We caught up with one of our garden design graduates, Mark Soanes, to find out about his passion for garden design, what it's like to work on real-life garden design projects and what it means to graduate.
"I'm really passionate about gardening", says Mark. "I've been gardening for a long time, since I was a wee boy and it’s something I’ve always loved. It seemed natural for me to do this course."
Mark had been working in a fast paced blue chip company when the opportunity arose to follow his passion for garden design. “There was no creativity there at all so it felt like the right time to change career. I used it as the opportunity to set up my own business and study at the same time”, he says.
Choosing home study
“Home study gave me great flexibility. I could study in my own time, at my own speed without having to attend classes”, explains Mark. “It also gave me the time that I needed to set up my own business. I’d been working in a very frantic office for a number of years so I actually relished being able to sit on my own and design”.
“I would spend about 10 to 15 hours a week on my course work”, says Mark. “As soon as I logged on to my computer, all my course material, assignments and course videos were there in the academy’s online system. It was simple to navigate.”
Mark does emphasise that a certain amount of self-motivation is needed when doing a home study course. “You do need to make sure you put time aside and utilise that time to make sure you benefit from the course”, he says.
“And I always felt supported on the course”, he adds. “If I had a question I could always email the tutors who were always friendly and engaging. Knowing they were available if I needed to contact them was great”.
Learning from the course
Mark is quick to mention a number of things he has learned from doing the course. “One of the most unexpected things I’ve learned is about mosaics and where to incorporate these into the garden”, he says.
The course has also helped him to start defining his own style. “I’ve always had a really good understanding about plants and I try to bring that knowledge into my designs”, he says. “But I’m still learning, it’s ongoing. There are certain styles and elements I like and some I know I wouldn’t use. I think I’m still quite an open book, drawing on other people’s expertise to help me define my style.”
As part of the business unit Mark had to do a SWOT analysis which is about trying to find your strengths and weaknesses. “I now know that marketing is an area I need to develop for the benefit of my company.”
“There are so many different aspects to the course”, says Mark. “Some of them are very practical like being out in the garden taking soil samples and doing tests. Then there’s the theory side like researching topics in the course materials, in books and online.”
Creating real-life garden designs
Having set up his own garden design business, Mark is already enjoying the feedback from his clients. “One of the first gardens I designed was used by adults and children. It was quite large and had a slope, so there were a lot of elements I had to think about”, he says. “And I’m delighted to say they were extremely happy with the design. As my first real-life project there were a few hurdles to overcome and I was quite flabbergasted that I got on so well”.
“The course enabled me to learn about the whole process of garden design”, Mark enthuses. “From managing the expectations of the clients, the requirements, how to measure the garden, putting the designs on paper, to building the design into a presentation that I could actually show and be proud of. It’s great to be able to put what I’ve learned into practice”.
Recognition for all the hard work
“To graduate from the course, it’s so important to me”, says Mark. “I’ve got a qualification which is recognised. I'm thrilled to be graduating. It's onwards and upwards from here.”
Inspired by Mark’s story and looking to pursue your interest in garden design? View our full list of courses on our website.