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  • Writer's pictureDebi Holland

RHS Nomination for Learner of the Year

Debi with tutor John Addison at Cannington

In August I was honoured to be contacted by the Royal Horticultural Society Qualifications team to say they would like to nominate me for the 2018 Learner of the Year FAB Awards.

The Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) awards recognises outstanding achievement for learners who have demonstrated an enthusiasm for learning and developed a high level of understanding and skill in their industry.

'Your journey was truly inspiring and your determination to set up a thriving business from scratch in Somerset was amazing. In addition we are overwhelmed with your blogs and photography and how you inspire others through your own passion and experiences.' Royal Horticultural Society.

What was the qualification and level achieved?

Debi Holland achieved RHS Level 2 Diploma in the Principles and Practices of Horticulture.

How did the learner demonstrate an enthusiasm for learning?

Debi achieved our largest qualification at Level 2, she knew the qualification was a highly respected and recognisable benchmark in the horticultural industry and would provide the foundation for her future business plan.

She enrolled on the course with some horticultural knowledge but was surprised how little she knew and the extent of information the qualification covered. Whilst Debi was concerned about learning the vast number of plant botanical names let alone spell them, she soon tuned into the classification system and surprised herself - Latin became second nature which she never thought would happen!

Debi participated in every class and felt the practical and theory elements complimented each other, Debi explains “all your theoretical knowledge is put into context; you get your hands dirty and actually action what you have learnt in theory.”

Her passion and application for learning are demonstrated in that she passed all eight of her examinations first time, and achieved commendations in three of them.

Whilst studying for the qualification, Debi sought hands-on professional experience and secured a volunteer role at a National Trust Property, she wanted to surpass her capability and broaden her skills set. Working alongside professional gardeners allowed her to experience what she was ultimately aiming for, her own professional gardening business.

Volunteering at Tyntesfield National Trust Walled Kitchen Garden

How has the learner demonstrated that they have a high level of understanding and skill in their industry?

Debi now has a fruitful gardening business in North Somerset which she set up from scratch. Her knowledge, drive and people skills has resulted in a rapidly growing client base and she works flat out five days a week and has a waiting list showing people highly regard Debi and the service she offers.

Gardening at a former NGS garden

She has taken her horticultural skills to the next level and combined her manual skills with intellectual and artistic skills to create regular blogs which are supported by some amazing photography shots. She links all these skills together to enthuse her audience about the benefits and joy gardening can reap, with a particular focus on health and wellbeing which is close to her heart.

Most recently, these skills have led Debi to secure the opportunity to write regular garden features for an award winning website, she has written four features since April and soon to launch her fifth.

What challenges did the learner face and how were they overcome?

For over 10 years Debi was a Website Manager at University of Bath, stepping away and embarking on a new career was exceptionally daunting for her, especially later on in life, she knew she would need to up-skill her knowledge which would take both time and dedication.

She gained the courage and embarked on this journey and started studying for the RHS Level 2 Diploma. Other bite-sized qualifications are available, but Debi knew the Diploma would provide her with all the necessary skills she would need. Cutting corners was not an option for Debi which is truly admirable.

Spring planting at Cannington Walled Garden

Alongside her studies Debi was also bringing up a young son and started the ball rolling with setting up and establishing her own business.

Debi says “it felt like madness at times and required a lot of juggling and hard work but the rewards were immeasurable. I found that combining all these elements simultaneously was tremendously beneficial as they complimented and reinforced each other.

I studied theory at Bristol Botanic Garden and practical horticulture at Cannington Walled Garden (Bridgwater & Taunton College). Skills and knowledge crossed over from theoretical examples to practicalities in the garden whilst working. Gardening all-day and studying each night - it was a relentless schedule. I completely submersed myself in horticulture.”

Her support network, determination to succeed and passion for gardening and learning meant she was able to conquer any challenge.

What are the future ambitions of the learner?

Debi hopes to inspire others through sharing her skills and plant knowledge and promote the importance of gardening in tune with nature.

One of her ambitions is to continue to plant hope. She works with many people who have experienced depression, long-term illness or bereavement and runs regular gardening sessions which have proved to be an invaluable respite, her aim is to continue to provide optimism and hope through gardening – green therapy.

Debi says “Horticulture has changed my life and it is the RHS Horticulture Diploma which has given me the knowledge and the confidence to make this career change and develop my business.

I feel gardening can really make a difference to improving people's lives and wellbeing.

It has opened up a plethora of opportunities even seeing me co-supervise the RHS / Tim Peake Rocket Science project at a local school, take gardening sessions with the local scout group and Year 5 schoolchildren showing them how to grow vegetables and wildflowers.'

Showing local school children how to sow seed for RHS Rocket Science Project

"I want to continue learning. The more I learn the more I want to learn. Horticulture is a limitless subject and can propel you into different areas of study and expertise. I hope to continually improve my knowledge and use this not only in individual gardens but also through wider avenues via writing and sharing photographs of my horticultural research and discoveries in the UK and abroad.

I am particularly interested in discovering plants at altitude growing wild in their natural habitat and hope to pursue this further.”

Finding Cotton Grass in the French Alps by mountain bike

Why does the learner deserve to win the award this year?

A professional career in gardening is predominantly male dominated but women constitute a growing % of professional gardeners. Changing career is also a daunting prospect, especially after ten years in the same industry, and whilst Debi wasn’t fazed by either of these factors and embarked on a career into gardening which changed her life for the better, she deserves recognition for her drive, passion and creditable attitude of aiming high.

Through combining her skill set, Debi is extremely creative and inspirational and offers more than just a professional gardening service. She goes above and beyond and provides website viewers with garden tips and blogs which often include topical content or her work/travel experiences. These are all linked back to her day to day work by providing valuable and current advice to her clients.

More notably, her devotion to sharing her horticultural knowledge and skills in her own time through gardening sessions to support, mentor and encourage those suffering with mental health issues is highly commendable.

Coppicing Cornus alba 'Sibirica'

The prestigious FAB event hosted 450 awarding and assessment professionals and 2018 is listed as having a record number of entries. Unfortunately I was not shortlisted but was overwhelmed to be selected by the RHS. Here are the finalists.

Learner of the Year 2018 Finalists - Sponsored by Gordon Associates were:

Judith Mair, EAL

Joe Seddon, FDQ

Sai Ywet Tai, NCC Education

Kayleigh Milne, ACCA

Luke Rees, Sports Leaders UK

And the very worthy winner on 18 October was Luke Rees, Sports Leaders UK. Luke volunteers for many organisations, is an Ambassador for Sport Wales and Youth Sport Trust as well being an international motivational speaker.

Congratulations also to the RHS who were shortlisted for Qualification of the Year with the RHS Level 4 Diploma in Horticultural Practice (DHP).

Photos: Debi Holland © 2018

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