From the office to the great outdoors

From the office to the great outdoors

Meet the celebrity lecturer at Dundrum College of Further Education, who at 26 quit her desk job to follow her heart to the great outdoors.

Monica Alvarez is no ordinary horticultural lecturer. She has worked in and managed some of the most iconic gardens in the country - and sits as a judge on RTÉ’s Super Garden in her spare time. If you want to learn about horticulture, you want to learn it from her!

Monica grew up in the city of Valladolid located in Spain’s picturesque Northwest where spent her childhood playing in pine forests and swinging from the trees with her brothers and sisters. She initially came to Ireland in the early 1992 after meeting her best friend Caroline Shannon in London the year before.

After a short stint as a bilingual secretary she soon discovered her heart belonged elsewhere – with Ireland’s great outdoors. Monica returned and in 1995 enrolled in an outdoor gardening course, in Clonroche in County Wexford – a move she tells us completely changed her career trajectory.

"As soon as I set foot in the classroom, I knew I had been in the wrong career until then. The outdoors was in my blood and any kind of office job would crush my soul.”

Monica spent the next three years completing a diploma in amenity horticulture, later upgrading this to a degree. Learning about nature really opened her mind to the natural world and Monica quickly realised a career in teaching was her true calling.

"As I learned more and more about the science behind plant behaviour and the soil in which they grow it, I just felt I could never keep all this wonderful information to myself! I just had to share it with others!”

Following a prestigious post as head gardener at Luttrellstown Castle, Monica decided to apply for a post as a lecturer in Dundrum College.

“It was a huge risk, I didn’t know if I would get the job, never mind actually be good at it!”

Her gut instinct was right. That was back in 2002, it’s now 15 years later and Monica is still there sowing the seeds of success in her students.

As a lecturer Monica goes the extra mile. The highlight of her year is collaborating with Bloom festival, which allows her students the opportunity to showcase their skills by designing and displaying gardens at one of the most popular events in the Irish calendar in the Phoenix Park.