Cultivating a Royally Good Garden

Looking after the plants at Hampton Court Palace is a dream job for gardener, photographer and self-confessed nature addict Jo Ward…   

Like many gardeners, I’ve had a convoluted career path to my current job in the Nursery at Hampton Court Palace.

As well as being a qualified nurse, I have also worked in marketing, public relations and events, interior design and garden design. I first started volunteering at Hampton Court around 15 years ago, whilst studying with the Royal Horticultural Society, becoming part-time a few years later and starting my own garden design company, Evolving Spaces.

The Nursery is a fascinating place to work. We grow the flowers for the bedding schemes at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace but we also raise a large number of plants from cuttings and seeds, look after numerous plant collections, exotics and citrus trees, as well as over-wintering all the tender plants (like cannas and dahlias), which spend the summer months out in the gardens,. We also design and plant some sections of the gardens, as well as planting containers for the tulip festival.

Every day is different. Currently we’re raising the annual plants, which will be ready to go out in the next few weeks and getting the Citrus Collection and Exotics prepared for their summer trip outside. Every group needs specific care so you need a wide horticultural knowledge base. 

Capturing nature on film

I started the gardens’ Instagram, as the
@hamptoncourtpalacegardener, a few years ago when I had to stop designing due to glaucoma. I felt there was an audience for some great photographs of the plants and gardens, which weren’t being showcased by the group social media team. I’ve always enjoyed photography and combined with my access to all the plant treasures at work, it is a winning combination! The Covid crisis was extremely isolating for so many people and I know, from feedback, how much my followers enjoyed the daily garden update.

I take my photographs out of work hours – there is no time for photoshoots during the work day – on a Samsung A5 phone with an exceptional camera. The gardeners are a creative lot and I sometimes use their images and of course, feature Henry IX, the Hampton Court Palace cat, who lives a truly regal life in the Potting Shed!

Gardening as therapy

Horticultural Therapy is an area that I’m extremely passionate about. I have recently started volunteering at a fabulous therapy garden called The Patchworking Garden Project, which was established in 2014 to bring positive change to people’s lives through the benefits of friendship and gardening. I’ve seen first-hand the enormous benefits of gardening and nature on mental health and I’m excited to be involved in the evolving concept of social prescribing and the next phase of my horticultural adventure!

Photos courtesy of Jo Ward


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