How to become a gardener
Thinking about a career in horticulture? Here's what you need to know about becoming a gardener. Words by Camilla Phelps.
It's a dream job for any passionate plant lover: that romantic vision of life in the open air, working with plants. The reality is hard work and often low pay, but it's undeniably a rewarding profession. Those looking to make a life changing leap will find many opportunities for study and training.
Things to consider if you're thinking about training in horticulture
Don't worry about your age
Gardening is not an ageist profession and most courses and training schemes welcome students from 16 to 60 and beyond, providing they can demonstrate their commitment to a career in horticulture and a passion for plants.
Think about what other skills you can offer
In public gardens, it's not just horticultural skills that are of value. Employers, colleges and horticultural institutions are open to applications from all backgrounds. Senior gardeners at the National Trust, for example, have to keep gardens immaculate and fresh to attract visitors. They also have to be adept at planning, be good at presentation, managing others and working with schools and community groups.
Get some hands-on experience
Most employers and the top diploma courses look for evidence of practical gardening experience. If you are starting out, try volunteering for a while, for the National Trust, English Heritage, the Working for Gardeners scheme (previously WRAGS), or the nearest historic garden, botanical garden, park or gardening society. The experience of gardening in all weathers will help you decide whether it's the right work for you, and it's great for your CV, showing your dedication when you come to apply for jobs or further training.
Get a qualification
The qualifications recognised across the industry – RHS qualifications, BTEC National Diploma, HND, NVQ and City & Guilds – are a good starting point for a gardening career. Making time to do a course shows your commitment and gives a good grounding in horticulture.
Many colleges around the UK offer part-time courses and some training placements offer these in tandem with hands-on gardening work.
It is also possible to train or get an apprenticeship at a historic or botanic garden under the Historic and Botanic Garden Training Programme (HBGTP), National Trust or at a royal park – but again, they will want to see evidence of your passion and commitment.
Be open to different opportunities
Most training courses and placement cover a broad range of horticultural subjects. So while you might go into your training with a fixed career goal, such as a head gardener position, there are many other options that you might not previously have considered, both in gardens and commercially.