Alexa’s career change story
from communications manager
to garden designer
Who are you?
I’m a garden designer living in Walthamstow with my five-year-old son and husband. People come to me if they have a garden but need help working out how to make the most of it. I then work in collaboration with them as well as landscapers, makers and plant nurseries to create something beautiful and practical. So far I’ve worked with clients in Waltham Forest, Redbridge and Cambridge.
What were you doing before you made the change?
I left uni and went straight into public relations in London – working on campaigns mainly for big technology companies. It was fairly varied and I got to travel – I spent three months living in Paris, which was fantastic. I then decided I wanted a quieter life and took an in-house role in a charity. Once I had my son I moved around a bit – freelancing, contracting and copywriting. But I just couldn’t settle.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
While I was freelancing I had a couple of roles that I would dread going into the office for. And one day something happened at work – I can’t even remember what now – when I just thought I don’t want to do this anymore. I couldn’t imagine doing the same work elsewhere would make much difference. But what I needed to do was figure out what I wanted to do instead.
How did you find your dream career?
Just before our son was born, my husband and I bought a house with a garden. It was then my interest in plants and green space developed. I worked with a designer to transform our garden and the process really intrigued me.
A couple of years later when I realised communications was no longer for me, I started researching careers in horticulture. I knew I didn’t want to be professional gardener or a landscaper – I wasn’t physically up to it. But design really appealed, and I started looking into training.
I did a quick course at City Lit just to see if I enjoyed the subject and was any good at it. I absolutely loved it so decided to invest in a diploma at Capel Manor College in Regent’s Park. I’m now almost finished there.
How did you handle the financial aspect to make the change possible?
I had a conversation with my husband, looked at my savings and worked out that it was financially doable. I’m lucky that if I couldn’t get any new clients nothing bad would really happen. I’m still studying so a lot of what I earn is spent on that – but I think it’s worth every penny and I know that I’ll earn more in the future.
What has been your biggest challenge in your new career so far?
The hardest thing I’ve done so far has to be a show border I designed and exhibited at BBC Gardeners’ World Live last summer. I had very little budget so had to borrow plants and get sponsors and talk people into helping me to make it all happen. But I learnt so much and I definitely plan to do something similar again – maybe even at RHS Chelsea Flower Show one day!
Working a lot on my own has also been a big change – I’m quite a social creature. I make a concerted effort to meet new people, go to conferences and shows, see gardens and network. I’m also an RHS volunteer and a London Borough of Culture volunteer. The more I get out there, the more opportunities may present themselves. I’ve been asked to work on a show garden at RHS Hampton Court as a result of a networking beer!
What do you love most about your new career?
I love the variety. I could be working on design ideas or sketching an image of a potential garden. I could be researching the right plants for clients, working with landscapers or marketing the business. I’m learning all the time. And seeing a finished garden and getting positive feedback from clients is magic! Gardens take a while to settle and grow so it will be brilliant to come back to them as they mature.
What advice would you give someone considering a career change?
It’s easier if you know what you want to do and you know the path to get there. But if you need help establishing what the change could be, I would really recommend getting some time with a career coach. They might help you see possibilities you’ve never considered before.