The professional gardening industry has welcomed the RHS commitment to provide £7.3m of funding by for horticultural training positions and salary increases - but with some reservations.
The RHS will provide the funding over the next 10 years as part of the Horticulture Matters campaign to raise the profile of careers in horticulture. It includes £3.2m to increase RHS horticultural apprentice and training positions from 46 to 76 by 2025 and a further £4.1m investment in horticultural salaries by 2025.
This will fund permanent salary increases of between five and 10 per cent from 1 April 2015, in addition to the society's standard two per cent pay increase for 2015. The RHS added: "Salaries would also be expected to increase further due to the RHS's annual salary review."
Professional Gardeners' Guild (PGG) chairman Tony Arnold said the move will make professional gardening a more attractive career and should influence employers of gardeners to follow the RHS's lead. But the increases still fail to match comparable professions in the building industry, he added.
"Any salary increase will help make professional gardening more attractive and more training schemes will help as well. It's pointless taking on trainees without a relatively attractive salary at the end of it," said Arnold.
"Gardeners should be on a comparable scale to tradesmen in the building industry so an assistant head gardener should be on the same as a carpenter, bricklayer or electrician, who earn £22,000 to £26,000 a year. Lots of gardeners are only on £17,000 to £18,000.
"The new scale with salaries at £19,000 is a step in the right direction but not quite enough. We need to be getting skilled gardeners on the same platform scale as other skilled industries."
He said the PGG's recent salary guidelines have led to several employers upping salaries and he expects many more to follow the RHS's lead. The guild will update its salary guidelines in 2016 and hopes to include more advice on what to pay those with extra qualifications such as RHS level 3, masters or chainsaw licences.
The PGG's Sue Tasker said the RHS announcement is encouraging. "We really need the RHS, the National Trust and English Heritage to show the way here. Other employers look to their wages for an example," she added.
The PGG published its updated guidelines for pay last month. These recommend a three per cent increase across the range, based on an increase of three per cent in the National Minimum Wage and "reflecting the improving economic outlook", said Tasker.
Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller welcomed the RHS funding, saying it is "good to get youngsters on board". He added: "Things like this bring horticulture to the front - people listen to the RHS."
Professional gardening consultant Alan Sargent said the funding is welcome but it is important that training meets the needs of the industry and is delivered in an effective way. There should be "some sort of check and balance" to ensure that the funding is delivering results, he added.
Trentham Garden head of garden and estate Michael Walker said: "Horticulture offers a diverse and incredibly attractive career, which should be much better promoted and supported. I am delighted to hear that the RHS will be visiting schools to promote horticulture as a career and hope that this may encourage children to better connect with gardening.
"I am also delighted to hear that the RHS will be increasing the number of excellent training positions it offers from 46 to 76, which will further reinforce the range of training opportunities that are currently available."
He added: "In my field of professional gardening there is relentless demand to recruit, further develop and retain new and existing gardeners alike. The profession must successfully nurture the right people at every level. It must be better able to cultivate and retain highly specialist professionals."
The National Trust said: "We have worked with the RHS in their review of horticultural salaries. We benchmark our salaries regularly to ensure they remain fair and competitive in order to attract and retain great staff."
RHS salaries - Updated annual pay levels
|Horticulturist- level 1-2||c. £17,000-£21,000||c. £19,000-£23,000|
|Horticulturist- team leader||c. £21,000-£25,000||c. £24,000-£30,000|
|Garden manager||c. £31,000-£37,000||c. £33,000-£39,000|