Trainee gardener Liam Anderson is one of two Shetland apprentices who were honoured in the Scotland-wide Lantra awards scheme recently. Genevieve White spoke to him at the Jubilee Flower Park in Lerwick where he is developing his horticultural skills.
On the wall of the staff kitchen at Lerwick’s Jubilee Flower Park, the front cover of a 1997 summer edition of Shetland Life shows the park in full bloom. Award winning apprentice gardener Liam Anderson smiles as he points it out. “I would’ve been about two years old then.”
Although Liam adds that he “probably wasn’t doing much gardening at the time,” it seems that his lifelong interest in gardening did not take long to flourish.
It was Liam’s late grandmother who nurtured his love of gardening and the outdoors. “I remember my granny teaching me all the Shetland names for wildflowers and finding it really interesting.”
His childhood home at Gonfirth, near Voe, also provided him with inspiration. “We had a lot of trees in the garden – a mixture of willow, whitebeam and fir. My dad was a fairly keen gardener, but I think that my granny did more gardening than anyone else.”
Liam started to get serious about gardening as a teenager, when a neglected polytunnel provided him with a blank canvas on which to experiment. “I would’ve been about 14 or 15. The first couple of years my parents did quite a lot with the polytunnel, but by the third year they were too busy.
“I decided to get to work on it myself, and started growing lobelia, tomatoes, peppers and lettuces. It was amazing having that space all to myself.”
As a high school student, a biology lesson got him interested in propagation. Liam laughs as he remembers his teenage antics. “I think I drove my parents mad. I had plants propagating all over the place – in the kitchen, in the bathroom and in the utility room. I don’t think there was a spare bit of windowsill to be seen in the whole house. At that stage I was experimenting with some weird and wonderful plants too: I had a Venus fly trap which I enjoyed feeding – and some cacti.”
This love of gardening has never waned. In addition to his full time apprenticeship at the flower park, Liam tends his own garden in Yell, which he describes as being “quite different” from the relative order of the Jubilee Flower Park.
“It’s a lot more exposed. There are no trees, and there are a lot of alpine plants. Actually, it’s a bit mad. I love growing things in strange containers – I’ve got plants growing out of a tea pot, a cement mixer drum which I found in a quarry and a rusty bread bin.”
Liam feels “privileged” to work in the Jubilee Park gardens. “I’m allowed to use my own initiative, and the work is both relaxing and fulfilling. I’m really interested in the art and design side of gardening, and every year I’ve been given a bed to do myself.”
Liam has certainly risen to the challenge, with last year’s Celtic knot design (a mixture of bedding plants and topiary) standing out as an example of his artistic talent.
The young gardener’s enthusiasm, talent and knowledge are very much in evidence in the popular blog he co-writes with Diane Inkster.
“Diane and I were encouraged to start a blog by SIC chief executive Mark Boden, who saw it as a way of encouraging more visitors to the garden. I really enjoy writing it. It has photographs of what’s going on in the garden, describes the work we’ve been doing, and it’s a space to answer the questions we’ve been asked by visitors.”
Unsurprisingly, Liam likes visiting gardens in his spare time. He names Lindaal, near Tingwall, as his favourite Shetland garden. “I like the different levels in this garden – it just flows nicely. It feels hidden too – no one realises it’s there.” Outwith Shetland, he cites Kellie Castle Garden in Fife as a favourite. “I like old fashioned walled castle gardens, and this is a great example. There are fruit trees trained to the wall – it’s beautifully done.”
Asked whether he ever tires of the challenging Shetland climate, Liam admits that he sometimes gets frustrated.
“Yeah, there are times when I’ve spent time growing something, then a gale comes along and finishes it off. I think why am I doing this?”
With characteristic positivity, Liam sees these events as learning experiences and tries to work around them. “I’ve spent time researching which plants do well in windy places. Apparently, Argentina is one of the windiest places in the world, so I’m looking up things which grow well there”.
Our interview over, it’s time for Liam to get back to work. The flower park is bursting with signs of spring and the sky overhead is blue. It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way to spend the working week; it’s equally hard to envy this hard working young man his richly deserved success.
Photos: Dave Donaldson