Sometimes I wish I could spend my entire day surrounded in a beautiful garden, taking care of flowers, fully engulfed in nature, a world all my own. For Alexander Hoyle, my dream is his daily reality. As a botanical horticulturist at Kew Gardens, Alexander maintains one of the most dynamic gardens in the world. I couldn't wait to get in touch with him and find out what its really like to work with plants, on his level, day in and out. I didn't count how many times Alexander said "I love my job," but its a lot. I guess plants really do make people happy. #itplantporn
iPP:WHAT is YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT LED TO YOUR CURRENT POSITION AT KEW GARDENS?
AH: I grew up in a small village in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire. It is your typical English village. At its heart is a village green, with a country pub and a glorious medieval church. Set back is a large, rambling 17th century manor house clad in the most enormous wisteria. The manor has superb gardens, including a kitchen garden, formal gardens, glasshouses, enriched meadows and even a maze. This is where I first fell in love with plants and gardens. At the time the owners opened their garden for a few charity weekends a year but, as they were getting on in years, they put out the word for a Garden boy- young assistant to help out. Like many 12 year olds I was in desperate need of pocket money! I was fortunate enough to be hired on the basis that I had a keen interest in wildlife and had some experience helping my grandmother in her cottage garden.
Very quickly I found the money was not the incentive, just being there absorbing the garden every Saturday afternoon was enough. I remained working at the manor until I was 16, when I left school and went to work for a plant nursery. It was a few villages away and I used to love cycling through the lanes with my wildflower book, admiring the seasonal changes of the hedgerow flora. I spent a very happy year there learning how to propagate and grow a wide variety of plants. I really developed my plant knowledge during this time and it has really stood me in good stead. As every gardener knows, knowing your plants is SO important. However there is so much to learn in horticulture and you never stop learning (I love this element). I went on to horticultural college to continue learning.
After graduating my course with distinction I knew at this point I wanted to be a master gardener, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work at Aberglasney Gardens, in Carmarthenshire, West Wales for two wonderful years. Aberglasney is an historic garden, established in the 14th century, which is today renowned for its plants and beauty. It is a real plantsman’s garden, full of rare and interesting plants. Whilst there I assisted in the restoration and renovation of some areas of the garden, primarily managing the walled kitchen garden producing produce for the restaurant and cut flowers to sell. I really treasure my time there, particularly as I lived on site and was completely immersed in the gardens. However I knew the time had come again to further myself and have a change of scene. My head gardener at the time was Kew trained and he encouraged me to go to Kew to study.
"Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is considered by many to be the greatest and leading botanical garden in the world."
I remembered visiting Kew when I was a child and being in complete awe. I never dreamt I would one day work there. There are 12 spots open to worldwide applicants each year and therefore it is quite competitive. I was given an interview which involved multiple practical tests, a plant identification test, timed essay and going before a panel of experts. I remember feeling like I had blown it and would have to reapply next year. However when I did in fact gain a place to study, I was overjoyed.
I moved to London and after three intensive, testing and captivating years I graduated the Kew Diploma with Honors and was awarded the Worshipful Company of Gardeners prize for being the best practical student. Kew approached me and offered me a permanent position helping to manage the Rose Garden, the Great Broadwalk Borders (longest double herbaceous borders in the world), Palmhouse Pond and the Victoria Gate entrance. I accepted and haven't looked back since. I love my job.
iPP:DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY AT WORK.
AH: No two days are really the same. The variables such as current projects, weather, and seasonality dictate what happens on a day to day basis. Aesthetics and ornamental horticulture are very important to me. I strive to help maintain and raise the horticultural standards of Kew, particularly as Kew is a world heritage site. My areas are known as the 'honeypot' - close to the main entrance and the Palm House, so everyone passes through it. This year alone over 1.5 million people enjoyed visited Kew.
iPP:What is your favorite thing about your job and working with nature?
AH: Plants. Simply working with some of the most diverse and unrivalled plant collections in the world. Helping to develop, manage and maintain Kew, a world heritage site. And ultimately having an incredible work environment. Promoting a healthy lifestyle and better quality of life.
IPP: WHAT ADVISE DO YOU HAVE FOR AN AMATEUR GARDENER ?
AH: Consider the scale and use of the space available. I would like to highlight the importance of seasonality and selecting plants that provide all year round interest. Try to have something in flower every week of the year. Look at the space available, considering light and aspect to help select plants that will thrive.
IPP: What is your favorite type of garden?
AH: The English Garden, because it encompasses our entire gardening history, containing the best of horticultural developments and features (herbaceous borders, kitchen garden, garden architecture, follies and garden buildings). It often has this wonderful balance of structure and architectural form mixed with soft and exuberant plantings. Gardens like Sissinghurst and Great Dixter are of great inspiration to me. I find they have wonderful individual personalities, a sense of place, and can be ever so romantic.
ipp:WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT PLANT AND WHY?
AH: Malus- Apple Tree. I have always had a fondness for English apple trees. They are a good traditional and reliable plant that can be trained and shaped accordingly. They respond well to pruning and are quite resilient. They also provide good all year round interest. Blossoming well in the spring, they then produce a bountiful, tasty harvest in the late summer and some provide excellent autumn colour too. In the winter they can be appreciated for their majestic form, and other plants can grow beneath them or up through them. And they get better with age.