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Samantha Armstrong
Samantha Armstrong, Garden Design

Growing Into a Career

George Brown student goes from silver screen to green garden

Samantha Armstrong was living the Hollywood dream. As a script supervisor, she accumulated an impressive resumé of more than 25 feature films (including The Recruit, The Hurricane and Four Brothers). But, after 17 years of long hours in the film industry, she was ready for a new challenge.

“I was looking for a career change,” she says. “Garden design was one of the things that attracted my interest immediately. I had enjoyed gardening on my own for many years; it was something I wanted to try professionally. It would be a big change, but I knew I would still need many of the organizational and other skills I developed working in the film industry.”

After deciding which path to pursue, the 54-year-old began to research her education and training options.

“Some places didn’t offer garden design while others only offered it as part of a full-time horticulture program or something else," Samantha remembers. “I wanted an in-classroom experience, and George Brown had exactly what I wanted.”

In the fall of 2009, Samantha started back at school by taking the first courses in the Garden Design Certificate offered through Continuing Education at George Brown College in partnership with the Toronto Botanical Garden.

“I had a bit of apprehension about being back in school because it had been a long time,” she recalls. “The teachers were so friendly, welcoming and prepared that I felt at ease from the very first moment in the class. They offered a complete breakdown of the course and what would be done in every class, so there was no fear of the unknown.”

Samantha’s initial apprehension soon became enjoyment and, ultimately, inspiration.

“I started to look forward to being in school because every class gave me so much information that it made me want to do my own research and come back with more questions. In fact, I often wished the classes were longer because I couldn’t get enough,” she says. “The instructors’ level of expertise is almost unbelievable; they are master gardeners who write for magazines and travel as guest speakers. You couldn’t learn from better people.”

Samantha completed four of the five required courses for the Garden Design Certificate – Fundamentals of Gardening, Garden Design I, Garden Design II and Horticulture – Woody and Herbaceous Plants – and was ready to start working in the field.

“The two design courses definitely gave me what I needed to go ahead in the industry,” she says. “After completing them both, I had the confidence to go to somebody’s property and give them a design they would love. On top of all the practical design knowledge I acquired in the class, the confidence I built was key.”

Samantha launched her own company in the spring of 2010 – Beechwood Garden Design – and does both the design and the labour. In 2010, she did eight complete garden makeovers, signed several maintenance contracts and completed many shorter jobs, proving that her confidence is definitely well-deserved.

As she prepares for the 2011 gardening season, Samantha continues to recommend George Brown’s Garden Design courses.

“The courses were exactly what I wanted, and my expectations were completely fulfilled. I will be back to take another Continuing Education course with George Brown College,” she says. “Whether you want to do your own garden or get into the industry professionally, the courses at George Brown are amazing.”