My year kicked off in March 2014 with a trips to Australia, as one of the New Zealand representatives to the Nursery and Garden Industry of Australia National Conference held in Sydney for a week and based around the theme of ‘Green Living and Blue Sky Thinking’ in the wider context of their 202020 Vision (which I spoke about in my speech on Grand Final night). It was inspiring hearing the speakers who are working ‘at the coal face’ in research -so they have facts and figures behind them- and implementation – so others can learn from their successes and failures. It was great to network and make some great contacts with members from Australia’s Next Gen (under 35’s) group.
My main trip began in May and entailed spending six weeks travelling through England, Scotland, France and Germany.
My trip started with a driving tour through Southern England, From Sissinghurst and Great Dixter in Kent, along to Sir Harold Hillier’s Arboretum in Hampshire, Mapperton Gardens and CW Groves and Sons Garden Centre in Dorset, South to The Eden Project and Lost Garden of Heligan in Cornwall, up to The Gnome Reserve and RHS Rosemoor in Devon, Hestercombe in Somerset and across to RHS Wisley Gardens and Plant centre in Surrey.
It was such a mix of the inspirational, educational, historical and ridiculous but the one overriding factor that united them was the passion that drives people to create these amazing places. One thing I now have a real appreciation of is how good the English gardeners and early designers were at giving their gardens structure and ‘good bones’ to carry the garden through the year.
I spent the next week in London, where I experienced the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which was such an unreal experience. The quality and detail of the gardens produced was just exceptional and the smaller Artisan gardens were a particular highlight. It was very special to be there for the World War One Centenary and to see the show gardens remembering the cost to people and places.
The following 10 days were another driving tour, this time North to Preston in Lancashire to experience Barton Grange Garden Centre, Destination Garden Centre of the Year for the last three years. To see how exceptionally well they execute the store merchandising, the superb quality and range of plants and products was inspiring. They were a class above the rest. Heading further North to Edinburgh and chanced upon the Gardening Scotland Flower Show which while not in the same class as Chelsea, still a great chance to see Scotland’s passion and talents in gardening and music!
Edinburgh Botanical Gardens were beautiful and I particularly enjoyed seeing the Queen Mothers garden. Dobbies Garden Centre which are a chain now owned by Tescos were a good example of the benefits of having corporate backing and budget, excelling in their signage and range but interestingly lacking in their store layout.
Heading back South, we were able to cross through what had been the Kerr territories on the border and visit the Ruins of Kelso Abbey, in the heart of the area which was a personal highlight. An unplanned stop at Alnwick Gardens in Northumberland turned out to be a great decision as Jacques Wirtz’s design very quickly became my favourite garden of the entire trip. The best thing about Alnwick was that it was a garden for everyone, there were no ‘keep off the grass’ signs or grumpy attendants telling people off. It was a garden to enjoy and experience and there were so many young families enjoying the water features and gardens. Chatsworth Estate was interesting to see as an example of both Joseph Paxton and Capability Browns design skills. The scale of what they achieved before modern machinery is impressive.
I travelled into France on the Euro Star and based in Paris I spent my time travelling out to the Chateau and grounds at Versailles to see Andre Le Notre’s expression of Louis XIV s glory which is whopping in scale and the only place it was necessary to hire a golf cart to have a chance at seeing all the Grounds!
Monet’s Garden at Giverney had the potential to take the spot from Alnwick Gardens as my favourite for its sheer exuberance of colour and planting however it was overshadowed by the fact that they pack the tourists in like cattle. It is simply a money-making operation.
Spending time in Paris was such a fantastic experience, pushing me outside my comfort zone when I speak next to no French. What most impressed me about the city was the emphasis on having trees and green space in the city. Even in the less affluent suburbs most of the main streets had considerable plantings and there were fantastic examples of Green roofs and Patrick Blanc’s Green walls in different places around the city. For a Paris garden centre experience I visited Trauffaut. They specialised in indoor and outdoor container gardens and the associated accessories. They also had an entire basement floor dedicated to pet sales.
It was then onto Germany, Insel Mainau on Lake Constance and Bayer Crop Science headquarters near Cologne being my two main stops. Insel Mainau is an Island in Lake Constance that is owned by a Swedish Count and Countess and they have the developed the 45 ha into a public garden, production nursery for the public garden and forestry blocks on the less accessible areas.
It is now one of the biggest employers in the area and people flock to visit. It was so interesting to meet the Head of gardens Markus who shared the story and the philosophy behind the gardens and the efforts they are making in regards to the long term sustainability of the Island.
Arriving in Cologne to visit Bayer Crop Science, I was extremely well looked after for accommodation and transport and the Bayer Crop science hosts were so welcoming. Visiting Baycom, touring the Leverkeusen site and then the research and development campus at Monheim was certainly challenging and thought provoking for me. It has helped widen my understanding of our industry as a whole and I’m grateful for the opportunity to visit.
In August 2015 with the remaining funds from my prize winnings and additional funding awarded from The Trevor Davies International Travel Fellowship I was able to attend the International Garden Centre Association Congress based in Odense, Denmark as a member of their study tour which is aimed specifically at under 40’s involved in garden centre management. It was a week packed with networking opportunities and visiting the best examples of garden centres and other examples of retail excellence such as Legoland. It was a fantastic learning time, being able to learn from others experiences and making worldwide industry contacts have been invaluable.
Being part of NZYHOTY has opened up so many opportunities to me. The challenge is to make the most out of every opportunity. Always being open to learn and meet people has enriched my own personal knowledge and career and over time will enable me to put back into the Horticulture Industry.
Thank you so much to Agmardt, Fruitfed Supplies, T and G, Bayer Crop Science and all the other generous sponsors who make this competition all possible.
Kelly Jean Kerr
2013 NZ Young Horticulturalist of the Year
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