Thursday, May 30, 2024

Ten pathways in amenity horticulture – Part 1

By Daniel Fuller

Amenity horticulture is more than just mowing, pruning plants, and spraying weeds. You can move from one sector of this industry to another to keep things fresh. Let’s look into ten pathways you can take in amenity horticulture, from production to maintenance and beyond. This article is written in two parts – this month we look at six of the ten pathways. The remainder will be covered in the next issue.

1. Production

Unless a gardener is propagating their own plants, generally plants in the urban landscape begin their life in a commercial production nursery. They can either be propagated via a cloned cutting, or through seed growing.

While the demand is currently high for nursery production staff, much of the work is simple and repetitive, meaning that it can be replaced by automated machinery. There will always be a need for humans to run certain parts of the business and operations, though it’s unclear how much automation will impact careers in this sector.

Starting as a horticultural technician, professionals can progress to become production managers, or even run their own nurseries. Sometimes, they’ll go on to become breeders and cultivate entirely new varieties of plants.

While there’s no qualification needed to enter this sector, a Certificate III, IV, Diploma or Bachelor’s degree in horticulture or botany is beneficial. Key skills include understanding plant biology, soil science, and the impact of climate on plant growth.

2. Retail

The retail pathway involves selling horticultural products directly to consumers. This could be through retail nurseries, garden centres, or even direct-to-consumer sales at farmers markets.

There are as many types of retail nurseries as there are plants (well, almost). Some retail nurseries specialise in a particular type of plant, such as Australian natives, tropical indoor plants, or carnivorous plants. Other nurseries sell all types of plants, such as that well-known hardware shop in the big, green shed.

Garden centres are retail nurseries that have transcended simple retail spaces. They may have a café and are places where visitors can catch up with friends for brunch and take a few plants home.

Being a retail nursery professional requires a good understanding of customer service, market trends, and product knowledge. Retail professionals need to be able to advise customers on the best plants for their needs and provide care instructions.

Professionals in this sector often start as sales assistants, progressing to store manager or buyer roles. Some may even open their own garden centres.

While qualifications in horticulture, business or retail management can be advantageous, all that’s needed to enter this sector are customer service skills and a willingness to learn about the products.

3. Plant breeding

Plant breeding is a fascinating and crucial aspect of amenity horticulture. Breeders work to develop new plant varieties that are more aesthetically pleasing, resilient, or better suited to specific environments. You’ll combine scientific knowledge with creative vision, resulting in plants that enhance our landscapes and gardens in exciting ways.

The plant breeding process can be time-consuming, often taking several years from the initial cross-pollination to the release of a new variety. Breeders must carefully monitor and record each step, ensuring the desirable traits are passed on and any undesirable traits are eliminated.

Once you’ve got a successful new cultivated variety, you can register the Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR), you have the sole rights to sell your plants. You can also license them to other growers and retailers while taking a cut off each sale.

A degree in botany, biology, or horticulture, with a specialisation in plant genetics, is typical.

4. Design & architecture

Garden Design and Landscape Architecture involve creating aesthetically pleasing and functional outdoor spaces. This could include designing public parks, domestic gardens, and commercial landscapes. Professionals in this pathway need a keen eye for design, a deep foundation of plant knowledge, and strong project management skills.

Anybody can call themselves a garden or landscape designer, even if they’ve never stepped foot in a garden before. A few years of experience in landscape construction or maintenance will be an immense help, though, because you’ll actually have firsthand experience of how plants behave in the landscape, a formal Certificate or Diploma is, of course, recommended so that you’ve gained the skills necessary to successfully design landscapes.

Design jobs are rarer than other roles in the amenity horticulture industry, because it takes less human-hours to design a garden than it does to construct and maintain it. You might get lucky and land a job with a company, but most designers work for themselves.

Landscape Architecture and design aren’t interchangeable terms. A Landscape Architect in Australia requires a Degree in Landscape Design as well as formal registration with the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA). This is a higher level of attainment than a gardener or Landscape Designer.

5. Landscape Construction

Landscape construction is about turning those designs into reality. It involves tasks such as site preparation, planting, installing hard landscape features like ponds or paths, and setting up irrigation systems. On top of these construction skills, a good landscaper has strong horticultural knowledge as well.

It requires physical fitness, practical skills, and a good understanding of construction methods and materials. With the increasing complexity of landscape designs, skilled landscape construction professionals are in high demand.

Landscapers often begin their career as an apprentice, where they can earn while they learn – even if it is a lower wage than they could get as a labourer. However, many landscapers begin as a labourer and study for their Cert III or above part-time. That means that they have to pay for their own studies, but they can earn a higher rate per hour.

6. Landscape maintenance

Once a landscape has been constructed, it needs to be maintained. Many professionals in the amenity horticulture industry begin their journey in this sector, mowing lawns, trimming hedges and spraying weeds. It’s often thought of as low-skilled work, and that stereotype is often true with many people working in domestic, commercial and public landscapes lacking a formal qualification.

Many landscape professionals consistently chip bark off the base of trees with their brush cutter, mal-prune trees and shrubs, and reach for the chemical pesticides too quickly. They lack the basic understanding of each plant’s needs and so they can encourage plant health issues without understanding what they’re doing.

However, a maintenance operator that has horticultural knowledge can do a much better job than a “petrol cowboy.” A sound understanding of subjects like biology, soil science, plant identification, irrigation and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can really separate you from the crowd.

Having started as a maintenance pro myself, I believe experience in this sector sets you up for success because you’ve seen what happens to a garden after everybody else has long forgotten about it. You can move into any other sector of the industry from here.

In the next issue, we will look at another four pathways: Leadership, supervision & management; Sales; Education; and Media & content creation.

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