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Elaine dos Santos
Elaine dos Santos, Garden Design Certificate Graduate

Growing a Second Career

George Brown certificate preps law clerk to turn a love of gardening into a business for retirement

Elaine dos Santos looks back on her decision to register with Continuing Education at George Brown College – and change the direction of her career at age 57 – as a monumental moment in her life.

“I’d spent the previous 36 years working as a law clerk. I wanted to tap into the creative side of my personality,” she says. “I wanted to start planning my retirement, which, for me, means not working five days a week.”

Elaine had always loved gardening, so, when she visited George Brown College’s Continuing Education website, the Garden Design Certificate struck her right away. The certificate, offered in partnership with the Toronto Botanical Garden, looks at both the art and the process of layout and planting. Beginners and avid gardeners alike get the skills they need to design, install and maintain gardens in Ontario.

According to Elaine, the affordability, flexibility and convenience of the college’s offerings made it a very easy decision. At a minimum, she thought, she could do something with her own garden and property.

Elaine took her first course, Edible Gardening in the City, in March 2011 and loved it. She then threw herself into working toward the certificate, taking two courses a term until completing it in May 2012. Garden Design I and Garden Design II focused on the fundamentals of design and drawing practice, which gave Elaine a new perspective.

“The classes changed the way I looked at the environment around me – whether it was my neighbourhood, my house, a friend’s house or wherever I happened to be,” she recalls.

Another course that features in the certificate, Horticulture – Horticulture – Woody and Herbaceous Plants, is all about understanding the cornerstones of the garden itself – and that led Elaine to embrace a new opportunity.

“Sitting in class, I realized that it was a great review of plant materials, but plant knowledge was the one area in which I felt shaky,” she remembers. “With that in mind, I decided I wanted to spend a season working at a nursery so that I would get some experience by immersing myself in it.”

She was offered a position working part-time on the weekends during the 2012 growing season at her local Sheridan Nurseries. The hands-on experience solidified what she’d learned in class and, by the end of the season, she was doing designs in-store for customers. For the 2013 season, Elaine joined Sheridan’s Landscape Design Services team, performing on-site consultations.

“I’d spent the previous 36 years working as a law clerk. I wanted to tap into the creative side of my personality. I wanted to start planning my retirement, which, for me, means not working five days a week. It is possible, with the help of George Brown College, to reinvent yourself, no matter how old you are, and to achieve your goals. Even though I was a bit unsure where things would take me, I was so comfortable being back in the classroom, and it’s coming together better than I could have ever imagined.”

Although she still does intellectual property and contract work four days a week, her three days a week at the nursery remain Elaine’s escape. And that experience will eventually allow her to realize another goal: opening her own garden design business when she retires.

It is possible, with the help of George Brown College, to reinvent yourself, no matter how old you are, and to achieve your goals,” she says. “Even though I was a bit unsure where things would take me, I was so comfortable being back in the classroom, and it’s coming together better than I could have ever imagined. The goal was to reinvent myself at 57 and start a new career in garden design. With the support of George Brown College, its instructors and my classmates, I’ve achieved that goal.”