I was originally a primary schoolteacher but as I learnt more about plants and gardening, I became so obsessed that I applied to study horticulture at Sydney’s Ryde TAFE college. In order to get into the course I took a part time job in a local nursery. I then moved on to another nursery and, at the same time, started working for the NSW National Trust as a bush regenerator. This set me off on my lifetime’s ambition to rid my property of Sydney’s ubiquitous weed, privet. Although I never made a conscious decision to leave teaching, which I’d loved, opportunities in horticulture kept presenting themselves. In 1992, I signed up for a two month contract at Yates. I’m still there.
I’ve always loved talking to people about plants and, as well as working in retail nurseries, more than twenty years ago I started doing talkback radio gardening on the ABC. I still have a number of radio commitments – as part of the Saturday morning team on ABC 702, occasionally on national ABC Overnights, on 2UE on Thursday afternoons and on a number of other radio stations around Australia.
Closer to home, through my work at Yates I’ve spent quite some time in New Zealand and have taken a number of Australians to see the stunning gardens of that beautiful place. And, I’ve escorted New Zealanders on visits to Australian gardens. I also helped to organise and run a number of day trips to local gardens around Sydney.
My first trip with Botanica was a cruise on the Rhone and the Rhine and to Floriade in Holland. I quickly came to appreciate the special extra dimension Botanica’s commitment to detail adds to any trip. As I’m writing this I am getting ready to travel to the US for a trip from Washington DC to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We have a treat in store!
How long have you been a Botanical Guide?
I’ve been a Botanical Guide for Botanica for about eighteen months. It’s a privilege to share gardening knowledge with the Botanical travellers and, because so many are keen gardeners, to learn from them too.
What else do you do for a ‘day job’?
I have worked for Yates for more than twenty years as a garden adviser and resident horticulturist. My job involves writing gardening information (especially the iconic Yates Garden Guide – I’ve been responsible for five editions – and for the Yates website www.yates.com.au). I give talks to groups and at garden shows, do radio interviews, occasionally tweet @Judyhorton, conduct product training for retailers and liaise with the gardening media personalities around Australia and New Zealand. When I retire (in the next year or so), I’m hoping to have more time for my own garden and for travelling.
What is the best part about the job for you?
Being with like-minded people discovering some of the most beautiful places in the world. We all know how fortunate we are to have these opportunities.
What inspires you about visiting gardens that makes you want to share with others?
Visiting a garden is like stepping into someone else’s world. Sharing the excitement of discovery is a large part of the enjoyment of any sort of travel. But seeing what others have done to adapt nature, stamp their personalities or solve difficult problems is an inspiration, even in vastly different climates. Conditions might be different, but the principles are the same. And there are always ideas that can be adapted for your own garden. I love the quote by web designer Aaron Russell: ”Every designer’s dirty little secret is that they copy other designer’s work. They see work they like, and they imitate it. Rather cheekily, they call this inspiration.”
What have been some of your best ‘on tour’ moments?
It’s always great when you can identify a plant for someone or explain something about a design that isn’t immediately obvious. And, on the tour to Europe last year, one of the highlights was seeing our groups’ faces when we entered Keukenhof in Holland. Almost simultaneously everyone was realising that this famous garden was just as good as all the picture postcards we’d seen. I’m always interested in the pests and diseases that affect plants and was fascinated to see some rather attractive bright red galls standing up from the new leaves of the French linden trees. I excitedly showed everyone in the group - but I’m not sure they all shared my enthusiasm.
What are your favourite gardens / experiences and why?
I am very interested in history and enjoy learning the history of a garden. Every garden has a story – long or short - and it’s always worth discovering. I find natural gardens and national parks fascinating. Favourite memories are of the uniqueness and diversity of Lord Howe Island, the lucky-to-have-survived national park near Hanoi in Vietnam, the almost terrifying wilderness of the NZ South Island and the starkness of the Scottish Highlands.