The Making of a Head Gardener – How to Grow a career in Horticulture.

Powis Castle and Terraced Gardens

Horticulture continues to flourish in the British isles, a massive diverse industry that employe’s a vast number of qualified and practically trained individuals that have a passion for horticulture and it’s associated professions. The making of a Head Gardener however follows the non-commercial route and relies on experiences largely from the amenity sector.
Having spent the last 30 years of my career emerging as a horticultural professional, my latter years have afforded me the opportunity to grow into a role as Head Gardener for some of the most prestigious privately owned UHNWI and estates in the U.K. All of this started however thanks to a few chose words from my wise and worldly grandmother, who I feel smile at me on occasions and continue to motivate me from on high.

I stumbled into Gardening as a shy young teenager, with no encouragement from school in fact quite the opposite (my career advisor told me I would make a better Policeman than a Gardener?).

Fortunately, my Grandmother saw potential in my passion for the great outdoors and one day simply suggested (as was her way) That I should consider a career in Gardening and apply for a position with the National Trust. Wise words from my grandmother who I still believe held some psychic abilities!
Living within a few miles of Powis Castle one of the best examples of Italian-style terraced Gardens in the UK, I was keen to follow my nan’s advice. On enquiring, I was quickly directed to an interview with the Head Gardener who was keen to offer me a position as a two-year apprentice.

So at 16, straight from school, I was placed at one of the most prestigious National Trust properties. An amazing Head Gardener as a mentor that I could really relate to! Having struggled in school to find my niche I had finally found a subject matter that could absorb my passion for life and desire to learn and grow.

Powis Castle and Terraced Gardens

“So your first step whether starting out straight from school or a career changer, finding the right position to set you on the right path is critical. Choose wisely find a position that will provide you with the tools to carve your career path, of course as a 16 year old I had no idea how important this decision was going to prove to be!”

Once I had established myself with the small team of professional gardens, I did everything I could to learn, books, questions, magazines I researched them all, often making friends with students who were on work placements from horticultural universities.

Perennials and shrubs growing in harmony.

“Make many friends and contacts, share your passion with others and learn from their experiences, you never know where the next words of wisdom are going to hail from!”

This interaction inspired me to develop my own knowledge base and after a very enjoyable three years employed by the Trust and an offer of future employment, I made the difficult decision to leave and pursue a full-time Horticultural qualification.

On completing five years of study, I had excelled in almost ever subject ( amazing what you can achieve when you apply education to a subject you’re really interested in). I now needed some practical experience to compliment my theoretical knowledge. I set about applying to Horticultural colleges for a position as a Technical demonstrator, I wanted to gain experience instructing others in a practical environment with a view to teaching in a classroom in the future. I secured a position with a large Horticultural college where I instructed learning difficulties and taught florists for over two years. Having gained the teaching ability I felt I need I now needed to build my managerial potential.

To develop these skills I choose retail management,  I did not want to steer too far away from gardening so I became a Garden Centre supervisor, quickly promoted to Assistant and Store Manager.

Powis Castle grand scale and hillside setting make for a stunning garden.

“If your determined to manage a garden of your own and seek a Head gardener’s position, then you will need to make some difficult choices, your career path needs to be varied and diverse! You will need management skills, budgeting, accounting as well as commenting skills. You will need knowledge of Health and Safety, First Aid and Security training. Finding a Gardening job that offers all this training is almost impossible, so it is likely you, like me will have to diversify your career.”

Many people find themselves starting a career in retail often by default and yet if provided the right environment and management team then opportunities for career development will quickly follow. However after a twelve-year span of retail management, I came to the decision that it was time to get back to practical gardening and began looking for an opportunity to move into amenity horticulture.

I started a Garden design business with my long term uni friend and business partner, creating and managing gardens of exceptional standards to a client base that expected nothing less.

Powis castle the finest example of terraced borders in the UK.

” You will never know where the next opportunity to develop your career will present itself, it is important that you consider every opportunity on it’s merits and choose wisely.”

One thing about running a business partnership for yourselves is that you get to learn all about bookkeeping, accounting, business promotion and building a client base. These lessons are invaluable and will play an important role in your career development towards becoming a Head Gardener.

Having mastered all these skills one thing that continues to develop with little effort is your communication skills! To succeed in any business it takes the good conversation and language skills to gain people’s trust and respect, both incredibly important if you are to manage a team of staff and be trusted to care for a client’s home and garden.

I hope you have found my tips on how to become a Head Gardener useful and please bear in mind that this is only an example of how I became a Head Gardener / Estate Manager. I have simplified my career spanning over 30 years to get to this stage in my life, some people have the confidence and ability at a much younger age and often find themselves in a position of responsibility much sooner. I wish you good fortune as you embark on your career or career change and can say with conviction that a career in Horticulture is one of the most rewarding journeys you are ever likely to take. Making Gardening your career of choice will enable you to fill your life with a passion for the natural world. A love of nature, plants, animals and our environment is essential, today our modern thinking is as much about our ecological footprint as it is about our desire for well-manicured gardens and it’s relationship with mother nature.

Join me on


Stephen Pryce-Lea

Head Gardener and International Horticultural Consulatant




“It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion grow together, when you find it in a Garden it’s like finding Paradise“

iGrowHort – A Head Gardener’s Horticultural Journey of love, life and learning.



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About Head Gardener 290 Articles
Award winning, 40 something year old professional plantsman and horticulturalist with National Trust, private parks and estate management background. My vast plant knowledge and hands on techinical experience, afforded me the opportunity to work in various horticultural landscapes, in the UK, USA & Eastern Europe. Having worked in both garden retail & the design service industry gave me the practical diversity and managerial skill set, required for running a large prestigious gardens and stately homes. I strongly believe knowledge is to be shared and have worked closely with people and staff of all ages and abilities keen to develop their passion for gardening, including groups of children, special needs and adults. I have hosted guided walks, talks and tours for those keen to learn about cultivated and wild plants, garden development, history and design. As an member of the NNCPG and National Trust, I am actively involved in the preservation of several important plant collections both in public and private gardens throughout the UK. “It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion grow together, in a garden it’s paradise” Follow @IGrowHort on GardenTags. Stephen is passionate about gardening as Head Gardener with a team of ten staff he manages a prestigious Cheshire country estate of 55 acres, inc wild flower meadows, woodland, organic kitchen and formal gardens. Follow Stephen today”


  1. Really good story but the moral is – listen to your grandmother! And then work very hard and take opportunities when they arise.

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