Shortlisted candidate number 6 - James Sponder

At the age of 20, apprentice James Sponder has been on television, worked on four RHS Chelsea Flower Show gardens and attracted compliments from Alan Titchmarsh.

He may be young but he has already nearly five years' experience under his belt, after interviewing for an apprenticeship with The Outdoor Room at the tender age of 15 armed with his own garden designs, part of a GCSE graphic design project.

Sponder grew up enjoying gardening but when he went to Chelsea for the first time, aged 13, he realised he had found the career for him. He redesigned his parents' garden aged 15 and some of his ideas were used, helping him scoop an apprenticeship with The Outdoor Room from school, aged 16. In just a few years he was part of the winning team that helped James Wong scoop a Chelsea Gold Medal and he was appearing on ITV alongside Alan Titchmarsh in Love Your Garden.

Managing director David Dodd says: "I've been teaching for 20 years now and never in all that time have I seen someone so young with so much talent. He designed gardens for a hobby - that sold me."

Sponder completed two NCH national diplomas in landscaping and landscape construction over three years and gained a distinction in both. He is continuing on-the-job training for another year while completing essential industry qualifications - the "CIS cards" - so he is qualified to drive excavators, dumpers and other heavy machinery.

Dodd says Sponder is a great problem solver with a very logical brain but also a great manner, particularly in stressful situations. "When we were doing Love Your Garden, Alan Titchmarsh said: 'That boy is really talented. Hang on to him.' I'd love for him to work with us long-term. He's very savvy and knows what he wants."

Sponder says he has always loved being outside and could not imagine getting an office job when he grew up. "After I went to Chelsea I found out someone who lived in our village worked for David doing that sort of thing and I was excited."

Since getting the apprenticeship, he has never looked back. "I've really enjoyed it and everyone's really helped me out," he adds. "I like learning something new every day - there's always something different to do. I love working outside and with a great bunch of people. I can't imagine doing anything else."

Sponder particularly enjoys hard landscaping and working on carpentry projects such as pergolas and he says his ambition over the next few years is to become a foreman at The Outdoor Room.

The competition is still open for nominations for landscape apprentices. For further details, see www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/go/landscapeapprenticeofyear. Email new nominations to camilla.brice@haymarket.com.


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