Millie’s story: from teaching to working in one of the world’s greatest gardens after retirement

Millie on the mower during her gardening apprenticeship. Image supplied by Millie.

Millie on the mower during her gardening apprenticeship. Image supplied by Millie.

We caught up with Millie to ask about how she transitioned from research scientist and secondary school teacher to her dream job at RHS Garden Wisley after she retired.

Are you a rule follower, breaker, or maker?

Depends. Sometimes a follower. Although when it comes to my interests, I reckon I am a breaker. I don’t want to be limited by my age or what others may think.

How old are you?

72

What’s the best thing about being the age you are now?

Time.  

As a working Mum I rarely had time to myself or allowed myself to take time out. There was always more to do! Now there is a lack of guilt if I want to spend time going to the gym, swimming, reading, gardening and tending my allotment, or just going for a walk.

Millie in her garden. Image credit: Caroline Bosher ©Renegade Generation

Millie in her garden. Image credit: Caroline Bosher ©Renegade Generation

I like having time to research and plan holidays and time to have the grand-children to stay. Time to learn French.

The other great thing that comes with being a bit older is a lack of self-consciousness (something which had plagued me). You no longer have a ‘professional face’ on and the feeling of being judged. Having retired, I have finally given myself permission to ‘enjoy the moment’.

What is your favourite app or piece of tech?

WhatsApp and My Kindle. I’m not on Facebook. I try to spend as little time as possible surfing the net.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Prior to retiring from teaching I was on a course and they told us how important it is to plan for your retirement before you retire. Plan for something meaningful to do straightaway.

Craziest thing you’ve done since you turned 50?

Doing some scary and technical mountain bike trails in Wales - I need to return to those days! My bike is gathering dust as I try out other adventures. My husband and I have just started climbing - indoors on artificial rock faces - woohoo!!

What would you say to someone who wrote you off for being too old?

Challenge them to do better than me. So far, I’m yet to come up against that.

What are you doing now that you never thought you’d do?

Working at RHS Gardens Wisley in their Education Department.

View from the Rock Garden towards the Glasshouse in Spring at RHS Garden Wisley. Image Credit: RHS / Jason Ingram ©RHS

View from the Rock Garden towards the Glasshouse in Spring at RHS Garden Wisley. Image Credit: RHS / Jason Ingram ©RHS

What is it? What do you enjoy the most about it?

I’m running workshops for Secondary Science Students. I love the environment – plants everywhere! I thoroughly enjoy teaching without the stress of everything being target led. The students are so excited and engaged about being on a trip outside school.

It’s interesting to note that RHS Garden Wisley is a horticultural garden, as opposed to Kew which is botanical. So Wisley is popular with gardeners and Kew is popular with botanists.

I also tutor private GCSE Science and A Level Biology students. I enjoy working one-to-one and seeing the students progress.

What were you doing before?

At the very beginning I did a degree in Biology (Zoology and Botany) and then started my career as a Research Scientist in pharmacology for drug firms. We then moved to a location where there was no opportunity to continue in this role and I had started a family by then. I realised I needed to carve out a new career so I retrained as a Secondary Science teacher. I discovered there was a bursary on offer at the time so that helped me make my decision to go into teaching. I was also after a career which had hours and holidays to fit in with the family.

Prior to working at Wisley I was a WFGA (Women’s Farm and Garden Association) apprentice for a year. The apprenticeship programme is known as the WRAG Scheme (Work and Retrain As a Gardener Scheme) and it gives trainees the opportunity to garden for 14 hours a week in a carefully sourced garden, under the instruction of a garden owner or head gardener.

Millie using the ‘Garden Groom’ hedge trimmer during her gardening apprenticeship. Image supplied by Millie.

Millie using the ‘Garden Groom’ hedge trimmer during her gardening apprenticeship. Image supplied by Millie.

How did the opportunity to work at RHS Garden Wisley come about?

Although I was ‘retiring’ I knew I wanted to continue working, but in a different capacity. I thought about my skills and how they could be transferred to a less stressful environment than teaching in a large Secondary School. I knew I could continue as a private tutor as I had been doing that for a while, however I still wanted to do something in addition.

Working at Wisley allows me to combine my science background with my teaching experience and my love of gardening - it’s perfect!

What caused it? Was there a catalyst?

Yes - the catalyst was a discussion with my daughter. We were talking about what I should do next and she said, “Visualise a place where you would want to work”. Wisley Gardens popped into my head. “Well, then contact them”, she said. It was quite simple really.

In the end, what made you go for it?

I had nothing to lose so I contacted the Education Department at Wisley. I was in the right place at the right time because the Department wanted to expand into the Secondary sector for workshops.

What helped make it happen?

I studied part-time for an RHS Diploma in Horticulture before I retired – for fun and as an extra string to my bow for retirement. I thought it may open future opportunities – which it absolutely did.

What was the hardest part or biggest challenge?

I was lucky and it was easy, although it was probably because I was doing something I loved. That being said I initially considered becoming a garden designer however after a year of studying and exploring options I realised it was too hard to break into.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known earlier?

I do wish I had better financial advice. I made some avoidable mistakes which were probably just due to ignorance e.g. taking a lump sum from my state pension. I hadn’t realised that I would have to pay tax on the lump sum!

Funniest or strangest thing that’s happened in your new role?

When I was doing my gardening apprenticeship, a big Yew bush had seeded itself in the vegetable garden at the stately home. The owner of the property decided we should make it into a topiary and asked me what shape we should do. The Head Gardener thought it would look good as a carrot so that’s what we did. She loved it - it was perfect for a vegetable garden!

What would you love to do next?

I would love to set up a website to expand my private tutoring as I have managed so far by word of mouth and can see that this may not be enough. This is a BIG challenge for me as I am not confident with the use of the internet for ‘business’ purposes.

What tips and advice do you have for others regarding working in later life?

Go for it.

Plan what you’re going to do in retirement, before you retire. Or at least think about it.

And stay active. Find a variety of ways. I’m lucky I can walk in the woods nearby and have access to a good leisure centre.

An ‘Ageless Explorer’ is someone who never lets their age get in the way of their plans. Who is an Ageless Explorer you admire and why?

My ‘Ageless Explorer’ was my Dad who lived a full life until the age of 100. At 86 he decided to do things he had never done before – a parachute jump and white-water rafting. At 96, he got the Guinness World Record for being the oldest man to bungee jump - he did 3. He kept himself fit and, at 94, was still doing 12km/week walking with a local club.  After a difficult childhood and a traumatic time in the Second World War he had bouts of depression. He decided to go on a spiritual journey and lived the last 30 years of life learning about himself and was contented. A true renegade.

Tell us a bit about your experience with Renegade Generation.

I met Caroline and Fee and had a wonderful afternoon with them in my garden chatting about my life and career journey – it made me realise how lucky I am!

 
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Inspired by Millie’s story? Here are some resources to help kick-start your own career change.

 

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Caroline Bosher