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Somerset Life discovers that the Women's Farm and Garden Association now admits men!

PUBLISHED: 12:52 07 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:35 20 February 2013

Somerset Life discovers that the Women's Farm and Garden Association now admits men!

Somerset Life discovers that the Women's Farm and Garden Association now admits men!

Set up in the last years of Queen Victoria's reign to provide training and opportunities for women gardeners, the Women's Farm and Garden Association continues to provide places for thousands of trainees - and now even admits men

Gardening for girls


Set up in the last years of Queen Victorias reign to provide training and opportunities for women gardeners, the Womens Farm and Garden Association continues to provide places for thousands of trainees - and now even admits men

Words: Emma Bond

The WFGA began with a small group of professional women determined to provide training and opportunities in 1899. Over the next 100 years this charitable organisation set about providing training and career opportunities for women working in horticulture and agriculture, having set up the Womens Land Army in 1914, courses and examinations in farming subjects, Gardening Apprenticeship Schemes and Commercial holdings to teach the growing of fruit and vegetables.

The Women Returners to Amenity Gardening Scheme follows in this tradition. Set up in 1993, WRAGS (or Women Returners to Amenity Gardening Scheme), as it is known, has been designed to cover a training opportunity for which none of the existing educational programmes appear to cater for. These days the scheme also accepts male trainees and a revision of the name is being considered.

The aim of the scheme is to hold a national register of placement gardens, mostly private but some public, where practical instruction in amenity horticulture is offered to students who are seeking a career in gardening. The Bristol Botanic Gardens is amongst our training gardens in this area having two trainees a year, Goldney Hall is another as well as gardens in the National Gardening Scheme and other horticultural-based businesses.

The teaching is usually supervised by an experienced garden owner or a head gardener and is arranged to allow for a flexible approach to training on a part-time basis, within a fifteen-mile radius of the trainees home location.

This is an essential element of the scheme, that allows for the fact that many trainees are changing careers, have experienced redundancy or unemployment and must combine their training with other employment during this period.

The scheme now has a register of 140 placement gardens in England, Wales and Scotland, these range from large estate gardens, open to the public to smaller private gardens that may open 3 or 4 times a year. We have royal gardens, gardens in the squares of London, Community gardens, National Trust gardens, school gardens, nursery gardens, walled gardens, heritage gardens, gardens set within the grounds of castles and palaces - Hampton Court Palace, Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, Hever Castle to name but a few.


These days the scheme also accepts male trainees and a revision of the name is being considered

The training takes place over 15 hours within a week, for a period of one year and a training allowance is paid to the trainee to cover basic costs.

Once the trainee has been interviewed and accepted into a garden, a probationary period of 30 hours is worked and once confirmed by the Wrags coordinator, the association then requests payment of the registration fees, 115 for the garden owner and 350 for the trainee.

They have a national register of trainees, some coming back into horticulture after raising a family, others changing career, or choosing horticulture as a new career path. Most are amateur gardeners and many have their own gardens or allotments and often combine local college courses, RHS examinations with the scheme.

They are enthusiastic, good time keepers, reliable and do not require constant supervision. Many of them finish their training and set up self employed gardening businesses, and some decide to work within a gardening team with a long term goal in climbing the career ladder in horticulture, others will add design and specialist planting to their repertoire.

To prepare them for working out in the gardening world, WFGA has set up a programme of workshops. Covering specialist skills, planting, and business aspects, these are organised to give trainees an opportunity to network with experts, in small groups, all are hands on learning experiences and are vital to the training year.

It is the only scheme to utilise the expertise of owners who have toiled over many years and gained valuable knowledge to pass on, which is often lost when they retire from gardening. The WFGA also runs fantastic workshops, work- days and training days, which include rural skills and to date has tackled dry stone walling, bee keeping, chickens, hedge laying, coppicing and bread making amongst many other subjects.

Somerset is full of beautiful gardens, both public and private and it is hoped that the scheme can reach more of these gardens, benefitting both the trainee and the garden.

If you are interested in being a trainee or you have a garden that would benefit from having a trainee, contact the WFGA

01285 658339 / www.wfga.org.uk

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