When Julie Swanepoel and her husband bought their new home in Upper Hutt in 2013, she had a blank canvas to create a dream garden.
There was just the minor issue that the canvas was covered in gorse and weeds.
The 7000sq m section offered the perfect opportunity to experiment with various plants and ways of gardening, but she soon realised the clay soil made it difficult for anything to grow and prosper.
“I bought lots of plants and seeds but I realised I needed to find out more about plants and the soil requirements to create a lovely garden filled with flowers. I also wanted lots of fruit trees and a veggie patch but I couldn’t really grow even a carrot – I knew very little at the time. Some plants I even had to move as I learned through trial and error.”
So, with the help of Google, she came across the New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture (General) (Level 3) offered via distance learning through SIT2LRN.
Although initially hesitant about studying such a hands-on topic such as horticulture remotely, she found it really suited her because she was able to fit it in around her day job as an accountant. She was no stranger to distance learning, she said.
“I’d studied cost and management accounting part-time via correspondence after I completed school and while working full-time. I also did a photography course through correspondence.”
Julie has also had several medical challenges that made studying challenging but she wasn’t willing to let those get in the way of completing her study and putting what she’d learnt into practice.
“I had Retinoblastoma [an eye cancer that begins in the retina] at age 3 and lost an eye. I had Perthes disease [a rare childhood condition that affects the hip] at age 5 so I couldn’t do much sport as a child, so I tried as many hobbies as possible.
During the past few years, she developed Trigeminal Neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve in her face, after the removal of her wisdom teeth in 2013, and then during her studies her hip needed replacing.
“It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been determined not to let things hold me back so managed to continue my studies while recovering from the operation.”
Originally from South Africa, Julie moved to New Zealand in 2008 for a better lifestyle.
“I always wanted my own garden filled with lavender and beautiful flowers. I’ve got such a passion for nature, and love birds and trees and flowers.”
The course had been so beneficial in helping develop her understanding of horticulture and how to achieve things in the garden.
“I’ve now done lots of plant propagation, along with gardening/ landscape plans for myself and for several friends. I just love sharing the knowledge I’ve gained from the course – and also seeing how my garden is growing,” she said.
“We learnt about soil types, plant propagation, different types of plants both annuals and perennials – I didn't know before some plants died back in winter or only lasted one year! – and plant names, recognising plant pests and diseases and their treatments. I’ve gained so much knowledge, all thanks to SIT2LRN."