They are the first trust gardeners to take the new programmes, which only gained Government approval in July following two and a half years of development by industry. Like all organisations with a wage bill of more than £3 million a year, the trust has been eligible to pay the new Apprenticeship Levy – of around £900,000 in its case – since April this year but can draw down levy payments to pay for training costs.
Each apprentice will be hosted by a National Trust (NT) garden: Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire; Blickling Hall, Norfolk; Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire; Ightham Mote, Kent and Polesden Lacey, Surrey and undertake a 10-week-long course at Pershore College during their two-year placement, with the NT picking up the tab for accommodation.
NT garden training specialist Kate Nicoll said: "It’s great that the trust is committing to training the next generation of horticulturalists, not only to ensure that we have the right skills to look after our historic gardens, but also to show that horticulture is a viable and worthwhile career for people to pursue.
"A career in horticulture is truly rewarding for anyone who has a love of nature, studying outdoors and growing things, as well as those interested in history and landscape design. At the trust we’re keen to create a pathway for people to develop their skills, and these apprenticeships are an exciting first step on that journey.’
This month will also see a new cohort of up-and-coming gardeners taking up places in in the Historic and Botanic Garden Trainee Programme (HBGTP), a full-time, salaried placement scheme run by English Heritage in partnership with Heritage Lottery Fund.
This is the third year that the National Trust has taken part in the two-year course that sees gardeners receive practical skills and plantsmanship training, guided research and garden visits as they study for the Royal Horticultural Society Diploma in Horticulture, Level 3.
Of the eight who graduated from the scheme this August, five will continue to work in a National Trust garden. Victoria Summers graduated from the scheme this year having spent two years at Nymans, West Sussex, and is soon to begin a full-time gardening role at the Trust’s Hidcote in Gloucestershire.
She said: "Make no mistake, the two-year scheme is intense. We work full-time, study part-time, keep a daily technical diary, undertake a weekly plant identification test, and have RHS examinations twice a year, as well as leading our own projects. That said, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain a wide range of practical skills and garden theory, so I grabbed it with both hands.
"The scheme has changed my life and I’d definitely recommend it for those keen and budding gardeners who really want to push themselves forward into the world of historic and botanic horticulture."
Both the apprenticeship and HBGTP schemes are part of the National Trust’s Gardening Programme, launched last year to create a pipeline for gardeners from entry-level positions through to garden management roles within the organisation.
Trust gardeners are given the opportunity to attend some of the 50 training days run each year by the National Trust’s garden training specialist and external experts, as well as access to e-learning courses and workplace training.
National Trust head of gardens Mike Calnan commented: "Many of the plant collections and gardens that we look after are as internationally significant as the houses, collections and landscapes in our care.
"By making these commitments to developing the current and next generations of horticulturalists – and providing more entry points into the profession – the National Trust is ensuring that these places are protected for everyone to enjoy in perpetuity."