From education to employment

RHS Chatsworth Return For Derby College Group’s Broomfield Hall Garden Volunteers

Picture shows: some of the Broomfield Hall volunteers with Head Gardener Samantha Harvey (front centre) alongside (front, from left) Kathy Flint, Claire Harrison, Steve O’Gorman and Julie Walker.

A group of 40 garden volunteers are returning to RHS Chatsworth Flower Show in June to promote the physical and mental benefits of volunteering their time to restore and maintain the historic gardens at Derby College Group’s Broomfield Hall land-based and leisure college.

Having won a Silver medal at last year’s show in the long border competition, they will again work with Broomfield Hall’s Head Gardener Samantha Harvey to create a garden for the show entitled ‘Find Yourself…Lost in the Moment…’.

A small team of 8 will start building the garden at Chatsworth from mid-May in time for the opening day of the flower show on June 5.

Miss Harvey who is a keen advocate of volunteer gardening has designed the garden to be a calming and inspiring space for volunteers and public alike to ‘lose themselves in the present moment’.

A spiral theme runs through the garden in the form of locally made sculptures and a large wooden patio area, signifying people’s total absorption in gardening and the mindful feelings that it can foster.

Vertical sleepers around the edges of the garden demonstrate the diverse range of skills that volunteers can bring to horticulture, varied paths leading into the garden represent their different backgrounds.

 The paths arrive at a central relaxing area which features glass inlaid wooden setts in the form of a large spiral and casual contemporary outdoor bean bags.

The end of the garden has three wooden doors to demonstrate the new possibilities that are open to volunteers as a result of the knowledge gained from their time in the gardens. One of the doors is half opened, revealing a mirror to symbolize reflection and contemplation.

Miss Harvey explained: “Although this will be one of the smaller gardens in the show, I hope it will have great impact on the public and raise awareness and highlight the importance of volunteer gardening.

“The inspiration for the garden is the feedback from our wonderful volunteers about the health benefits and creative opportunities of working in the Broomfield Hall gardens.

“Working in a garden is all about mindfulness – focusing on the job and washing away the worries of everyday life in a calm and methodical way. 

“We hope that visiting the garden and talking to our volunteers will encourage more people to get back into their own gardens and hopefully join us here at Broomfield Hall or other similar horticultural establishments.

“We will also highlight the opportunities to learn more about horticulture through our full and part time courses and potentially re-train for a career in the industry.”

Miss Harvey (47) started her horticulture career at Broomfield Hall having previously worked in retail management. 

Having volunteered in the gardens, she enrolled on a study programme and spent a year as part of her course at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.  She then trained and worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew on the prestigious three year Kew Diploma where she won several industry awards. 

Miss Harvey was Head Gardener on private estates in Yorkshire and Warwickshire and also volunteered at the Botanic Garden in Belize before returning to Broomfield Hall four years ago as Head Gardener.

She continued: “Gardening has helped me immensely over the years both on a physical level but more importantly in helping me to cope with the mental challenges that modern life offers.

“Surrounding myself with plants enables me to feel calm and focused.  The past and the present fade away when I am at work and it enables me to concentrate on the present moment.”

This was echoed by some of the volunteers who are part of the RHS Chatsworth project team.

One of the latest recruits is mother-of-two Claire Harrison (44) from Kilburn who now comes to Broomfield Hall once a week to help her cope with her long-term depression and anxiety issues.

Her self-confidence and esteem have blossomed in just a few months and she is now planning to enroll on a part time course and set up her own business to use her gardening skills to improve other people’s quality of life – particularly older and disabled people. 

She is also planning to help create a garden at her children’s primary school to encourage them to replace screen time with growing plants.

“I started as a volunteer at a particularly low point in my life but Broomfield Hall is a magical place and I feel lucky that I have been given the opportunity to work in the gardens.

“Nothing else matters when you are concentrating on the job and tending each plant is another step closer to feeling better. Being part of this group makes me feel valued and that I am making a difference.

“Whenever I feel depressed at home, I look at my muddy gardening boots and a picture of the gardens on my fridge and I am uplifted.  Coming here is the high point of my week and I can’t describe just how happy I feel when I am working here.”

Julie Walker (62) and her husband Ian from Oakwood starting volunteering soon after retiring in 2015 and particularly enjoy the social side.

“It’s great to work together as a team, have a chat and get out in the fresh air.  Being at one with nature is so good for the soul and it’s great to get your hands dirty and watch a part of the garden that you have worked on spring back into life.

“We go home exhausted but completely relaxed after working here with a huge sense of achievement.”

Kathy Flint (72) from Oakwood retired two years ago from her busy job as a medical secretary and was immediately enthralled by the gardens at Broomfield Hall.

A keen yoga practitioner, Kathy described volunteering in the gardens as ‘incredibly therapeutic.

“You just can’t feel sad here.  We have great comradeship in the group and you can’t beat the smell of the earth and new growth.”

Steve O’Gorman (65) from Chaddesden wanted to meet new people having moved to the city from Hertfordshire and is one of the longest serving volunteer.

“There are around 26 acres of grounds here and the gardens are extensive so you can really put your own stamp on a piece of ground and take pride in what you have done.

“Now that I am retired, I don’t regard myself as having a stressful life but this is a wonderful way to lose yourself in the moment and not think about anything else which is incredibly therapeutic.”

The gardens at Broomfield Hall were created when the original hall was built in 1873 by industrialist Charles Schwind.

They still retain the Victorian layout and work is progressing to improve these further with several developments including contemporary herbaceous planting, a subtropical area, a winter garden and a new Japanese Tea Garden.

Miss Harvey concluded: “As one of the country’s leading horticultural colleges, we aim to inspire passion through our teaching and share our knowledge and expertise with the public by involving them and nurturing their skills through our volunteer scheme.

“Our volunteers each have the unique opportunity to help curate and maintain certain areas of the gardens or take ownership of certain projects.

“Our overall aim is to establish the gardens as a notable visitor attraction in the area by becoming an RHS partner garden.”

Sponsors for the garden are Derby College Group, sculptor Robert Watts,Harlow Bros Ltd in Derby, Creation Landscapes Ltd – Staffordshire, Ocean Designs and

Stanton Recycling Ltd.

For more information on volunteering opportunities, please email [email protected]  and for details of full and part time study programmes at Broomfield Hall, visit or telephone 0800 028 0289.

Chatsworth garden 2019 artists impression

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