The Garden was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to aid the botanical training of its members and apprentices.

Horticultural traineeships give trainees a chance to experience the various aspects of working in a small botanic garden, gaining experience in practical horticulture and the management of a unique plant collection, with scientific research and educational applications, both outdoors and under glass.

Franziska Stampfli left the Garden in mid-September after completing her 12-month traineeship. For her trainee project, Franziska installed a Mental Wellbeing Garden near the Swan Walk entrance to the Garden.

We sat down with Franziska before she left to chat about her time in the Garden.

Can you describe the day-to-day role of a horticultural trainee?

It’s difficult to say what you do in one day, because every day is so different.

One thing which is always the same is that when we start in the morning, there will be a task list in the mess room, and we check that for what we are doing. Before morning break, we look after our glasshouses. I am in the Atlantic Islands Glasshouse (Glasshouse 2) at the moment.

Every trainee starts with the Pelargonium Glasshouse, and I was fortunate that my wish to then go to the Atlantic Islands Glasshouse was taken into consideration. I was very happy not to go to the Fernery, but don’t write that!

I might. Why not the Fernery? Why the Atlantic Islands Plants?

That glasshouse is so varied. When you come from the pelargoniums, which are one species…no, that’s wrong, it’s one genus. So, all pelargoniums. That’s great at the beginning, it makes it easier for watering and you get to know a genus really well. After six months, I felt like I wanted to get on a bit and the Atlantic Islands Glasshouse is a huge learning curve, because there are so many plants. The similarity is mostly just a geographical similarity, and every plant has different needs. There are euphorbias and succulents that need completely different care to the Trochetiopsis ebenus, which is very leafy.

The Cool Fernery is more like a display. There are no pots, and I love to arrange things. When I see a pot with a particularly lovely flower in bloom, I make sure that pot is prominent, and you can adjust little things like that every day. I’m a former florist and I love flowers.

Take Nuria, who was an intern over the summer. She’s so into ferns and loved looking after them, and I’ll have to develop that as I go on in horticulture.

So, that’s the glasshouses.

Glasshouses until break. Watering, feeding, pest control. Rearranging, hoovering – which is also a form of pest prevention. General tidy up. Also, potting up, making babies,…making babies?...propagating!

Making babies in the glasshouse.

Yep, write it like that. After break, we go back to the task list. Tasks are so varied, from mulching to pruning to weeding to setting up a display around the Sloane statue and more. It’s a wide range of tasks, which makes the day go really quickly. Time flies by. You never look at your watch and think ‘how long until I can go home’. You think ‘how much time do I have left to do my work’.

It’s the same in the office. I get to about 3pm and think ’Oh no!’

We’re quite late in the season. What are you up to at the moment?

We’re mostly dividing plants at the moment. Places where we have overcrowding of plants, or where we need to multiply plants, we’re lifting and dividing. Jess (Snowball, Glasshouse Manager) and I were dividing the pond plants yesterday. 

Also, the leaves have started to drop, so we need space in the leaf pile. Some of the guys have started to investigate whether the leaf mould is ready to mulch things down in World Woodland Garden and along the Embankment wall. We do that because we need the space, not necessarily because we want to mulch. It’s always about priorities, not only in terms of plants, but also space and organisation.

We’re always doing lots of weeding. We’re still watering with sprinklers, as it was dry over the last few days. At this time of year, the propagation team start taking a lot of cuttings.

When did you first visit the Garden?

It was during my first year in London, around November 2016. I’d read about the Garden somewhere and it wasn’t too far away from where I live. I wanted to visit as many gardens as possible and take every opportunity. I was starting to figure out what I wanted to do here, and I heard about volunteering at the Garden. Volunteering here is different to volunteering in Switzerland. Wherever you look in London, people are volunteering, and it’s great that there are so many opportunities.

I started as a volunteer at the beginning of 2017, and I loved it. It was hard, because my English was still not really great. I said to Joe (Bassett, Gardener) when he came back recently that he was the one who made a big effort to try to talk to me. We were both smokers at the time. I could understand a lot, but I couldn’t get out the words. Gardening is good because you don’t need so many words.

I loved coming here. I had never worked in a botanic garden before, and I really felt at home.

How long did you volunteer for?

Three months for one day a week. Wednesdays. I’d been trying to figure out what to do with my life, either stick to floristry or follow the path to becoming a gardener. After volunteering here, I knew that I wanted to be a gardener. I couldn’t go back to working in a shop with cut flowers.

I saw an advertisement for an apprenticeship at Fulham Palace. I think somebody here passed it onto me. I applied and got the 18-month apprenticeship.

Which brings you up to starting here a year ago?

It adds up!

You’ve already answered my next question, which is what did you do before you became a gardener.

So, I’m a fully-trained florist, which meant three years of vocational training split between college and work experience. I worked as a florist for six years. I loved the colour and the creativity, and I think I have an eye for it. I always look for beautiful things in the Garden. I love when there are berries or flowers on my plants.

You learn a lot about aesthetics, and how to work with the materials you have, but when you qualify and go into a shop, it’s all about making money. You do the bog standard bouquets every day. You don’t always have brides coming in ordering beautiful, big bouquets. In the end, it’s very tough and you get further and further away from nature. That’s what made me think about a change.

Before I left Switzerland, I worked for a while in a pelargonium nursery, and saw how hard it is for that kind of business to survive. I also worked in a mini-municipal garden in Basel, which is one of the first municipal gardens completely organically grown, and they grow everything from scratch. It was great. They had a huge cut-flower plot which I was helping to look after. They supplied all the surrounding offices with bouquets.

