Alison Galer: Taking the clinic into the garden


Taking the clinic into the garden: Raising awareness of the Organ donor register

Alison Galer, Garden Designer & Owner of Florence Gardening joins us for a guest interview about her garden design 'The Waiting List' for the 2016 RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park and tells us about her garden design story. 

Tell us a little about your background:

In 2007 I decided it was time for a career change. I had been an NHS nurse for 20 years caring for people with transplants.  Now I enjoy caring for plants and using my creative skills to help people transform their ideas into beautiful gardens.

My Nan was an avid gardener having learnt to grow vegetables during the war and I guess I picked up the gardening bug from her.

I am a strong believer in education and training so started my career change at night school studying for an RHS Level 2 certificate in Horticulture. I went on to complete a one year apprenticeship through the WFGA (Women’s Farm & Garden Association) at the family gardens of Farley Estate, Berkshire.

Armed with secateurs I set up Florence Gardening in 2010 and quickly developed a thriving garden maintenance business. I returned to college in 2012, one day a week, to study for my Diploma in Garden Design from Capel Manor Horticulture College in Regents Park, London.

Today, I could be out in any weather tending to gardens or standing at my drawing board surrounded by garden design books and magazines creating super gardens.


How long have you been in the landscape industry and how and why did you get into it?

I have been taking care of other people’s gardens since 2010 and during this time I have been creating and implementing planting plans. I had lots of ideas for actual garden designs and with my former nursing experience I value professionalism, which is why I sought formal training in the form of the diploma in garden design.  I graduated in July 2013 and delivered my first commission the same year. 


Can you tell us the story behind your RHS Tatton Garden ‘The Waiting List’?

Since my first visit to RHS Chelsea Flower Show I have wanted to create my own show garden.  Inspired by the setting of Tatton Park I submitted my first show garden design on 6th January 2016.

I am dedicating the garden to promote the Organ Donor Register (ODR).  It specifically recognises those renal patients and their families I have worked with in my former life as a specialist nurse.  And it lends support to the 700+ organ recipients taking part in this year’s British Transplant Games in Liverpool, who thank their donors and encourage the nation to sign up to the donor register.

Called The Waiting List, my garden for the Back-to-Back category at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park is a classic arrangement of naturalistic planting, highlighted with colour through the seasons.  Envisioning a simple setting to provide a comforting outdoor space within the grounds of a hospital.  It is calm and uplifting.  The “room” is an alternative place to talk for the patient and the nurse preparing for that special operation or with the ongoing care that follows.  A space of beautiful plants, a special seat and an inspirational statue just a few steps away from the normal clinic setting shifts the focus from the procedure to the person.


How did the Garden Trellis Company help with the garden?

The best show gardens always have great attention in the detail and quality of materials to achieve the exact look and feel the designer is trying to create.  It’s all too easy to forget when a garden needs a boundary.  The Garden Trellis Company helped me realise my vision for boundary fencing for The Waiting List with a contemporary trellis with the perfect paint finish.


How did you hear about The Garden Trellis Company?

I have been aware of the company for many years and visited their trade stands at industry trade shows.


Describe your typical day setting up for a show:

I am a creature of habit, so that means on site at the crack of dawn and working until we are kicked off at the end of the day!

Each day there’s a plan.  Communication with team is all important, as is understanding how each person operates.  Some like to battle with problems on their own and don’t relax until they have overcome the crux.  Others want to talk it through.  Each to their own.  As the diminutive 5’3” “foreman” I am not one for barking orders but woe betide those who don’t pay attention to detail and clear up after themselves!

Whether, it’s a show garden or a client’s garden you never know when an interruption or problem is going to throw a spanner in the works. “Not taking time for granted” is an important mantra.  We were lucky building The Waiting List.  We started as soon as the site gates opened.  By the time the famous north-west torrential rain arrived on the first weekend we had finished the hard landscaping. Others were not so lucky and many lost precious time.  And as I write this, we are putting the finishing touches to the planting with a couple of days’ spare for last minute adjustments.

Setting up for the show is all about the planting.  But you get to meet lots of great people setting up for a show. The Waiting List has 3 neighbouring gardens.  Two teams from Ireland and a team of young men starting out on their careers in landscape and garden design.   It’s been intriguing to see their gardens come to life and fun to pick their brains and share a cup of tea together.


What does a ‘good’ garden mean to you?

That can be quite a big question!  But I’ll try to boil it down to just a couple of points. First, a good garden always has a certain genius loci present, it has a “spirit”. And secondly, perhaps crucially, there’s evidence of attention to detail in choice of material together with careful choice of plant selection to provide interest through the seasons.


What is favourite garden to relax in or visit?

For a visit, I don’t think you can beat Sissinghurst Garden.

Of course I am happiest in my own garden. It's long and skinny, all borders with a winding brick path which leads to a formal square of lawn under a huge copper beech tree.  But the lawn gave way to two 12’ poly tunnels for this years’ show garden plants! And I am not sure I relax in my garden as I am always doing something with my secateurs. 

Alison Galer's 'The Waiting List' can be viewed at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park from the 20 - 24 July 2016.

You can learn more about Alison Galer on her website:

or you can contact Alison direct at [email protected] or on 07952 343 792.

 Florence Gardening





< Back to article list

Sign up to our newsletter for regular inspiration and be the first to know about special offers