Case study

Edible gardening project manager — Jenny Foulkes

Jenny spends her days in the beautiful garden at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). Find out more about her role

How did you get your job?

I completed a Landscape Management BSc at the University of Reading then built up experience in horticulture and working with people to make me a good candidate for relevant jobs.

I've worked in horticulture in the UK and Australia, as a gardener and in nurseries. I've also worked on several community projects, initially managing a project for vulnerable young people at a city farm in Edinburgh.

I left that role to travel to Australia. During that time I worked in horticulture but was keen to keep up my people skills so volunteered at a daycare centre for people with additional support needs.

On returning to the UK I got a job with an organisation that aims to help people reduce their environmental impact. I was responsible for community engagement with older people. I also gained lots of other relevant experience; I volunteered for community gardens, completed a permaculture design course and looked after my own garden.

My combination of skills and experience matched the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RGBE) requirements for their new community project manager, so I managed to combine my project management and horticulture skills with my experiences of working with people.

I'm also a fieldworker for therapeutic gardening charity Trellis.

What's a typical day like?

My current job is very varied. I can find myself writing risk assessments, ordering uniforms, delivering jam-making workshops with community groups, working in the garden with volunteers, meeting visiting VIPs or cleaning out the tool shed.

Mostly my role is management based. I have a team of three part-time staff and more than 30 volunteers. This means that I have less time actually delivering the project, as that is the role of my staff. I spend most of my time on planning, reporting, budgeting, and managing people.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love the variety, the opportunities (I've travelled to Mexico and the USA as part of my role) and, most importantly, that I am giving people a positive experience of the natural environment.

For me, it's all about connecting people from all walks of life to nature and plants. It is very rewarding helping people to learn and have experiences that benefit everyone's health and wellbeing.

There are many positives to working in this sector. I go to a beautiful garden every day and work with super people. I love that there is a community feel to therapeutic gardening.

What are the challenges?

One of the most challenging aspects is that jobs in therapeutic gardening sector are often part time.

How relevant was your degree?

My studies are very relevant and have been extremely useful to me. The course included subjects such as botany, practical horticultural skills, human resource management, and sustainability. What I learned influences the work that I do every day. The university is also well known in the field of horticulture so I think that helped me secure my position.

How has your role developed?

The role has grown in scope and responsibility. The project has been very successful so I'm now contracted to do more hours and I have a bigger team to manage.

My responsibilities are spreading into other areas at RBGE. I've reached the position that I wanted to get to, which is fantastic.

What advice can you give to others?

I'd recommend gaining experience with a variety of people and communities.

Combine this with some solid horticultural skills. Most project management roles require that you are educated to degree level and, in my opinion, this could be a degree in horticulture or something based around people like occupational therapy.

If you head down the horticulture route, complement this with some volunteering experience with people.

If you have a high level of education and experience of working with people, top this up with a good grounding in horticulture with a course like the RHS level 2 certificate in horticulture. Finish this off with some interesting hobbies to make you stand out.

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