Four Winds Horticulture started as an idea during the Covid 19 pandemic. I was working as a gardener and propagtor at Kiftsgate Court in the Cotswolds. Unfortunately, like many others I was made redundant due to the pandemic but quickly found a seasonal position at Cotswold Garden Flowers. My time at Kiftsgate Court and Cotswold Garden Flowers gave me the inspiration to start my own small nursery. At the same time I started to advise friends on how to get the most out of their gardens. This was the beginning of me becoming a Garden Consultant.
My official horticultural training began when I left School at sixteen. Doing A Levels did not appeal, but I had developed an interest in gardening from the age of six and decided I would pursue it as a career. This resulted in a two year Horticultural Diploma at Brooksby Melton College. Little did know that this was the beginning of ten years full time study. From the age of twelve I picked up weekend work working as a gardener for neighbours and friends, which greatly helped me gain my initial hands on experience. During the Summer Holidays in my Brooksby years I worked at Micropropagation services in the cuttings department taking hundreds of cuttings of clematis, roses and amenity trees.
After doing well with my Diploma, receiving a triple Distinction. I decided to continue my education with a degree at Writtle College. Back then there were a number of different horticultural degrees to choose from, including Commercial Horticulture, Therapeutic Horticulture, and in my case Green Space Management. This was mainly geared to someone who would be in charge of the green spaces, parks and gardens of a Borough Council. All the horticultural degrees shared the same core modules and then had a few specialist modules. Again I did well and finished with a BSc 1st Class Hons Green Space Management.
At the time Writtle College offered a £1000 grant to those students who wanted to continue into postgraduate study, providing they had achieved a 2:1 or 1st class as an undergraduate. I reasoned that a lot of people now had degrees and thought a Masters Degree would give a competitive edge. This resulted in a M.A. Historic Design Landscapes which included studying the history of garden design, conservation and restoration, and the management of historic gardens.
After leaving university I soon discovered that I could not get a job without experience. Despite what the horticultural industry says about there being a skills gap, to me there has always been plenty of competition for employment. Like many young people the only way I could gain some initial hands on experience was by volunteering, only then could I think about undergoing a traineeship and eventual employment. I was very fortunate that the secretary of the local gardening club was the father of the then Head Gardener of Trelissick Garden down in Cornwall. In return for accomadation I volunteered four days week My time at Trelissick sparked at interest in Woodland gardening, including Rhododendrons and Magnolias. The Professional Gardeners Trust gave me a grant to help cover my living costs for volunteering five months at Trelissick and six weeks at RHS Rosemoor.
I now had enough experience to satisfy the Professional Gardeners Guild and undertake their three year traineeship. This involved working in three different gardens each for a year. My first placement was Thenford Arboretum working for Lord Heseltine. This greatly helped me build up my knowledge of woody plants, there are 3500 different types of plant at Thenford. This was followed by a year at The Savill Garden and Valley Gardens at Windsor Great Park. Savill and Valley are home to nine national plant collections, including Magnolias and Rhododendron. It also meant I was able to indulge my interest in woodland gardening. I made the most of any opportunities to expand my knowledge. This included helping with exihibting at the RHS Rhododendrons shows. The then Deputy Keeper of the Gardens Harvey Stephens showed me how to select, prepare and stage the Rhododendron trusses. He must have done a good job, we won the Centenary Cup, which had only been introduced that year to celebrate the first centenary of the RC&M (Rhododendron, Camellia & Magnolia Group).
This also gave the opportunity to meet some of the key people involved in the RC&M including the Chairmen David Millias, owner of Millias Nursery specialising in Rhododendrons. It was during this time that a book was publish on large leaved Rhododendrons 'Big Leaf Rhododendrons : Growing the Giants of the Genus' this was written by a couple of New Zealanders and mentioned Pukeiti, one of the best gardens in the world to see big leaf rhododendrons. After speaking to David and other RC&M members I began to plan a funded trip to New Zealand to take place after my final placement. I had been told that New Zealand was one of the top countries for a horticultural student to visit because of its incurably unique flora. It is home to some of todays most prominent Magnolia breeders
and an incredibly beautiful country.
My last and favourite placement was The Garden House (Devon). This amazing ten acre garden has got a bit of everything, an arboretum, woodland planting, herbaceous borders, naturalistic planting, meadows...it was great place to continue building up my plant knowledge and work with a great team. The Garden House strong team of regular volunteers, who are very forthcoming with cake and biscuits.
After The Garden House I went out to New Zealand for a year, sponsored by The RHS, Merlin Trust, RC&M Group, Plant Heritage Devon Group, and The Hardy Plant Society. My year consisted of a number of placements including Dunedin Botanic Gardens and Pukeiti. I also had time to travel, visiting Magnolia breeders, specialist nurseries, gardens and all the people associated with these places. It was truly a trip of a life time. As I was funded I had to write a report for my sponsors, some of which is available on line. I was given an award from The Merlin Trust for best written report. Otherwise a few articles were published based on my trip and may be found in the published article section.
After New Zealand I came back to the family farm in the U.K. Went self-employed whilst job hunting. This resulted in a position at Kiftsgate Court. Unfortunately, Covid 19 and Lockdown came along. After years of a nomadic lifestyle I decided I was not moving again and chose to set up Four Winds Horticulture. Through Four Winds I hope to make the most of my experience and knowledge to help others get the very best out of their gardens.
William Stanger (front centre) with the Pukeiti team.
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The Savill Garden
The Savill Garden
The Savill Garden, Windsor.