Gardens Open Gateways - Interning at Scotland’s Gardens Scheme


Hello everyone, my name is Ian! I’m a student from America (Michigan, to be exact!) interning at Scotland’s Gardens Scheme this June. If you’ve seen any of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I’ve been quite busy producing content for volunteers, visitors and garden enthusiasts alike. You might also know from my blog on home gardening (accessible through this link) that I’m somewhat of a garden enthusiast myself, though I’m not nearly the plant connoisseur that the other members of the SGS are. Speaking of the team behind the Scheme, I’ve created this blog to share a little bit about my experience thus far and some of the remarkable things the organisation gets up to from day-to-day. 

First Impressions

Before even arriving in Edinburgh, I had a virtual meeting with the Chief Executive of Staff, Liz Stewart. Though she seemed very kind and welcoming, and all the tasks we discussed sounded very enjoyable, I couldn’t shake off my first-day jitters. My heart was pounding as I headed up the spiral staircase for my very first day of work – though part of that, I’m sure, had to do with the fact that they’re on the third storey.

What I found when I finally crossed the threshold was not what I had expected and more than I could have hoped for. My supervisors – Hazel, Kate and Liz at the time – quickly put my mind to ease with a warm welcome and an even warmer kettle. After I had eaten more biscuits than I had in my whole life (America, unfortunately, has a distinct lack of biscuits) and gotten set up on all my accounts, Liz set me up with my first assignment. And what an exciting assignment it was! 

My first task was an interview at Maggie’s in anticipation of their garden open day, which was just a 40-minute bus ride away from the University’s dorms. I had done some research on Maggie’s prior to arriving in Edinburgh, and I was absolutely thrilled with the opportunity to find out more from a representative of the charity. I had a lot of free reins for this first assignment, which allowed me to really think about what I wanted to create; as someone who’s used to being restricted by guidelines and rubrics, this was all very new to me. Any misgivings I had about venturing into new territory, however, were swiftly overshadowed by my exhilaration and deep gratitude.

The woman I spoke with at Maggie’s, Charlotte Brink, gladly told me everything that I wanted to know and more. We sat in a sunny, peaceful spot while she painted a brilliant mosaic of Maggie’s past, present and future, along with some exciting insider tidbits about the open day. If you haven’t read that blog, I recommend checking it out by clicking this link – it contains a lot of interesting information about Maggie’s, not just about their open day.  

Words of Wisdom

The next day was only the third day of my internship, yet I had already had the opportunity to learn so many new things and meet so many new people. The introductions were not yet over; that Thursday, I had the pleasure of meeting John Beaton, who helps proofread the guidebook, assists with print production and organizes contacts for the database. He has also been working in the publishing industry for many years now, which I’m hoping to pursue in the future.

Though John and I spoke only briefly (the office is always abuzz with activity and things to be getting on with, especially since all this wonderful work is primarily done by four incredible women), he shared with me very wise words which I will carry back home: “Just make it in. That’s the most important part.” We were discussing the industry at the time, but I’d like to think that this wisdom applies to other areas of life as well. Getting a foot in the door is often the hardest part, which is consequently where most people stop; in the words of the legendary King Robert the Bruce, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.”  

Ian on Arthur's Seat ©Ian thoroughly enjoying the blustery Scottish weather atop Arthur's Seat
Ian thoroughly enjoying the blustery Scottish weather atop Arthur's Seat

Learning Every Day

Finishing up my first week with the Scheme, I had the chance to attend Maggie’s open day to see everything I had written about unfold. They had transformed the garden into a haven of mirth and tranquillity, the whole of the scene split into bustling social circles or quiet places where one could sit to enjoy the birdsong. While I was enjoying a nice cup of tea and a delicious slice of sponge cake, I saw a few children leaving with books in their arms and a smile on their face – a cheerful reminder of the good work that Maggie’s does at this gentle home of rest and relaxation. 

It was time to move onto my second week at the Scheme. This week, I turned my attention towards brochures and PR content, which meant that I was working more closely with design elements and specialized content. Jessica, the Communications Manager, was kind enough to devote most of her Thursday to giving me a one-on-one refresher on the essentials of InDesign, as well as help me sort out all the difficulties I inevitably ran into. With her support and guidance, I was able to make an excellent start on a brochure I am creating. 

On Friday, I got to bounce around a few tasks that I had on my docket – researching wildlife gardens, writing and editing blog content, brainstorming ideas, sketching layouts and, of course, eating a healthy amount of biscuits (I’m going to miss these very much when I go back to America). It’s just Hazel and me on Fridays; typically, it's a very slow and relaxed day, though it can get quite lively with phone calls and activity outside the window.

Last Friday was the Taylor Swift concert, and Hazel and I saw many people in full feather-boa force march down Castle Street blaring “Shake it Off” or “Cruel Summer” from little handheld speakers. This past Friday, we received a visit from our downstairs neighbours to check if any water had leaked through our windowsill during a flash downpour. Hazel didn’t miss the opportunity to promote our gardens and gain another visitor. It was brilliant; her intuitiveness and charisma were very inspiring to witness, and it reminded me that there’s an opportunity in everything, so long as you’re willing to take it.  

Looking Forward

That wraps up my first few weeks with the Scheme, with only a week and a half left to go. I’ve had such an amazing experience with this diligent and incredible team, and my only regret is that I can’t stay longer. Each one of them has so much experience and knowledge, and they’ve been more than generous in lending it to me. If I ever find myself in Edinburgh again, I’ll be sure to say hello. It’s easy to find my way back to the Scheme, after all: just follow the yellow signs! 

About the author: Ian is a visiting intern from America studying in Edinburgh for the month of June. At home, he studies writing at Grand Valley State University.