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National Trust: Do you have the vision to transform our outdoor spaces for the future?

The National Trust is looking for a new head of gardens & parklands to help deliver its ambitions for its significant collection of designed gardens and landscapes. Pam Smith, senior national consultant - gardens & parklands, tells us more about this exciting career opportunity.

Biddulph Grange Garden, a Victorian garden, located near Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

The National Trust looks after over 200 gardens and 180 historic parklands. The Trust cares for Europe’s largest portfolio of historic gardens and parks which contain a vast collection of historically and botanically significant plants.

At a time when outdoor spaces are more important than ever, the National Trust is looking for a new head of gardens & parklands to lead and oversee the conservation and management of these designed landscapes with a strong vision for their future.

Want to know more? We spoke to Pam Smith, senior national consultant for gardens & parklands, to learn more about the role on offer, the realities of working with the National Trust and the importance of its outdoor spaces.

Pam, please tell us a bit about your career and what led you to join the National Trust.

I always knew that I wanted to work outdoors. Horticulture, for me, seemed to combine being outdoors with being creative and my love of local history. Over my 35-year career I have worked in various roles in public parks, botanic and historic gardens and in the wider heritage sector, including museums. My role at the National Trust provides me with the opportunity to work at a senior level whilst retaining close links with the horticultural practicalities, garden teams and properties.

Could you tell us about the National Trust’s decision to move the role of head of gardens & parklands from the historic environment to being part of the collections and curatorial remit?

The recent move to the collections and curation directorate acknowledges the fact that we want to make stronger connections between the houses and their gardens, joining up the indoors and outdoors, and creating a unified visitor experience. We curate collections both indoors and outdoors. Actually, regardless of where we sit in the organisation, all the areas across the National Trust work together. We have to! So many skills were involved in the creation of our gardens and landscapes and we still need all of them today regardless of what directorate they sit under.

What’s the reality of working for an organisation with the scale and variety of gardens that the National Trust offers?

It’s about how people engage, understand and share our landscapes, their stories and conservation. We want to conserve our sites to make sure they remain and are valued by generations to come. A huge part of that is gardening for the future, from succession planting to how we manage living landscapes that can be enjoyed by the thousands.

We absolutely need to cultivate for the future when thinking about climate change, pest and disease, ethical sourcing and so on. But there are also questions like: How do we know if people visiting our landscapes are curious and as passionate about the same things that we are? Why do they choose to visit and why do they not? There’s real value to be gained from fresh, challenging perspectives, and this is a huge part of the role we’re looking to fill; to find someone who is an innovative thinker.

We are a big organisation that is championed by spirit of place and a genuine love for the properties we work with. For our teams, we have many training programmes and networking support, and most importantly, we want to encourage our horticulturalists to have the freedom to develop and take risks. If they work, great – if they don’t, we learn. After all, that’s horticulture.

Whether it’s public parks, botanic gardens or historical sites, many of us have moved across these three disciplines and continue to collaborate with one another, and that all comes from a natural desire to learn from each other.

It’s a challenging career, often we are applying many self-taught skills whilst adapting to environmental changes, some beyond our control.

What would you say are the biggest misconceptions of working at the National Trust?

There’s a general misconception that being a horticulturalist at the National Trust means having to stick to a particular planting date, often led by the mansion. It is so rare that we do. We are in fact led by ‘spirit of place’, a garden’s significance and what we can bring together to create a garden from the various layers that is readable, values significance and champions the horticulturists of today and in the past. These people created and continue to create the gardens we are so proud of and that many love to visit.

People may feel that because we are a big organisation that you’ll be held back from exercising your skills, and whilst it certainly is a team effort we rely on people who are confident to put their horticultural knowledge and experience across. We have more historical sites than any other organisation, but gardening is about the future. We are curious and forward-thinking because now more than ever we need to be able to adapt. It’s an ever-changing career.

The National Trust is currently recruiting a head of gardens & parklands, could you tell us a bit about this role?

Absolutely. The great thing about this role is that, although it’s a high-level position, you’ll still be on the ground across our properties. It’s focused on sharing how our parks and gardens can deliver all aspects of our organisation’s strategy. The successful candidate is going to have a huge influence, because we need them to help us create our garden vision. They’ll need to use their skills to bring everyone’s voices together.

From our regional gardens and parklands consultants to curators and water scientists, ecologists and archaeologists, our head of gardens & parklands will work with specialists to think about how we can achieve our five, 10 and 50-year plans; understanding how they’ll manage our resource across a vast range of garden history whilst also thinking about how we can engage with a broad range of partners.

What would you say to someone considering the role of head of gardens & parklands at the National Trust?

This is an opportunity to work in a leading role where you can still be on the ground, walk the paths, visit the glasshouses, and use your knowledge of history, significance and horticulture to support our future. You will help us make a step-change in our ability to connect audiences with National Trust gardens, bringing our conservation and engagement activity together in dynamic new ways which will resonate with 21st century audiences.

Throughout the pandemic, people have realised the true value of outdoor spaces which makes this a fantastic time to be an advocate for our historic landscapes.

If you are someone who is curious, an innovative thinker and confident to make decisions and work with specialists, then we want to hear from you. We’re not looking for someone to simply come in and deliver. We’re looking for someone who will ask questions, challenge perspectives and champion voices. We are waiting for you.

The role mentioned in this article has now expired.

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