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National Apprenticeship Week 2022 Stories: Jo Clifford

This week (7th-13th February) is the 15th annual National Apprenticeship Week.


The week brings together businesses and apprentices from across the UK to shine a light on the positive impact that apprenticeships make to individuals, businesses and the wider economy. We’re sharing stories of our apprentice colleagues from across Pobl. 

Today we’re handing over to Jo Clifford, Apprentice Gardener at Loftus Garden Village, to find out more about her and her role. Take it away Jo! 

Who am I?

My name is Jo Clifford

I live in Llantrisant RCT.

My background is primarily community arts and mental health with a mixture of social care and supported employment.

I have always had a love of nature and the natural environment. My neighbour introduced me to gardening many years ago, sadly she has since died, but her husband who is not so inclined let me use their garden space (as I don’t have one). I studied gardening online using this space as the project and was then lucky enough to find the apprenticeship post at Loftus.

What is my role?

My role is apprentice gardener and as such I am part of the gardening team maintaining the Loftus Garden village site.

I started the apprenticeship and working for Pobl on 22nd June 2020.

What is a typical day/week?

I don’t have a typical day as gardening is dependent on seasons and weather; but each day I do begin with a litter pick and site inspection. Loftus has landscaped pathways, beds, and trees throughout the site ‘garden village’. The site inspection looks at the environment covering the conditions of plants, hedges and the two small parks. One is a wildlife park with trees and shrubs for cover and nesting, and also a pond and wildflower meadow providing varying habitats. It also contains a gravelled play area in the middle for the kids.  The other is more of a Children’s natural play area with a large sandpit, both parks need the gravel/sand areas raked each morning to check for any buried hazards. The inspection also covers the conditions of the roads, paths, fences, gates, and general upkeep of buildings etc… any issues raised are reported to my management.

After this Frances (Head Gardener) will have tasks that need doing, and can cover; weeding, keeping shrub and flower beds tidy, dead heading, watering, pruning, digging, composting (soil conditioning and maintaining the compost heaps), hedge cutting, mulching, re siting plants/ saplings, removing dead plants, splitting over growing ones, pruning fruit trees, maintaining the nursery garden, conditioning soil for allotment beds . . .

What have I learnt so far?

I have learnt so many things! But primarily the importance of good soil; without this being a living environment with good structure, nutrients, oxygen, water, and worms (discovered I love worms) plants have a hard job to thrive.

Right plant right place: this make such a difference to the development of an environment … putting a shade loving plant in full sun DOES have an impact on how it grows and vice versa, but going back to soil, does the plant like damp conditions or is it more Mediterranean? So many things are required to help a green environment thrive.

With that green environment comes all the wildlife and Biodiversity, from tiny bugs (some good, some bad), passionate frogs; I was lucky enough to witness or not the frog mating season last year which is quite extreme to say the least, the Heron who came in the spring to feed his young and near enough decimated the fish population, to the beautiful birds we have coming onto the site including the ‘charms’ of Goldfinch with their wonderful song.

I have learnt a lot:

  • How and why plants grow, or do not!
  • What makes a good soil? And how to improve conditions.
  • The types of pests and diseases that can inflict your garden.
  • How important it is to know your plant and its preferred conditions (plant profiles).
  • How you can propagate plants.
  • How to generate a good compost.
  • The amount of ‘life’ a green space support.

What is my favourite thing about my role?

All the above! Every day is a learning day.

Am I studying alongside of working on site?

Yes, I spend one day a week in college or study day where I am learning most of the theory work that is my underpinning knowledge… and a lot of time studying in my own time. There have been some real ‘kerching!’ moments when theory and practice have come together in a real learning experience which has been brilliant, but ALL of it fits together eventually; with gardening being seasonal as stated at the beginning I may have had the theory but seeing it come together as a process over the year really GIVES that ‘learning.

What are my future career plans?

I have had a chance to explore different aspects of what gardening means and realise that it is a passion. I am really looking for a gardening job now; my contract sadly ends in June. I will be looking for a gardening post as I love the practical side, but I have also identified a further course based in Garden design which is where I would like to end up (at my age I do need to consider this), concentrating on wildlife gardens and biophilic design (looking to connect people, buildings, and the natural environment in a more direct way).

Many people may hesitate to take a career change in mid 50’s but it is most definitely one of the best life choices I have made.

Would I recommend doing an apprenticeship?

Yes, I would recommend someone doing an apprenticeship, but I would not underestimate the amount of work and study needing to be completed in your own time.