Gardens Illustrated
Laura Mellor at West Dean
© Andrew Montgomery

Laura Mellor on being a therapist and retraining at West Dean

Published: August 6, 2020 at 10:19 am

As West Dean’s first Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain Scholarship student, Laura is being trained in a range of gardening skills Portrait Andrew Montgomery

Earliest gardening memory I remember sowing carrots with my mum – I thought of it as some kind of miracle when we harvested them, warts and all.


Career inspiration My mother; she is a florist, and has a wonderful sense of colour and a keen eye for shape and texture.

Have you always wanted to be a gardener? Gardening is a second career for me; I worked as a therapist for ten years, training in sports massage and aromatherapy, which provided me with transferable skills, but I started to miss the countryside and came to realise that I wanted to work outside.

Dan Pearson's garden in lockdown
© Huw Morgan

Most valuable training My first full-time role working outside was on a pick-your-own farm and it was great training – getting stuck in and experiencing all weathers. I think that helped when it came to my apprenticeship here at West Dean. There’s so much I’m experiencing for the first time, from working in the glasshouses, to planting trees in the arboretum, to training fruit trees. I’m loving the opportunity to learn, see and absorb.

Horticultural hero The late David Austin for his determination, patience and contribution to the world of roses, bringing fragrance and beauty to so many gardens.

Favourite landscape This would have to be the Cornish coastline, particularly the north coast on the Celtic Sea, which is more exposed and means the sea and landscape has a wilder nature.

Three worthwhile tips for every gardener Make sure you reuse, recycle and renew where you can; encourage beneficial organisms into your garden, such as hoverflies and ladybirds that eat aphids and other insects, and if in doubt add organic matter.

Favourite planting style I recently went to a talk about Piet Oudolf’s Hauser and Wirth garden at Durslade Farm in Somerset; I really enjoy his naturalistic planting style and how his choice of plants can be admired throughout the seasons.

One way to be more sustainable in your garden Picking up on the tip I mentioned above – include a variety of trees, shrubs and climbers in your garden. The more habitats you provide the greater the variety of insects that are likely to take up residence.

Next big project Tom Brown took over from Sarah and Jim at West Dean a year ago. There’s some landscaping projects and lots of new planting and trialling ideas. This year we’ve trialled 64 foxglove species and cultivars.


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