The world of horticulture and landscaping is fast-moving, ever-changing and leading the way in combatting climate change.
Growing and harvesting plants for financial, environmental or social benefits not only helps the environment, it can also boost wellbeing – and from lawn mowing to landscaping, greenkeeping to scientific research, horticulture offers a huge range of rewarding careers.
Humans have been been growing plants and maintaining the natural environment since ancient times and horticulture has never stopped changing and adapting. As we learn more about the impact of climate change and weather extremes, horticulturalists are dealing with some of the biggest issues of the day: what will we plant in the future if resources like water and nutrients become limited? How do we make the most of the rapid advances in growing techniques, machinery, and cultivation?
Horticulture and landscaping plays an important part in our economy. It’s a dynamic industry, with continuous research and development and a focus on using technology to make growing more sustainable. That has created a range of exciting job opportunities for people who are passionate about plants, science and growing solutions.
The UK horticulture industry is worth over £9 billion each year
The industry supports the employment of almost 340,000 people, with landscapers and retailers accounting for 83% of the total
Private gardening is an important activity for UK citizens, with households spending £7.5bn on gardening goods, including cut-flowers, a year
The Republic of Ireland's horticulture industry is valued at €477m; it is the fourth largest industry after dairy, beef and pigs in terms of gross agricultural commodity output value
The industry employs approximately 17,000 people in the Republic of Ireland - an estimated 6,600 people directly employed full-time and another 11,000 indirectly employed in value-added and downstream businesses
There are a wide range of diverse career opportunities available to you in the Horticulture & Landscaping sector.
Horticulture & Landscaping
Horticulture & Landscaping
Horticulture & Landscaping
Daisy Wright is a Grounds Maintenance Officer at Harmeny School in Balerno, which offers therapeutic care and education to young people aged 5-18 years. She changed career in her thirties by taking part in a Modern Apprenticeship and now loves her job in horticulture, working outdoors being physical with her hands in the soil!
Abi is a Green Roof Installer and Grower in Milton Keynes. She helps create sustainable living roofs - vegetated layers that sit on top of waterproofed roof surfaces of a building. We asked Abi to tell us about her job and how she got into the industry.
I’m Abi – I work for Bridgman & Bridgman LLP as a Green Roof Installer and Grower. I will have been with the organisation for 6 years in July – I started right after leaving school; I wanted to gain some work experience which led to a 2-year apprenticeship, and I moved to full-time employment when that came to an end.
My work can vary - I split my time between our plant nursery and jobs working with the team installing and maintaining green roofs across the UK. The best part of my job is teamworking and learning plant knowledge from the other people I work with. I also enjoy being creative and helping to design planting schemes. It was great to be involved in the Ikea Greenwich green roof, creating areas for wildlife, nature, and rooftop farming. I am proud of many of the living roofs that we have created.
Spring and summer are our busiest for growing at the nursery - we grow sedum, wildflower and plug plants for planting on living roofs. The rest of the year, our activities will depend on what our activities and priorities are.
Planning a project including logistics of materials is a massive part of the process - making sure things arrive onsite at the right time is essential. Green roofs tend to be one of the last jobs to be done when working on a new building project, so we need to plan as much as possible and always be willing to adapt as schedules change. Adverse weather such as wind can also slow down a build and be quite frustrating!
I’ve completed a lot of training relating to my role – I started by gaining my Level 2 Diploma in Work-based Horticulture and have since completed several courses related to the installation and maintenance of green roofing. I’ve also completed courses that allow me to work at height safely, such as using a harness or mobile elevated work platform (MEWP). I now hold a Blue Skilled Worker LISS/CSCS (Land-based Industry Skills Scheme / Construction Skills Certification Scheme) Card, so I am trained to install green roofs safely on building sites as well as residential properties.
Living roofs are a part of the solution to becoming a more sustainable society - they have many benefits including reducing the heat island effect, where urban areas are significantly warmer due to human activities and improving biodiversity. You need to like being outside, enjoy physically hard work, and be okay working at height - teamworking, good communication skills, and being able to work safely are essential skills when working with green roofs. If you want to do something practical that benefits the environment, working in green roofing can be an enjoyable and rewarding career.
Meet Ben, a technical manager at the Park Farm Site for the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in Cambridge, where he has been contributing his expertise since 2017. In this Q&A session, we delve into Ben's role and journey into the field of Horticulture.
What does the business do?
