you. I took a couple course towards a diploma in garden design before my husband got transferred, they are a ton of work, but, oh so interesting. Look foward to reading about your future endeavors.

  13. Welcome to the world of blogging, Libby. I look forward to hearing more!

  14. Lovely start to a blog. Who taught you garden design? I used to teach many people in a similar position, wanting a change in life/career and to do something creative. I hope you are successful and that the blog develops. It’s already further on than mine…;-)

    • Thank you Lara, I went to Reaseheath College in Cheshire, a number of students in my group were looking for a change in career – some having been made redundant. There was a wide range of talent & life experience – it was a very dynamic & motivated group

  15. Oh bless – what a lovely account – I look forward to keeping up with you here on your sparkly new blog

  16. Thank you for this really touching account of your starting out. It’s always great to hear people’s honest account of their endeavours. I do think It’s time Belvoved was given his name!

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