Career profile - Gardens manager, historic or botanic garden

Eden Project director of life sciences Dr Mike Maunder explains the role: "As a manager of a public garden or estate you are custodian of a collection and landscape that represents a unique heritage."

He adds: "But importantly you are also responsible for ensuring the viability of those assets into the future".

This arcing between heritage and future is very exciting, as with so many aspects of horticulture you are blending your hard-earned expertise with a range of science, culture, business and executive skills."

What is best about being a gardens manager for an historic or botanic garden?

John Anderson, keeper of the gardens (curator) for The Crown Estate, which includes The Savill Garden, and Greg Redwood, head of glasshouses, nursery and display at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, both state that a highlight of the job is working among an incredibly diverse collection of plants. Anderson also enjoys "the opportunity to meet and communicate with people with a common interest in plants and landscape gardens". He also refers to the opportunity to be creative, to enhance and preserve the aesthetic affection of the contemplated landscape and "the challenges presented to you each day and the direction you take in looking for an agreeable solution". Redwood adds that another highlight is working with "engaged and motivated staff who have a wide range of specialisms. You continue to learn and can always find something in flower every day of the year."

What kind of skills, attributes, knowledge and experience are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment - and why?

Horticultural knowledge/people skills

Arguably, Redwood speaks for most employers in this sector when he says: "You need outstanding plant knowledge and people-management skills. Finding people with both is not always easy." Katherine Alker, garden and park manager at Croome Park in Worcestershire, adds: "Good horticultural knowledge is a must but equally important is how someone can interact with the public and interpret the landscape and garden. The role involves inspiring visitors to come again because of the experience they've had, but this all starts with great horticultural standards." Anderson also says that "most in demand for this role is great people skills - the art of communicating across a wide pool of people both in-house and externally".

Maunder adds: "I always look for the individual that has a fire in their belly about plants and can communicate the value of horticulture to society. Ideally I'm looking for a horticulturist who reads both Gardens Illustrated and The Economist."

Confidence and direction

In additional to formal qualifications, Maunder says: " I look for confidence and a cross-disciplinary approach that jumps over traditional boundaries. The ability to work with different professional cultures and the ability to transfer the value of horticulture to all stakeholders are key. I look for candidates who can track details that ensure excellence and have the overall vision that ensures relevance." Anderson adds that candidates need "clear direction and vision of what needs to be done and how as a team this can be best achieved".

Professional/organisational skills

Maunder notes that such skills include team management, budget and project management, fundraising and staff training.

What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a potential candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?

The requirements for this role vary depending on the employer/type of garden. Anderson says he would need to see "adequate qualifications to degree level, backed up by at least seven years' experience perhaps in both the private and public sector". Redwood says he looks for people with a Kew diploma or a similar qualification "and for a good number of years' experience working with relevant plants under glass.

This could be broad-based or specialist, depending on the actual role and which collections/areas they would manage. More senior roles require previous experience of managing resources, including staff and budgets." Alker notes that candidates need a high level of horticultural experience, supported by appropriate qualifications to RHS level 3 or above, or an equivalent level of vocational experience. Maunder notes that Eden Project Learning has been established to "nurture a cadre of horticulturists (degree and apprentice) with a broad sense of purpose, a cross-disciplinary resilience and the confidence to tackle the challenges of the 21st century".

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from other horticulture roles?

"We often recruit staff from a range of other backgrounds including interior landscaping and specialist nurseries and growers, although the more specialist or senior the role, the more difficult it becomes to find candidates with the range of experience required," says Redwood. "To this end we have recently set up a specialist two-year historic glasshouse apprenticeship and one-year specialist Kew certificates in nursery display glasshouses, and propagation." Maunder adds: "Horticulture needs constant invigoration from outside professions, otherwise we risk becoming irrelevant."


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