Around that time, my boyfriend was granted funding to start a post-doc at a London university, and we decided to move here.

Good decision?

It was a great decision, and everything went so well. I’ve always been a bit anxious about what’s going to happen next, I’m always worried, but since we moved to London, everything has worked out. It’s been a bit like a dream.

You have been able to work in some cool places.

And I’m always thinking ‘Am I really doing this?’ and ‘They will find out that I’m actually just a rubbish florist’.

I have to do a presentation on my first day at Kew about me and my gardening experiences, and my dad has just sent me a picture from 20 years ago. We had bees. We had a big garden in the countryside. I was always gardening.

What’s your favourite place in the Garden?

Mmm…

It’s a hard question.

Yes, it is. I mean, I love…it’s like if you asked what’s my favourite flower or plant.

That’s next.

Would you ask a mother which is their favourite child! I have 5000 children, they are all my babies. Something really special, which I didn’t really know about before, is the Pond Rockery. All the dry Mediterranean plants. Every time I pass by there, something else is blooming. It looks familiar, but I don’t know it. They’re so precious, because they’re all quite low growing and adapted perfectly to their environment, and it’s looked after so well by our volunteer, Steph.

I love that area because it’s full of surprises. I also love the whole propagation/nursery area. It’s so satisfying to see how plants grow. And the glasshouses, which are unique.

Favourite plant?

This is so hard. I really like vegetables, so I love Edible (The Garden of Edible Plants). I love that we leave the vegetables to flower, which you wouldn’t do normally.

I’m leaving a parsnip to grow on in our community garden, because I found out from Rob (Bradshaw, Propagation Manager) that it’s actually a biennial.

Like carrots. Have you seen that beautiful, pink umbel? So pretty.

I know I still haven’t answered your question…can I say a family?

Sure.

Ranunculaceae at the moment, especially Clematis. The species, not the cultivars. I love the flowers, I love the habit, and I love how they make seeds. The seed heads are so beautiful. If you remember last year, in winter, the pomegranate had no leaves left, and the gorgeous seed heads from the Clematis came through. It looked like a natural Christmas tree.

What’s your least favourite job in the Garden?

I can’t really say, because I am at home in the Garden and feel best when I’m here.

It can be a bit difficult to do the same task for days and days and days. It doesn’t matter which task, but – for example – when you have a heap of horse manure coming in, you can’t just leave that there for a few months because you need to do something else. You just have to get through it, and it takes weeks.

In the beginning, it’s great fun, great teamwork, and you know it’s going to make the plants look great, but after a while it takes a toll.

What are your gardening specialities? Obviously, flowers…

I love propagation. I’m not sure if I’m very good at it, and I’m not very patient, so when something is not working out, I get a bit frustrated. It’s a huge learning curve, but I love to do it and it’s very rewarding.

If you look at my project, the propagation part was one of the most fun bits. To then put something together that’s a product of your propagation is great. The world needs more plants!

The other thing is the aesthetic aspect of gardening, as I’ve already mentioned. Pot displays. Arranging the boxes. How everything flows, and how it feels.

What other gardening do you do? Do you have a garden?

I don’t, which is very sad. I can only cope with that because I work in a garden. I don’t even have a balcony. It’s a compromise, because we are very central.

House plants?

Yes, I just started. I have some succulents, which I got as babies from here. One Aeonium. A Fittonia with very interesting leaves. It has to be interesting. I’m still developing it, because I’m reluctant. My passion is for plants that are growing in our environment, not plants that need shelter all the time.

The Mental Wellbeing Garden is your trainee project. Visitors have been enjoying it since the start of the summer. Tell us about it. Where did it come from? What was the thinking behind it?

As horticultural trainees, we have to complete a trainee project, which includes design, propagation and interpretation. It’s pretty intense, because you basically start it in the first month. I realised by my second month that although the Garden has great spaces for medicinal plants, there wasn’t really anything about plants’ influence and impact on mental health. I was wondering if I could provide this space with a project in this direction. Nell (Jones, Head of Plant Collections) and Allison (Napier, Deputy Head of Plant Collections) were both really open to that idea, and thought it would be a good addition.

I was thinking about what gardening does for me and how it makes me feel. There are scientific studies that say gardening does improve mental wellbeing and from my experiences, I know it works. I wanted to show that to other people.

It’s relevant. People are finally talking about mental wellbeing now. I hope that I’ve opened up a bit of space to talk about it with the Mental Wellbeing Garden.

Describe the Mental Wellbeing Garden.

It consists of various parts. The main part is about herbal remedies, such as Hypericum perforatum (St John’s-wort). There’s a sensory part, as the brain reacts to colours, to smells, touching, hearing and tasting – not that there’s anything to taste! Tasting is a tough one in a botanic garden with a lot of poisonous plants.

To fill the senses, I planted flowers with a strong scent, bamboo reeds that rustle in the wind, plants like Stachys byzantina which are really furry to touch. These sensations can have a very beneficial reaction in your brain.

I added a bench, so people could really relax in the space and not even have to do anything, just enjoy a quiet time in there. I tried to make it comfortable, cosy and naturally enclosed by using hazel twigs and planting some climbers.

I wanted to represent that interaction between nature and humans, particularly how humans react.

Your traineeship is almost over. What’s next?

I’m going to Kew to do a three-year diploma. I also applied for a one-year kitchen gardening course at Kew, but the course I’m starting will really broaden my knowledge. There’s so much I still don’t know. Perhaps my gardening passion is still somewhere out there. Gardening is an ongoing learning curve.