Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I arrived home to Tennessee around midnight on Monday, and I’m already missing the routine at Kew.  It’s taken a little while to get adjusted to being back in the Eastern Standard Time zone, and I’ve had a few very early mornings to reflect on my time with Kew.

Back to the Bottom of the Totem Pole

Our last day at Kew was the graduating
students' prank day.  They had chalked
hopscotch the whole length of the Broad Walk
Before arriving to Kew, I had graduated with my Master’s in Plant Sciences from the University of Tennessee.  Part of my assistantship requirements involved managing student assistants and interns in the department.  Before then, I had worked as the horticultural coordinator for “Every Child Outdoors” Knoxville.  We were a small youth gardening project, but we had two part time interns to help us with garden maintenance and educational programs.  I haven’t been an intern since the early days of my undergraduate studies, where I worked part time at the University of Tennessee Gardens. 

I decided to go into the Kew internship as a dry sponge, ready to soak up any drops of knowledge the staff, students, and fellow interns felt like sharing with me.  Although I knew how to do just about most of the basic gardening tasks, if I had interrupted and said, “I already know how to do that,” I would have missed out on learning how Kew does it.  And learning how Kew operates was the most interesting part of the whole internship.

Monday edging could get a little dull, but it was a
great time to gab about what we did over the weekend
Shelley and my other superiors did a fantastic job of keeping our work varied.  Although basic maintenance chores – like weeding and deadheading – filled a large portion of our work time, Shelley did a great job of including Daisy and myself on fun activities – like cleaning the aquatic garden – to break the monotony.  Shelley and the other team members also did a great job of emphasizing the importance of each chore to garden operations.  Weeding can be boring, but removing a noxious pest that will spread through the garden if not properly eradicated is pretty close to thrilling (at least for a while).  

This summer, I learned a fair bit about maintaining a corner of a large historic garden, how Kew monitors and maintains collections, a few tricks to keep interns engaged and productive, and some ways Kew instills comradery in their staff.

You Get Out What You Put In

The internship program is definitely a worthwhile experience for folks who are still relatively new to horticulture.  I think that this would be perfect for a junior, senior, or a recent graduate of a four-year horticulture program who has had limited experience working in a botanic garden, nursery, or other garden setting. 

I was so fortunate to be able to work
with Daisy, a fellow intern with Kew
This can also be a rewarding experience for slightly more experienced horticulturalists.  Even if you have experience working in a garden setting, a degree, and management experience, you get out what you put in.  Kew is one of the finest botanic gardens on earth, with the largest collection of live plants, fantastic conservation work, a rich history, and a really interesting organizational structure.  If you want to learn more about any of those areas, you’ll absolutely have the opportunity to explore your interests in addition to fulfilling internship requirements. 

For instance, I supplemented the basic internship experience by conducting staff interviews to learn more about Kew’s organization, I shadowed a school visit program, and I spent virtually all of my free time exploring neighboring gardens.  The key is that you have to put forth the effort to get the experience you want.  Be proactive and you won’t be disappointed.

Financial Considerations

Friday internship tour of the Palm House
London is one of the most expensive cities on earth, and the U.S. dollar is not strong there.  I would not have been able to afford to participate in Kew’s internship without financial assistance from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas’ Ian LeeseFellowship in Horticulture.  Their investment in my future helped offset the costs of visa processing (about $350 USD for biometrics, $170 for priority status), airfare (about $1200), housing (about £1000 or $1600), groceries (about £250 or $400), and commuting (about £600 or $975).  The internship is unpaid, so participants should budget for at least $5000 just to get there and cover basic living expenses before committing to the internship. 

Also, Europe and the UK is switching to a “chip-in”credit / debit card system.  Regardless of what your bank tells you before you go, you need to try to get a card with a chip in it.  A basic US credit or debit card that only has a magnetic strip will only go so far.  I was able to withdraw money from Barclay’s ATM and pay cash for most things this summer, but I’d have much preferred to carry a card rather than all that cash around with me. 

Living Arrangements

Keep in mind that Kew does not currently offer intern housing, so you need to get that sorted out before you arrive.  Check spareroom.co.uk, gumtree.co.uk, and ask the internship coordinator for leads on where to stay.  Avoid craigslist and don’t wire or transfer any money before you have the chance to visit the flat.  Consider staying in a hostel the first week and apartment hunting on evenings.

Friday internship tour of Kew's
micropropagation facility
Don’t just settle for the cheapest flat you can find, because the cost of commuting may be higher.  For example, I paid about £440 (about $700) / month for a flatshare in Surbiton, but when factoring in the cost of commuting I was really paying about £660 (about $1000).  Kew, Brentford, and Richmond are within walking or biking distance of work.  Ealing and Kingston are one bus journey away.

This summer gave me fresh perspectives on several facets of the horticulture industry, I grew personally and professionally, and made some fantastic new friends.  Although I’m glad to be back in Knoxville, I do miss Kew and I’m looking forward to returning one day.  If you’re considering an internship with Kew, please feel welcome to shoot me an email to learn more at aplante88@gmail.com .

Thanks to all of my readers for joining me on this summer’s adventure! 

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