What does a career in horticulture hold for you?

With roles to fit business, creative, technical and conservation ambitions, the industry offers a wealth of career choices, says Gavin McEwan.

Horticulture makes a central contribution to Britain’s unique cultural identity - image: FlickR/Katherine Herriman
Horticulture makes a central contribution to Britain’s unique cultural identity - image: FlickR/Katherine Herriman

Horticulture is one of the most diverse areas of work in which to choose to make your future. But until you're part of it, it's hard to appreciate just what's available.

For a start, you don't have to have kept a vegetable plot since you were three-years-old. Many people only discover the pleasures of plants in their teens or later in life. Nor do you have to aspire to wearing wellies all day - although there are plenty of jobs that will let you do just that.

The following pages will help you decide if there is a branch of horticulture that suits the sort of person you are - whether that is entrepreneurial, scientific, artistic, or simply keen to get stuck into some hard graft.

Of course you may be more than one of these things. Part of the appeal of horticulture is that it provides ample opportunities for people to develop new skills and draw on abilities they did not know they had.

So a landscape architect ends up working with communities to improve local parks, a botanist decides to use her plant knowledge to create novel garden designs, while a commercial grower reckons he could sell his plants directly to the public over the internet and creates a whole new business.

Horticulture also continues to lure those in other careers that they feel they are unsuited to or need a change from, or that are in decline. Significantly, though, very few people go the other way. Once you're in the profession, it seems that you're likely to stay in.

So what sort of horticultural work is right for you?

Running a plant-based business

An estimated 27 million people in Britain - nearly half the population - do some sort of gardening in their spare time, making it by far the nation's most popular hobby. Yet the pleasure and satisfaction of growing plants can be turned into a profitable career too.

You may have already discovered the pleasure of raising your own flowers, vegetables or fruit, if only on a balcony. Or if you have the sought-after combination of plant and people skills, you are likely to be just the sort of person garden centres are looking for.

Commercial horticulture is home to mostly small companies, many family-run and in attractive parts of the country, making it an appealing choice for those looking to start and manage their own business while achieving the fabled successful work-life balance.

Maintaining a green space

For a relatively crowded island, Britain has a remarkable amount of green space, which plays a major part in making our towns and cities more liveable and attractive.

This provides a wide range of working opportunities, from ensuring local parks are well maintained and enjoyable places to visit, to checking that trees are healthy and safe - and dealing with them if they aren't.

Working in grounds care is also appealing for those attracted to sport. This area of British life will be under unprecedented attention in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics, which, as it happens, will be set in Britain's largest new public park for more than a century.

Garden attractions

It is said that what music is to Germany, painting is to the Netherlands, or cooking is to France, so gardens and designed landscapes are to the British. Blessed with a mild climate, we have over the centuries adopted and adapted huge numbers of plants and used them to beautify our surroundings to a unique extent. This attracts huge numbers of visitors every year, including millions from overseas.

Britain's 30-odd publicly accessible botanic gardens also have a vital role to play in conserving plants which are often threatened in the wild, as well as being stimulating and often beautiful places to visit in their own right. If working in such an agreeable environment appeals to you, you have certainly picked the right country to do it in.

Getting creative with open spaces

If you have a flair for design, there are opportunities to reshape the open spaces around you, from your neighbours' gardens up to entire parks.

Landscape architecture also lets you make whole areas more liveable, sustainable and rich in wildlife, in a job with full professional status.

Researching ways to grow better

If you are drawn to finding out how things work, yet put off by highly abstract research topics, then you may find the hands-on nature of horticultural science is for you. There are a great many ways to make an impact in this arena and to carve out your own area of expertise at a time when demand for practical solutions to environmental and production problems can only rise.

Focus on health and well-being

Plants have been used in healing since the dawn of time, but it is only recently that the effect of working with them on our mental and physical well-being has been appreciated. Out of this has emerged the discipline of therapeutic horticulture, which can combine a passion for plants with a career choice that will directly improve people's lives.

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