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The joy of plants

In this blog for Children’s Mental Health Week, horticulturalist and Place2Be Champion Jamie Butterworth reflects on how his childhood experience of growing fruit and veg with grandparents inspired a passion and career.

I have had a passion for plants since the age of eight, converting my grandparents’ back garden in Wakefield, Yorkshire, into an allotment. Growing up, this was my happy place. Somewhere I could escape to, and immerse myself among the fruits and vegetables. I always found that getting my hands dirty was the perfect way to lift my mood and any problems from the day were quickly replaced with thoughts of what I could be growing next.

Looking back to this time, I don’t think I would ever have dreamed that 20 years later I would be doing this as a job. Being paid to do something I love is an enormous privilege, and I feel extremely lucky to wake up each morning and really look forward to the day ahead. As my grandad always tells me, if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life.

For me, the process of taking a seed as small as a pinprick and watching it germinate, grow, flower and fruit is real-life magic. As a child, it captured my imagination, and - if I am completely truthful - it very much still does today. When growing plants for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, that rush of excitement of watching the plants emerge from the compost as a seedling is addictive, and every spring the excitement grows and grows (excuse the pun).

Inevitably, the journey from growing carrots in my grandparents garden to growing over 20,000 plants for the greatest flower show in the world - and for some of the UK’s leading garden designers, has not been entirely smooth. There have been setbacks and obstacles along the way. I would be lying if I said it hasn’t been extremely challenging at times. At 27 years old, everything has been a very steep learning curve, but I’ve loved the opportunity and revelled in the learning. I am now doing what I’m doing thanks to all those experiences over the past few years.

Whilst being paid to grow plants for a living is hugely enjoyable, running a business can be a challenge, and although I am a business owner, first and foremost I am a plantsman and horticulturist. While I was trained at RHS Garden Wisley, I’ve inevitably learned lots along the way since, and the sacrifice to make things work at times has been huge. There have been days where it seems things simply won’t get better; long term relationships have broken down due to the pressure and stresses of the job, and there are times when everything feels just too much. Yet, in my experience, it always gets better. Having the luxury of being able to continue to escape and immerse myself with plants is a key part of what makes me happy, and just as it did when I was a child, this continues to help me hugely. That, coupled with my dog Hector, who follows me everywhere, through everything and anything.

Whilst plants and gardening have always offered me a feeling of safety and refuge, they also offer a reliable constant – a backdrop to my working life. Seasons come and go, plants wake and sleep, autumn colours wash the landscape, new shoots emerge in spring, these things help me tick.

I have also always found it essential that I have an incredibly supportive network of close friends, family and ultimately now colleagues. Talking and sharing what is on your mind can seem daunting and scary, but whether it was back in my grandparents’ garden discussing worries about carrot fly, or managing cash flow forecasts running a business, having people to talk to, confide in and ultimately help is essential. Plants are great, but while they are great listeners – and I do talk to them - they can’t talk back. Sometimes this is great, but there are times when we need a response!

This really is the catalyst for my RHS Chelsea Garden: to create a safe, beautiful space that hopefully helps to facilitate and stimulate conversation. It’s a garden that brings together the two things that have helped me the most throughout my life: plants and people.

Jamie is designing the Place2Be Securing Tomorrow Garden, in partnership with Sarasin & Partners, to be unveiled at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this May. To learn more about this exciting event, listen to Jamie talk about the garden and his work with Place2Be.