Sowing the seeds …

Scotland is blessed with an array of beautiful parks and gardens – from the grandeur of numerous National Trust for Scotland properties to many open garden schemes that help to raise funds for all manner of deserving charities. The lawns, flower beds, herbaceous borders, and all different styles of garden – from renaissance to rock, botanical to butterfly, knot to kitchen – demand a variety of skills to design, build and maintain. Perhaps ‘skills’ is the wrong word as those who seek a career in horticulture have a passion. But where to harness that passion to hone talent that will cultivate a career? We head to Tarland in Aberdeenshire to unearth a unique opportunity …

The MacRobert Trust Horticultural Training Scheme works hard to ensure rural skills are handed down from generation to generation. Enhancing the environment is at the heart of the Trust’s programme and, each year, the scheme delivers outstanding training for up to four candidates. They are carefully selected and awarded places for a minimum of 12 months – either as those taking their first steps as future gardeners or as recently qualified students who are keen to gain practical experience. Each receives a salary and accommodation if needed.

The training is ‘hands on’ under the guidance of experienced gardeners, principally at the Trust’s seventeen-acre flagship gardens at Douneside House – accredited by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) as a ‘Qualifications Approved Learning Centre’. The property – also part of the Trust – is an exceptional destination: the former home of the MacRobert family, it is now the showcase of the Trust and its work. The training scheme is just one example of how estates across Scotland are ‘helping it happen‘ when supporting a wide range of educational, environmental and employment projects.

Trainees gain valuable experience and, on completion of their time at Douneside, are awarded MacRobert Trust Trainee Gardener Certificate. But the work of the Trust doesn’t end there: they also provide support in helping to find further training as well as employment in the horticultural industry. Many have used their time on the Training Scheme as a springboard to successful horticultural careers at prestigious gardens around the country, including a number of National Trust for Scotland (NTS) properties. The 2012/13 MacRobert Trust Horticultural Trainee, Mairi Rattray, was appointed as the new Head Gardener at BBC Scotland’s Beechgrove Garden, following in the boot prints of the Trust’s current Head of Gardens, Stephen McCallum, a former Beechgrove Head Gardener.

Visiting Tarland? The village is in a beautiful corner of Scotland. You can stay at Douneside House and visit the gardens – and, if you like golf, take time out to visit Tarland Golf Club whilst in the area … a wee gem 9-hole parkland course created in 1908 by Old Tom Morris.



If you – or someone you know – is interested in the training scheme, you can read their guidelines before completing an application form.

Need more? Check out these links for information on other learning opportunities for garden lovers:


Discover the tragic yet fascinating history of the MacRobert Trust …

The Trust honours the memory of three young brothers from Tarland: Alasdair, Roderic and Iain. All three were killed in their 20s. Alasdair in a civil flying accident in 1938 and his two younger brothers on military service in the Royal Air Force: Roderic, leading a flight of Hurricanes, in 1941 – and Iain less than six weeks later when his aircraft failed to return from a search and rescue mission from Sullom Voe in the Shetlands.

Their mother made a stoical and extraordinary gesture. The widowed Lady MacRobert (1884 – 1954) made a donation to purchase a Stirling Bomber for XV Squadron … and asked it be named ‘MacRobert’s Reply’! This was the start of a tradition that the RAF has kept alive. A succession of RAF aircraft has since carried the name. Today’s “MacRobert’s Reply” is a Tornado GR4 on operational service with Number XV (Reserve) Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth. She then created a number of charitable Trusts to honour the memory, work and passions of her late husband and sons. Today, those organisations have joined into one – and the Trust has an ethos which is all about supporting the next generation.

The MacRobert Trust exists in perpetuity and is a Scottish charity, registered with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator under the Reference SC031346.