Careers In Horticulture - Next generation

Coming up through the ranks, the YoungHorts tell Sarah Cosgrove why they want to work in the industry.

Jack Bushnell
Jack Bushnell

A group of energetic young horticulturists has taken the industry by storm in the space of just a few months. Business owners from all sectors of the industry have been complaining of a lack of young talent in horticulture for years, with dire warnings of an impending skills gap as knowledgeable workers retire.

To tackle the problem, last year the RHS with the help of 200 industry organisations published the Horticulture Matters report. It found that 70 per cent of horticultural businesses could not get the trained staff they need.

RHS director-general Sue Biggs pointed out at the time: "The stark fact is that horticulture is struggling to attract young people. It is not promoted as a career."

But after finding each other on Twitter, a group of young people calling themselves "YoungHorts" have shown that there is an enthusiastic cohort of youngsters coming up through the ranks. They organised a conference at RHS Garden Wisley that attracted big-name speakers and their social media updates are followed and commented on by everyone from TV gardeners to business owners.

They hail from all across the UK, and one from Ireland, and are full of ambition and excitement about their future careers.

They encapsulate the variety and opportunities available in horticulture, from production or retail through to landscaping or garden design. Will you join them?

- Follow @YoungHort or search for #younghort.

Jack Bushnell Aspiring nursery manager

Jack Bushnell (main picture), 20, is studying at Sparsholt College in Hampshire. He was inspired to get into horticulture by his grandparents, who had a big garden. "I used to go round with the gardener to see what they did. I helped out and found I was quite good - everything I planted grew," he says.

"I chose Sparsholt because I thought that the course looked really good. I find learning about the plants and the science interesting. The course contains a wide range of things. The course is a bit more academic than some others but you still do your SLGs and get to use lawnmowers, hedge trimmers and so on."

After working in a garden centre last year, Bushnell decided that he wanted to run his own retail business. But now he is working part time at Hardy's Plants his dream is to run a nursery. "I compared the two and I much prefer to run a nursery. I like the propagation side and learning about plants, and I found science interesting. "Nurseries still grow and propagate all their own plants. It's a lot more plant orientated and they do shows like RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court."

He also completed a two-week placement at Ventnor Botanical Gardens that he said "was amazing". His advice to others who might be thinking about horticulture is to "do it because there's a lot to learn and a lot to do". He adds: "You work outside all day - it's better than looking at a blank wall in an office. You can work in different gardens around the world or in the same country, but no two days are the same."

Dan Handley Aspiring landscape business owner

"I chose horticulture because it is such a varied line of work, there are many different aspects of horticulture and all of them have an interest to me - there is so much to learn," says Dan Handley, 20, who is about to complete an extended level 3 diploma in horticulture at Sparsholt College, where he says the course has been amazing, not least because you learn with like-minded people.

"Before Sparsholt I worked for three years on an organic smallholding farm called the Husbandry School, managing the growth of high-end produce produced for top-class restaurants in Devon, as well as livestock and general land management," he explains.

But he is now also interested in landscape gardening and won gold at last year's WorldSkillsUK competition with fellow contestant Dan Brennen. This led to them speaking at the Association of Professional Landscapers Awards ceremony in March. Now training for a place in the UK squad for the international competition in Brazil in 2015, Handley says his dream job is to run his own landscape gardening and garden services company in Hampshire.

"I have high hopes of having my own business in the next couple of years," he says. "I would encourage any young person to get into horticulture. It is truly amazing and very versatile. You will meet amazing people and learn so much. It is a good profitable career choice and a nice way of life. Just go for it - you have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Ben Harrison Landscaper and garden designer

Entrepreneur Ben Harrison, 23, a self-employed landscaper and garden designer from Kidderminster, runs BH Designs and was recently chosen as one of four finalists in the Grand Designs Live show garden competition.

A self-taught horticulturist, he was unable to access family support to go to college so he plotted his own career path, working as a draftsman when leaving school before doing a two-year apprenticeship with hard landscaping company BHC Services, leading to an NVQ level 2 in horticultural landscaping from Pershore College.

Now Harrison is moving in a more creative direction, learning everything he can about garden design and plants, and he takes part in competitions partly for the mentorship and feedback offered. He uses books, the internet and apps such as The Joy of Plants to help with plant identification and selection.

"Not everybody has to go to college or university," he points out. "I would advise young people to take as much help as they possibly can. The gardening set really are some of the friendliest people ever and they help you out." He also advises people not to be put off by those who "throw Latin names about out there".

Harrison says he loves that his job pays him to travel. "I work a lot but because I really enjoy it, it doesn't feel like working. I can make of it what I like. My dream is to put my stamp on a little bit of the world. I like the creativity of design and build - you can take an idea and run with it."

Katie-Marie Percival Aspiring plant breeder

A dramatic change in her family circumstances prompted Katie-Marie Percival, a 22-year-old from Portsmouth, to move from human to plant sciences. She was also influenced by James Wong's Grow Your Own Drugs television series.

She is due to finish a level 3 90-credit diploma in horticulture at Chichester College next month and does voluntary work at Manor Park in Hampshire. "The people working there are absolutely amazing and knowledgeable. They have taught me a lot," she says. "I work part time as a florist but I'm looking to change careers and get into horticulture as soon as I leave college."

Percival has applied to university to take a foundation-based plant science degree but may delay if she finds the right job. "My ideal job is a plant breeder or geneticist - I find it fascinating," she says. "I spend a lot of time in the college glasshouses, I love propagation and get all excited when I watch something grow from a seed."

Percival maintains that those who are considering careers should "ask questions about what you're interested in because I was always interested in plants but there wasn't anybody to ask about it".

She adds: "Don't be so ashamed or worried about what other people might think - that definitely held me back. At 16 I didn't realise I could have this option but now I know I am extremely proud of what I do. I had no idea it could be this amazing. It's quite brilliant what I am doing and I absolutely love it."

Jack Shilley Aspiring garden broadcaster

YoungHort group director Jack Shilley, 18, was given his first greenhouse when he was aged six but decided to choose horticulture as a career in 2009 when his school took part in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

He is now near the end of a level 3 extended diploma in horticulture at Sparsholt College and has secured an internships at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Hawaii.

Shilley is already practicing for one of his dream jobs by filming short gardening videos for the Horticultural Channel and works part time at Longacres Garden Centre in Bagshot, Surrey, as a planteria assistant.

"I would love to go into the media or TV and share my passion for horticulture," he says. "The person I'd most like to be like is Alan Titchmarsh before he did chat shows. He's so passionate and knows his stuff so well. He's a media all-rounder."

Working as one of 200 Disney horticulturists at the famous Florida theme park would also be "a dream come true" for Shilley. "We went last year during the flower festival. It was just incredible to see the sheer amount of work that goes into it. Not many people think about Disney being a horticultural place, but they do everything. It's like a Mecca for hort.

"Any young person considering a career in horticulture needs to be aware of how diverse and exciting it is, and how many different types of plants there are. You can be science or arty. You can be anything you want to be."

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