Jo Ward, aka @hamptoncourtpalacegardener, shares her love of gardening and how Instagram became a major creative outlet for her and a place of joy for others.
Team Court Circular collectively love following @hamptoncourtpalacegardener on Instagram. On the greyest of days, the beautiful images taken by Jo Ward and her colleagues from the Hampton Court Palace gardening team, always brighten our mornings. Close up shots of daffodils in bloom, a magnolia shedding its winter fur coat or a bird’s eye view of the lawns at sunset, all serve to pique our desire to get back inside the gates of our local and much-loved Palace.
Jo Ward curates the Palace garden’s unofficial Instagram account and from her captions and image choices it’s obvious that she’s a real expert. However, when we speak, Jo shares that her career wasn’t originally rooted in the great outdoors and that gardening is a passion that’s evolved over the years.
“I started off training as a nurse initially, then I went into marketing and ended up working in shop interiors and went off on a bit of a tangent and ended up doing interior design,” she says. “Then I had my children and while I was at home I retrained as a garden designer.
“Interior design is static,” Jo explains. “Once it’s finished the look remains the same, whereas I’m absolutely fascinated by the way plants constantly change and behave differently in every environment.”
While continuing her training and looking after her young children, Jo volunteered at a magnificent heritage site right on her doorstep – Hampton Court Palace. “It was wonderful. I worked with some amazing people and learnt so much. I was pruning the rose gardens and looking after the wisterias,” Jo says smiling.
As Jo slowly built up her garden design business, she took a part-time job at the Palace. “I worked two days a week in the nursery where we look after all the exotics and grow the annuals for the bedding schemes of Kensington Palace and Hampton Court. We also looked after the seasonal plants that come out for a short period and then spent the rest of their year in greenhouses.
“I also did all the propagation, which I love!” she says. “All the seed sowing, and cuttings – all the technical gardening. Then for the rest of the week, I’d be working on my garden design business, slogging about, lugging huge things around and doing drawings. It was a really good balance for quite a few years.”
However, three years ago Jo received a late diagnosis of glaucoma, an eye condition which damages the optic nerve, often caused by high blood pressure in the eye itself.
“I’d already lost a lot of sight in my right eye and the condition had become an issue within my own business because of the need for heavy lifting, which was just no longer possible,” Jo says. “So, I decided at the beginning of last year that I had to stop.”
With more time on her hands, Jo began to think about what she might like to do creatively. Photography, she says, is something that she has always loved and so she began to look at Instagram as a possible outlet for expression and sharing after a chance encounter with the platform.
“I sort of stumbled on it by accident really. My kids were doing what kids do, and I didn’t know where my son was. My daughter told me to look on Instagram, and that was kind of it,” she laughs. “I didn’t have it and I didn’t know how to get on it, but as soon as I saw the platform, I knew it was a fantastic forum for gardeners.”
Jo created her account and started to share. “I’m in a really fortunate and unique position because I’m based in the nursery, I have access to the exotics, and I know all the gardening staff. I’m also horticulturally trained so I know when the plants are going to do their thing, and what to photograph and when.”
As with her garden design and work in the palace grounds, Jo put a lot of thought into the Instagram account. “I wanted it to be accessible, friendly, answer questions, have a bit of history in there but also have really beautiful photographs.”
Now, the account has over 14,000 followers and other members of the gardening team, who are as passionate about their work as Jo is, also contribute photographs. “Gardeners are naturally creative people,” she says proudly. “We get some really incredible shots to share.”
I tell Jo how much we’ve appreciated following her account and watching the ever evolving garden landscape through the eyes of those who love it so much and tend to it daily. The impact of providing this special view into the palace’s grounds isn’t lost on Jo.
“People just want to know there’s a reason to get up every day at the moment, don’t they?” she says kindly. “We’re all just feeling a bit cabin fever-y! We just want to see that the seasons are progressing, the world is changing, and there’s real reasons to be hopeful.”
Follow Jo Ward and the team at @hamptoncourtpalacegardener on Instagram
Please support your local palace if you can. Memberships start at £55 per year. Visit hrp.org.uk for more information and check out the spring/summer programme of events at Hampton Court palace including the Tulip Festival and new exhibition Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King.