Life at Merrist Wood
“Without college, I don't think I could have done what I do now. We had some great teachers that I admired. They all took a lot of pride in what they did, and I looked up to them.”
James Scott studied Landscape Construction at Merrist Wood College from 1986 to 1989. Since then, he’s gone on to establish his own highly successful garden design-and-build business in Hertfordshire, winning multiple national awards.
One of James’ most memorable moments at Merrist Wood was the college’s involvement with the Chelsea Flower Show each year.
“During our year, there was an internal competition running, where we had to design a garden for the London Association of the Blind, which would then be built for the Chelsea Flower Show,” said James.
“I was fortunate enough that my design got chosen to be to be built. I spent a lot of time designing it, hoping it would get chosen and was thrilled when it was. I probably got offered my first job on the back of having that experience.”
James’ course at college required pre-college work experience, and an industrial placement year in-between the two years at college. James spent his placement year working in the USA.
James said: “Working for different companies before and during my time at college gave me a good foundation to build a career on. It allowed me to learn a few different ways of doing things, which was very valuable when I later set up my own business.
“The college’s links to industry were also really important, especially its connection with BALI, the British Association of Landscape Industries. When I left college, I joined BALI as soon as possible and have benefited from my membership ever since.
“College is not just about studying. You need to make the most of your industrial experience too, and continuing professional development once you have started work,” James said.
Life since college
When James finished his studies at Merrist Wood, he worked as a designer/manager for Capital Garden Landscapes in North London.
After a couple of years, James decided he wanted to take a more independent route and set up his own business, The Garden Company, in 1991 with his business partner.
James said: “We set up a business in designing, landscaping and gardening. We slowly grew that business from one employee to a few employees and we now employ about 20 people.
“Alongside our own talented team, we also draw on a strong network of professionals with specialist skills. We are a design-led business and alongside my BALI membership I am a fully Registered Member of the SGD (Society of Garden Designers).
“We support our clients every step of the way through their transformation projects. Most of our work is for residential sites and we also work on commercial spaces, including business parks, corporate Head Offices, wedding venues and independent schools.
“We are honoured to have worked with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew and at the historic Temple Garden in London’s legal district.”
Proudest achievement to date
“I'm really proud of The Garden Company’s track record in winning many national awards over the years,” James said.
“We were delighted to win a BALI Award in 2022 for Best Design and Build project, and around the same time I was voted as one of the 25 Most Influential people in the landscape industry.
“I'm also proud that my business contributes to people's livelihood, providing employment and being a good place to work.
“Winning awards is great, but it's quite fleeting. It’s having a business that operates at the highest possible quality standards that matters most,” James added.
Advice for building a successful career in the landscape industry
The years of experience after studying at Merrist Wood have given James a broad knowledge of the industry. He had some words of wisdom to share with students that will finish college soon:
“You need to join the best company you can, get stuck in and make the most of the opportunities around you. It’s worth working at more than one reputable business in your early career.
“Get to know other people in your profession. Immerse yourself in the industry and build a network. Go to trade events, RHS shows and join relevant professional societies.
“Finally, visit gardens! When I’m interviewing job candidates, so many people talk about being inspired by garden design or landscaping, then can’t name a garden they have visited recently.
“It’s really important to be able to demonstrate your genuine interest and passion for the industry, not only to prospective employers like me but to clients and business contacts too.”