Saturday, June 15, 2024

Parks & Gardens Careers can be rewarding

By Daniel Fuller

A career in Parks and Gardens can be rewarding and at times challenging, however, in my opinion it’s one of the best horticulture and landscape sectors to work in. Unlike commercial and domestic landscaping, parks and gardens are public spaces where you’re either directly working for a local council or a large sub-contracting company.

It’s a totally different pace of life when you move from a job in domestic maintenance, where time is money and every second counts, to working in parks and gardens where you can actually take your lunch break to relax and listen to the wind blowing.

Depending on your focus, you might get into the design, construction or maintenance side of things. Realistically, maintenance is where most of the work is, because it doesn’t take as long to design or construct a park as it does to keep it maintained, month in, month out.

My experience has always been in maintenance, and grounds staff will usually be broken into two categories which are turf and horticulture staff.

The ‘turfies’ do the mowing and diagnose turf problems such as diseases and weeds. They get to sit on the ride-on or tractor for half of the day, and brush cut the edges for the other half of the day, while the ‘hort’ team spend most of their time pruning, removing green waste, controlling weeds and diagnosing plant health problems. Then you’ll often have a spray truck operator at the depot who waters new plantings and sprays large areas with chemical pesticides.

All teams pick a lot of rubbish because unfortunately there are some members of the public who throw their fast food waste out of the car. If you saw the amount of plastic and paper that comes out of our public gardens every single day, you’d be horrified. We’re talking skip bins that get emptied each week, completely filled to the brim.

Everybody starts out on the tools, usually working with a crew leader in a team of two.

At some point, sometimes sooner than you think, you’ll be ready to lead the work vehicle with an offsider of your own. Not everybody wants the added stress of this role, especially because there isn’t a great pay increase, but some of us prefer to be in charge of the jobs for the day and see the opportunities that can arise from that. You will still be working on the tools as a crew leader, but this is where there could be an opportunity to move into upper management, where you’ll be overseeing the work rather than performing it.

Other people may want to put together tender proposals to win council contracts for large companies. Often, the profit margins are razor thin because competition is so fierce in the sector, so you really have to go over the whole council ward with a magnifying glass to ensure every square metre of turf, and every shrub is accounted for.

Each council ward is different. Living in the Melbourne suburb of Glen Huntly, I’m blessed to have access to literally hundreds of parks within a half-hour drive. But the weird thing about Melbourne is that we have 31 separate councils that cover our metropolitan area and outer suburbs, whereas my home town of Brisbane has just one council: the Brisbane City Council.

One of my favourite workplaces ever was in the Wyndham City ward, just west of Melbourne, which has undergone a lot of development in recent years. Serious effort and thought has gone into the design of those parks and gardens, with native habitat and amenity being prioritised.

I remember getting to the first job of the day and being able to hear the frogs croaking and the birds singing the first song of the morning. It’s a beautiful thing to hear the sounds of nature in your day job.

You don’t necessarily need experience in parks and gardens to be hired for a management position in parks and gardens. Other related areas, such as domestic and commercial landscaping, will give you the experience you need to thrive in public parks, especially if you’ve worked for a big company, because it’s a totally different environment to working for a small business.

Many of us start in the parks and gardens sector without a formal qualification, but there are a number of relevant courses you can undertake for professional development, including a certificate in parks & gardens, horticulture, turf or a landscape-related qualification.

Large companies are hiring parks and gardens staff right now, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, so head to my job board, Hort People, if you’d like to browse jobs for free. There are a lot of crew leader roles available if you’re looking for the next step in your horticultural career.

Daniel Fuller

M: 042 6169 708



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