While studying her three-year National Diploma in Horticulture at Durban University of Technology (DUT) between 2012 to 2015, Amanda Maphumulo never envisioned working alongside the author of ‘Wild Flowers in KZN’ – a reference book that was instrumental in achieving her diploma. But in 2016, Amanda was invited to work with the renowned horticulturalist and landscaper, Elsa Pooley, landscaping and establishing the indigenous gardens at the mature lifestyle village, Renishaw Hills.
“In high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew it was something to do with plants and nature,” recalled Amanda. “I was excited to get to DUT and actually view plant cells through a microscope. We didn’t have a science lab or microscopes at school so I’d just learnt about them in books.”
On completing her studies, the 28-year-old Magabeni resident didn’t have any leads on a job so she started researching nurseries around the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast area.
“I found Izinyoni Indigenous Nursery which I thought would be perfect, even if I could get a volunteer position, it was close enough to travel. I arrived there with my CV and diploma and said I had studied horticulture. Although there wasn’t a position available, I said I’d do anything to work near plants, pick up litter, whatever!”
Her determination paid off and she started working in a part-time capacity in 2015. The following year she was introduced to Elsa Pooley. “I had been learning from her book at university, and now I was getting to meet her. It was such an honour.”
Amanda was invited to join the Renishaw Hills’ team in 2016, working as a Garden Installation and Maintenance Supervisor. Amanda works closely with Elsa, establishing indigenous gardens at each residence on the lush estate. Elsa draws up the landscape designs and Amanda will work from these, planting the gardens and often, using her own creativity to design the gardens herself.
“I’ve learnt so much from Mrs Pooley, she’s passionate and knows what she wants! One day, I hope to be like her. Wherever you go, people know who she is and ask her advice. She is respected and this makes her a great mentor.”
Describing her apprentice as a ‘skilled plantswoman’, Elsa said she has taken to her role with a fervent desire to learn, showing an inherent understanding for horticulture.
“She is highly intelligent,” said Elsa. “Amanda knows all the indigenous plants by their scientific names which is important for this project. Not everyone who trains in horticulture has a real feel for plants, but Amanda has this – and excellent people skills too. She is completely focussed on the work and the people with whom she is working, particularly the residents at Renishaw Estate.”
Elsa said that, while her horticultural training didn’t offer much landscape design, Amanda has quickly learnt to interpret sketches and bring the gardens to life: “She has gotten to know how my mind works! My job at Renishaw is on the landscape design in the broad scale – and to do layouts for each individual garden. Unfortunately, my time on site is limited, so Amanda – with Gareth Hampson, the project manager – has watched and listened and then done the installations.”
In addition, Amanda supervises the garden maintenance, ensuring everything planted thrives. She consults with the homeowners on gardening requests and has made a point of knowing all the sub-contractors on the building site – beneficial for a project this size.
Elsa said horticulture offers so many job opportunities for young women, as long as they’re prepared for ‘hard work, both physical and mental’: “There are great challenges and opportunities for creative work in the world of plants, all of which is essential to our good health and happiness!”
Amanda said she has relished the role of working alongside a female mentor who has shown her exactly what can be achieved. Sharing her experience with other women, Amanda said: “My advice to young women is that you need to be proactive. As my lecturer said, ‘be a self-starter’. If you study, don’t think that’s enough. Go out, volunteer if you can’t find a paying job, don’t sit around waiting. If you’re lucky enough to get a job then learn, humble yourself and grow.”