Women in Horticulture: Clare Hart

What drew you to horticulture originally?

My lightbulb moment was when I was perusing a seed catalogue which nudged me into thinking about the extraordinary plants that support all facets of our lives. It was curiosity, but also an acknowledgement that I didn’t know the name of many of these living organisms, so I decided to introduce myself…

What pathway did you take to get there?

A serpentine one, not the standard career trajectory which generally looks like an ascent via stairs. I first studied Fine Art Painting at the VCA so it’s no surprise that the visual language of plants suits me. After a momentous life change, I studied Horticulture at Burnley, and worked in the retail Nursery and Garden Design space for about 8 years before I took on a two-year role as Botanic Development Officer for the City of Casey. This role led me straight to RBG Cranbourne and the diverse and wonderful planting palette that I used to encourage and inform local residents to grow in their home gardens. I was lucky enough to attend the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London in 2011 as part of Royal Botanic Garden Victoria, Australian Garden (yep, a career highlight and a gold medal).  I stayed with the City of Casey for a few more years and worked with the team at Wilson Botanic Park Berwick, the Natural Areas Bushland crew and Arboriculture as Team Leader, Trees and Horticulture. This role also meant further study and I completed the Graduate Certificate in Arboriculture at the University of Melbourne, Burnley. I have also undertaken an array of other courses and workshops in sustainable gardening and a Permaculture Design Certificate! Never one to turn down an opportunity, I said yes to a new Gardening Show called Dirty Deeds on 3RRR with Digga, Laurel and me, (Olive) every Sunday -with AC/DC as our theme song , we started each show with a blast and carried on for about 9 years until we all agreed that that we needed to get back to gardening (and our families and friends) and hung up the radio secateurs at the end of 2015. I succeeded in landing the role of Manager Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne in mid-2018 and this is where I still proudly work today with an extraordinary group of diverse and expert horticulturists. 

What obstacles did you encounter along the way?

As a woman and sole parent, the obstacles were generally perception bias (which only makes me stronger) and the tone of surprise when I stand with my male colleague but introduce myself as the Manager.

Who were your mentors?

My great horticultural colleague and friend Antoinette Celotti who I worked with in the Nursery industry. Antoinette’s support and unfiltered management style gave me a lot of license to try, do, learn, enquire, fail at some things and succeed at others – thanks Ant!

My other mentor, colleague and friend is John Arnott. John and I both work at RBGV and we are both in the role as Manager Horticulture, John at Cranbourne and I’m at Melbourne. I think it is John’s ‘yes’ attitude and our combined altruistic focus on horticulture for all, as we know, our gardening knowledge is always best shared. John and I volunteered on 3RRR Dirty Deeds radio show for many years, and radio is a glorious medium for talking about plants; it’s immediate, you can throw out threads of ideas that can get people thinking, excited, and engaged in the world of plants. 

What are you working on at the moment?

Lots, Melbourne Gardens is a 38ha site with over 20 living plant collections, and the Gardens are in a constant, slow chaos of tiny subtle shifts coupled with the drama of seasonal change, new plants, new projects, and the multiple challenges of plant growth in an urban environment.

What does an average day consist of for you?

Today was a 7a.m. meeting with colleagues from the US and the Melbourne Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens team. We are preparing a workshop together for the Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Singapore this August. The rest of the day was various meetings and always a venture into the Melbourne Gardens plantscape to view the collections and projects. In May, if you walk through Northern Gate into the Southern China collection, you immediately smell the perfume of Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox; the Garden is full of these sensory moments, free for all to experience.

What is your favourite plant?

Always a loaded question and I love most plants, but Actinotus helianthi, Flannel Flower, with its soft, woolly grey foliage and opaque colour is a perennial favourite.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’ve always wanted to start an arboretum so let’s see where that leads me.

What are your 3 most worthwhile tips that you can give to women who are starting out in the horticulture industry?

When opportunity presents – take it!

Allow yourself to step into spaces and roles… and ask yourself, why not you

Enjoy the perpetual learning

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