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Alexis Baddeley has completed the three-year Royal Parks’ apprenticeship and now works in The Regent’s Park. He tells us how the apprenticeship has set him up for a career he loves.

Green fingers

Gardening has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mum has always been a keen horticulturalist and I’d help her out when I was younger. In my early twenties I worked as a landscape gardener for almost three years. I didn't really consider it as a career at this point and pursued other interests, studying music production at university, travelling and working in various industries.

When I moved to London, I started working for a bicycle company, but my heart wasn't really in it. At the same time, I was renovating the garden of a shared house I was living in, and enjoying that far more than my day job! I decided to retrain and started researching courses and apprenticeships. The Royal Parks apprenticeship stood out because of the quality of the course, the beautiful work environment, and I may have been swayed by the prestigious name!

Gardening ticks so many boxes for me as an ideal job. I love working outdoors (yes, even in winter!) and being surrounded by nature. It's great working with my hands doing something practical where I have a physical result at the end of the day, with some room for creativity. Some of the work is autonomous, which I like, but there's also plenty of teamwork so I don't get too lonely! From a broader perspective I think that with the ecological damage globally, it makes sense to be part of an industry that will be increasingly important in the future.

Taking classroom learning outside

One of things I loved about the apprenticeship is that mix of theory and practice, learning a new skill at college, or attending work-based “toolbox talks” and being able to apply this in the field. With this apprenticeship you’ll repeat a new skill many times ‘on the ground’, so you really master the technique and hone it to a professional standard.

Valuable skills

I’ve received excellent training for a broad range of horticultural tasks over the last three years; everything from weeding to lawn care, pruning, plant identification, pleaching, hedging, topiary care, plant propagation, planting design and soil cultivation - and a long list of others. I have received full in-house training for many power tools, including rotovators, strimmers, hedge trimmers, buggy driving, and leaf blowers.

I've learnt a whole range of theory which has been incredibly useful in my day-to-day work, and has literally made the difference between life and death for a struggling plant!

I’m currently studying the Garden Planning, Establishment and Maintenance course, covering: garden features, plant selection and planning, choice, establishment and maintenance of garden plants and lawns, production of outdoor vegetables and fruit, and protected environments and their use in plant cultivation. I want to move into garden design long-term, so this has been an incredibly useful first step towards this goal.

Having one of the most beautiful parks in the world as my office

There are so many things I enjoy about this job – the practical, physical nature of the work, the tangible “finished product” and the connection to nature. However, this year has really brought the community aspect of the park into sharp focus, so it takes the top spot on my list.

During the pandemic, green spaces became many people’s only escape from the confinement of their home. Whether to exercise, walk their dog, socialise, or just to appreciate nature, parks became one of the only public spaces people could still enjoy. Being able to play a small role in maintaining and improving this essential space was incredibly rewarding. The public really showed their gratitude, and I’ve lost count of the amount of people who have given me their heartfelt thanks for taking care of the park.

Receiving the George Cook Award [which is given to the best apprentice from the year’s cohort on completion of the course] made appreciate just how far I've come during my time in the park, starting as out as just a keen amateur and slowly becoming a well-qualified, capable professional. After three years of hard work, it tied everything together neatly, and it really felt like all my efforts had finally paid off.

Future plans

I enjoy working at The Regent’s Park while I see through my largest project to date, the renovation of the English Gardens - I’ve been transforming several large shrubberies off and on for over a year. Looking further ahead, I’m enrolled on a garden design course. This should help me improve my design and project management skills, with an eye to eventually owning my own business.

Why not apply!

If you thrive on hard work, enjoy a physical challenge, have staying power, and love the outdoors, this could be the start of a wonderful career for you. Being in beautiful surroundings, working with your hands, autonomy, creativity, helping biodiversity and the environment, and serving the community are fantastic things to be able to do every day. By the end of the apprenticeship, you’ll be highly-skilled, experienced, very well qualified, and have the prestigious The Royal Parks name on your CV. If this sounds like it could be a good fit for you, just fill out that application form and take the plunge. Good luck!

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