Hard yakka in the Highlands

Caitlin Sawyer with her 'Chelsea Dad' Mick Conway of Conway Landscape and Design, her new employer, at the Chelsea Flower Show where Mick was part of a team that won Silver Gilt in 2015.

Caitlin Sawyer with her 'Chelsea Dad' Mick Conway of Conway Landscape and Design, her new employer, at the Chelsea Flower Show where Mick was part of a team that won Silver Gilt in 2015.

CAITLIN Sawyer of Wingham Nursery and Florist has moved on. No sooner had she made her decision to accept a job offer in the Southern Highlands than she was gone, as her presence was required post haste.

Mick Conway, of the highly lauded Mick Conway Landscaping and Design company based in Moss Vale, has been chasing Caitlin since she worked with him on Charlie Albone’s Silver Gilt winning garden at the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show.

In my first interview with Caitlin after she won the BBM Sir John Pagan Horticulture Award scholarship in 2014, she stated she intended staying put in Wingham.

While talking to Caitlin’s mother Tanya when Caitlin was working at Chelsea, Tanya told me Mick Conway was so impressed with Caitlin he offered her a job within a week. Tanya said at the time “she is considering it – maybe.”

Now, there is no maybe about it. Caitlin has joined the Mick Conway team and she says it is like being in a different world.

“Down here, it’s a completely different realm. Being just out of Sydney, it’s where a lot of wealthy people spend their weekends ,” Caitlin says.

“We’ll be driving along and the boss will say ‘see that green house up there? That’s Nicole and Keith Urban’s weekender’.

“The property I’m working on at the moment is John Alexander’s – James Packer’s right-hand man,” she says. “And we just did a quote at Jimmy Barnes’s place at Berrima.”

The size and worth of the properties she is working on is not the only thing new to Caitlin. Because of the differences in climate, she is amazed at the quality of the soil, and the varieties of plants we don’t see further north.

The decision was not an easy one for Caitlin to make, primarily because she would be leaving her family, but she was also plagued with self doubts.

“Apart from the whole family thing, it was like ‘am I going to be good at this?’ Yes, I have had landscape experience with my Mum but it’s a completely different kettle of fish when you’re working on $5 million properties and you’re working with tools and machinery that they don’t even sell in the shops because they’re too expensive; they’re under lock and key,” Caitlin laughs.

However Caitlin bravely went with the attitude of ‘hey, why not?’ “I thought I’m silly if I don’t at least give it a crack,” she says.

Caitlin Sawyer and her two best mates: grandad Ralph Sawyer, and Cobba, both of whom are staying in Wingham. "She might come down for visits every now and then but Wingham's her home. She's a little Wingham dog and everybody knows her," she says of her furry friend.

Caitlin Sawyer and her two best mates: grandad Ralph Sawyer, and Cobba, both of whom are staying in Wingham. "She might come down for visits every now and then but Wingham's her home. She's a little Wingham dog and everybody knows her," she says of her furry friend.

Breaking the news to her grandad Ralph was not easy. “When she told me, she was in tears,” Ralph says. “And I told her ‘Caitlin, it’s okay! I told you, don’t you remember, the world’s going to be your oyster.

“She had to find her own feet and this is a special way to do it. There’s a good chance she’ll go back to Chelsea with this,” Ralph says proudly, as the Mick Conway team has won medals three times at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Meanwhile, Caitlin has been in the new job less than a week and is still finding her feet.

“In nursery work, you have a very varied role. You might start off organising staff for a day, you might serve a few customers, you might do a bit of propagation. But with landscaping you get out at 7am and you get on with your job, whether it’s mowing, welding, planting, maintenance and all that sort of stuff. It’s completely different and I’m absolutely exhausted. I’m not so used to the early starts!” she says.

Caitlin is currently staying with a friend in the Highlands, but has hopes of renting her own place, “somewhere I can have a dog and my own little garden – I’ve never had that before!”

Caitlin says she couldn’t bear the thought of taking her best mate Cobba down to live with her. “I’m pretty sure she loves grandad more than me. And not only that, everyone would miss her at home. She might come down for visits every now and then but Wingham’s her home. She’s a little Wingham dog and everyone knows her. She’s the nursery’s mascot!”

Caitlin swears she will not be a stranger to her home town, and will, at the very least, be back working at the nursery in her holidays.

 “I’ll be back one day” she says. “I’ll be back in a few weeks to pick up more of Mum’s food!”

Related stories:

Blooming career - travelling scholarship for young horticulturalist

Chelsea Adventure - Caitlin Sawyer's experience of a lifetime

Caitlin's back and full of plans




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