How did you start off?
I spent a year at Hadlow College in Kent, studying two days a week for RHS level 2 certificates in practical horticulture and garden planning, establishment and maintenance. I chose Hadlow because of its reputation for horticultural learning and the convenience of the location.
My favourite aspect of studying there was combining the two courses, learning the theory and then putting it into practice on the practical course. It was great having areas in the grounds to experiment with plants and maintenance techniques such as pruning and seed sowing.
After Hadlow, I went to study garden design full-time for a year at the London College of Garden Design. Since then, I’ve been working as a garden designer, setting up Lara Behr Garden Design in 2016. It involves designing soft and hard landscaping schemes, project management of the builds, planting up new gardens and advising clients on managing their new gardens — I tend to stay involved for at least a year afterwards.
Your career highlight so far?
I designed a show garden at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park for Macmillan Cancer Support that won a gold medal, best in category and people’s choice. The garden was relocated to the grounds of Chesterfield Royal Hospital, where I’m now designing a courtyard garden within the hospital to be a retreat for staff, patients and visitors.
How has training helped?
The practical experience and plant knowledge I gained at Hadlow helps my work as a garden designer because I’m always conscious of the practical element when designing new planting schemes. I’m more aware of the maintenance involved, and that helps me have better conversations with clients regarding realistic expectations of what maintenance programmes their new garden might need.
It’s always good to combine learning theory with practical experience. Recognised qualifications, such as the RHS certificates, gave me the confidence to start out. Nothing beats actually trying things out in your own garden. It teaches me something every day. It’s my space for experimenting and then I can use what I learn in clients’ gardens.