Grounds maintenance operative Gibbs, 25, won with her description of the transformative effect of completing a RHS Level 2 course in the principles of plant growth, propagation and development at Hadlow College, Kent, thanks to charity PGT and its funder Lironi, which funded £440 of the £550 cost.
The runners up are: Kate White, who wrote about attending a Japanese Gardening Conference and David Bull, who wrote about his Great Dixter internship. Scarlett English’s report on her ABC Level 4 Diploma in arboriculture was highly commended.
Gibbs explained that as an orphan without a support network, she was self-sufficient during her apprenticeship with Sanctuary Maintenance, which provides in-house repairs and maintenance for housing association the Sanctuary Group.
She wanted to improve her horticultural knowledge beyond what her apprenticeship told her but could not afford the full fee. She believes that doing the course gave her the advantage over other candidates in securing a permanent job at the end of her apprenticeship.
She said in her report: "The training I received has really changed my working practices-I now prune plants with more care and attention, and have helped my colleagues to care more I have gained confidence from learning within a group and used this to deliver training within my workplace-helping my colleagues to identify and understand how to control invasive plant species.
"My understanding of pesticides has improved as I recognise the process behind how they work, and I feel that my new knowledge and my pesticides licence equips me to control pests and weeds.
"I also enjoy being able to propagate plants more effectively and have created many copies of desirable house plants for the managers that I work with, and for my own garden."
Her improved plant knowledge also helped Gibbs get a voluntary weekend position with an animal conservation charity as an assistant beekeeper. "We are now planning a wildflower area to teach local people about the importance of native wildflowers," she added.
PGT chairman Jeremy said: "I think the report is a worthy winner as it emphasises Violet' personal difficulties and how much it has helped her in her chosen career." He thanked all involved, especially Rosie Atkins who organised the competition.
Gibbs said she was absolutely delighted to win the award, which was a complete surprise because none of the grant recipients knew their reports were being judged for a competition. She won a year’s subscription to Horticulture Week as a prize.
"I was so delighted to have the grant in the first place. It did really affect me for the better. It was quite an amazing thing to get the grant and do the course. When I got the call, I was happy that people could see what an effect it had," she said.
It is Gibbs third year in horticulture. She is now hoping to persuade Sanctuary to fund an RHS Level 3 horticulture course and is considering studying up to masters level.
"I’m really enjoying garden maintenance at the moment. It’s something I can go full steam ahead with. I really love growing plants and things like that. I’d love to get some work experience in a nursery and maybe go in that direction," she said.
"Before this I was working in warehouse work. I like to have an active job but it was so boring doing the same thing over and over. That’s what I love about horticulture, every day is different.
"I would say definitely apply for the grant, it helped me out so much. I wasn’t even sure if I would qualify. I thought perhaps I’m not poor enough, I’m not the most disadvantaged person. But it’s such a good charity to be able to support young people in achieving what they want to achieve. I don’t have parents, I have no support network, so after finishing school I felt a bit stranded. This charity has really helped."
All recipients of PGT grants during 2017 were asked to write a report about their experiences, detailing the reason they decided to undertake extra training, details of their course and how it, and the grant, helped their careers and their lives.
The PGT received almost 80 highly-engaging, interesting and inspirational reports, many expertly illustrated with pictures and diagrams. All the entrants had inspirational stories to tell about how their courses improved their knowledge, skills and lives. All, without exception, displayed a passion for horticulture. Judges Rod Petty and Stephen Smith, both PGT trustees, and Horticulture Week assistant editor Sarah Cosgrove found decision-making hugely difficult due to the high standard of reports.
The PGT is a charity set up in 2004 to help fund gardeners looking to improve their gardening skills and wanting to gain experience in the profession. For more information visit www.pgtrust.org