Chantal Rich

Chantal Rich: from horses to horticulture

 With her traineeship at West Dean Gardens funded by horticultural charity Perennial, Chantal is set for a new career in horticulture. Portrait Andrew Montgomery

First plant love Bluebells: I remember childhood walks in the countryside and being amazed at the mass of them and the magical carpet of colour they create with such small, delicate flowers. I still love to ride my horse up Slindon Folly, not far from West Dean in West Sussex, to see the wonderful show of bluebells there.

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Iris siberica 'Silver Edge'
© Dianna Jazwinski

What was your career before horticulture? Horses are my life’s obsession and until recently they were also my career, but last summer I decided it was time for a change. I’d originally stumbled into horticulture while looking for somewhere to keep my horse. I ended up not only finding stabling but also a summer job in the attached nursery, which turned into five years of employment that I loved. Sadly, the site was sold for development and I went back to working with horses. I’d just started looking for new employment when I came across the trainee position at West Dean Gardens.

Favourite landscape that has influenced you I love wandering the South Downs with my dogs or on horse back. I love the rolling hills and ancient yew trees. I find nature amazing, and love seeing the changing of the seasons and how the scenery adapts.

Three most worthwhile tips Waterproofs: they’re essential in the UK; I always have some on hand and wear lots of thin layers for the ever changeable weather. Hand cream: I have it everywhere – my car, work bag and several places round the house – to keep dry, cracking hands at bay. Your hands are your most valuable tool after all. And ‘ne’er cast a clout till May be out’ is a phrase I was taught in my nursery days to warn against the risk of planting out delicate summer plants before the last frost could attack them. I’ve never forgotten it.

Invaluable training Secateurs are one of the most important tools to have on you and we are regularly reminded in our training sessions of the importance of sharp tools to give a clean cut to a plant that we’re pruning. This is to prevent the risk of pests and diseases getting into the plant, which is more likely from a jagged cut.

One easy thing that every gardener can do to be more sustainable Encourage wildlife into your garden as a natural pest control, therefore minimising any pesticides or chemicals used.  A simple way is to put up a bird box or create a stumpery.

What principles have guided your attitude to gardening Respect for the natural world and a good work ethic.

Watch out tour of West Dean gardens here

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Contact cfsparrow@hotmail.co.uk, westdean.org.uk. Instagram @thehedgesparrow. For more details about Perennial go to perennial.org.uk