Borders College

Horticulture students growing local business relationships

The Horticulture courses at Borders College cover many skillsets which makes the subject appealing to people with varying ages and skills. Every year, Horticulture Lecturer Nigel Gibb (who is based at the College’s Newtown St. Boswells Campus) hand picks projects that are known to him locally to enable students to successfully complete course units whilst also supporting the local community.

Horticulture students

Nigel says: “Using the resources available to us allows the students to gain practical experience, enhance their employability and citizenship skills and work collaboratively with local landowners and employers. This directly benefits our partner organisations as our students can help them to manage projects that they perhaps cannot prioritise due to time and staffing constraints.”

Some examples of on going collaborations include;

  • Melrose in Bloom – The College Horticulture department has supported Melrose in Bloom since Nigel began working for Borders College 12 years ago. Tasks carried out by the students include the annual pruning, fertiliser application and mulching of cultivated roses outside the old trading standards building in Melrose. This work all contributes as part of the plant maintenance units that students complete and is valuable to their learning.

Melrose in Bloom

  • Newtown in Bloom – The organisation was established to help florally enhance the town of Newtown St. Boswells following the Council’s decision to reduce funding on bedding plants for the town. The College students now plant all the bedding plants across the year (some of the plants are provided by Scottish Borders Council, some by Newtown in Bloom, and some grown from seed by Nigel himself) and this work includes the planting and establishment of 20 large wall-mounted hanging baskets.

  • Abbotsford House – Nigel and the students work in partnership with Abbotsford’s Garden Manager Pippa Coles. The full-time students are currently working hard to produce custom cleft oak tree guards which are set to be installed shortly - this project feeds directly into the Level 2 students’ Construct Structures unit. During the winter, a new surface was laid at the estate’s children’s play area, students also annually prune the topiary specimens and have recently been carrying out large scale planting of Tulips beside the main thoroughfare in the gardens.

Abbotsford House

Abbotsford House

  • Wooplaw Community Woodland has seen the students learn coppicing (part of Woodland Management), and the hazel stems harvested will be sustainably utilised in the College vegetable patch to build obelisks and plant supports.



  • Mertoun Estate Gardens - A working relationship has been in place for about 7 years with Rupert Norris, Head Gardener at Mertoun Estate Gardens. Students get the opportunity to use equipment there that the College does not have access to, such as a hydraulic tipping ride-on lawn mower.   As well as lawn care, work at Mertoun includes the annual pruning of apple trees, Azaleas, raspberry plants and other soft fruits, and work on herbaceous perennial borders – these are all traditional skills that the students are gaining due to their involvement. The estate features an Arboretum of rare and unusual trees as well as seasonal bulbs – the Horticulture students now annually assist Rupert in relocating snowdrops into different locations in the Arboretum to enhance this area.

Horticulture students from across levels 1, 2 and 3 (including Apprentices) are used to working together on projects due to sharing some class time where each student will be working on a slightly different unit at a slightly different level.

There has also been a unique opportunity recently to help install heating pipes at a new commercial glasshouse producing tomatoes at Standhill Farm. Nigel says: “Having this new partnership allows our students to see first-hand how tomatoes are grown commercially, the technology involved and methods to control plant pests and diseases.”

Annual visits include destinations such as Dawyck Botanic Garden and Royal Botanic Gardens (Edinburgh). This year’s groups have also visited commercial company ‘Pentland Plants’(Loanhead), who are a supplier to the College – this visit provided a chance for the students to see the commercial production of plants.

  • If you would like to see the fruits of the Horticulture students’ labour, why not visit their Annual Plant Sale, being held this year on Saturday 27th May at the Borders College Newtown St. Boswells Campus. The students carry out all the propagation, potting up and growing on of annual and perennial plants and would be delighted if you could support their event.

Published: Tue 2nd May, 2017