NIAB is the fastest growing crop science group in the country and is at the forefront of the application of genetics, physiology, soil science, precision agronomy and data science to improve the yield, efficiency, and resilience of crop production across the arable, forage and horticulture sectors.
What you do in your job each day?
As part of the wider glasshouse team my work is primarily based in and around NIAB’s park farm glasshouse facility where we grow several different plants in our 18 environmentally controlled compartments. Crops you would typically find growing in the fields across the UK and even non-natives are grown for a range of projects. My role as Technical Manager is primarily agronomy, so working out how to grow unusual or broadacre crops under glass. My current role varies depending on the season and the projects I’m working on.
My role also includes developing commercial business. Having a commercial growing background allows me to work between commercial and research which helps guide new businesses with project proposals.
What courses or qualifications have you completed?
Having a commercial horticultural background, I thought I was very knowledgeable in my area, but I didn’t have any recognised qualifications in the industry. Commercial horticulture wasn’t something I trained to do, I never had a direction growing up, I just knew that I wanted to work the land, be around tractors and drive an old Land Rover!
As my love for the industry grew and I began to see a future I knew that I needed to develop my skills and attend training courses. Having funded myself to attend pesticide application training and having trained to drive a counterbalance forklift truck, I felt my experience and training was enough for me to be desirable to other businesses and develop my career.
Since joining NIAB I have been fortunate to have had the company’s backing for several in-house and external training courses including another pesticide training course, telehandler training as well as BASIS Commercial Hort and FACTs Hort. I have also undertaken management, manual handling, and health & safety training in-house.
What skills do you use in your job?
As a grower your primary concern is always the health of the crop. You’re always on the lookout for pests and diseases and constantly working to produce a better crop. You’re constantly asking yourself, how can I increase yield, and how can I reduce my cost, my staff inputs, my carbon footprint etc. As a grower and from what I learned during my training is that an eye for detail and continuous development leads to improved processes. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the perfect ideology for the grower, looking at everything, how can I make changes and improvements to help me further down the line. Training and personal development is crucial to spotting problems in a crop. Being able to spot pest damage or early signs of disease or deficiencies are critical and understanding how to combat and prevent them leads to healthier crops.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Your focus as a commercial grower is to help build a thriving business, to make money by producing a saleable crop. Working in research, I’m able to work on projects that have a real-world impact, to assist growers improve processes and transfer research into usable skills and knowledge. Perhaps the biggest “buzz” I get is from the knowledge transfer side of our work. It’s been a long journey to acquire the knowledge I have, and that should be shared with younger growers. My aim next year is to ensure NIAB hosts at least one knowledge exchange seminar in person, aimed at the younger growers looking to develop their skills.
Have you had to deal with any challenges in your career?
I suppose career progression and diversity, were the biggest limiting factors to my professional development. Being able to attend training courses and knowledge exchange seminars wasn’t something I was presented with very often. Learning my trade in a small business gave me the opportunity to build practical skills and develop procedures, but external training would have been beneficial earlier in my career.
Is there anything you are particularly proud of?
Passing BASIS Hort, during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 was the proudest I’ve been at work. It was a long slog and wait for the results, I thought my heart was going to burst through my chest when opening the envelope from BASIS.
What parts of your job or industry are green/sustainable?
Our glasshouse facility is heated by a biomass boiler which burns wood pellets. We also use taupe-coloured plastic pots/containers, that unlike black plastic, can be processed by local councils. NIAB also carries out growing media projects for commercial customers looking to help reduce the amount of peat used in horticulture and to reduce the number of fertilisers that are used to prevent leaching into the environment. Every process we have has some form of waste reduction associated with it.
Do you work with any technology in your role?
Every day, all day in some cases! Our glasshouse facility is controlled by a PRIVA building management system (BMS) that controls the environment of our 18 compartments. Once configured the BMS system can create Summer in the middle of winter if required. We also use a range of handheld sensors such and spectrometers, humidity sensors and the growers most important tool, the pH and EC meter. Using technology gives you valuable information to assist decision-making.
Ben is very happy with the position he is currently in, and he is passionate about his career. “I’d like to think I have a few years still left in me, and I have never been one to sit still, I am always looking to progress onto other things. Increasing knowledge exchange across the industry and becoming a basis approved trainer are future goals.”
We have learnt from Ben to take change as a positive and explore any chances you get to progress further in your chosen career. “Don’t ever sit down and think this is all you’re good for, take a chance and change, it’s the best thing I did.”