A career in horticulture came about after 10 years working as an archaeologist. Saunders says: I was always interested in gardening but it was never really seen at school as a strong career to move into. After my first career becoming increasingly office-based I realised I hated the job I was doing.
Saunders went to East College, Norwich, to study a City & Guilds course in amenity horticulture, before setting out as a maintenance gardener in her local area. She moved to London to work at a private garden, which was a brilliant place to learn while she studied for the RHS General and Advanced certificates. She took up the position of senior gardener at Knightshayes Courts and then became head gardener. Saunders says: It taught me an incredible amount about plants and was a responsible role — managing staff, volunteers and students while being responsible for developing the gardens.
After five years she moved to her current post. Her job satisfaction comes from walking out on an early spring morning and seeing that things are moving in the right direction. The main role of a head gardener is realising how sensitive a garden is, she says. If you start getting things wrong, three years later people will be commenting that it isn’t the same garden it once was. You have to set priorities and take the long view.
Saunders highly recommends the National Trust’s careership as a starting point on the road to becoming a professional gardener.