Gardener

The Job and What's Involved

Gardeners grow and look after plants in many different settings including public parks, private gardens, sports facilities and plant nurseries.

Gardening is part of the vast horticultural industry, ranging from research and climate change issues to plant production and the management of open spaces used by many people for many different activities.

Most gardeners work in amenity horticulture. Their work involves managing and maintaining gardens or open spaces, which include public parks, private and historic gardens, cemeteries, sports facilities and other green space areas. Their work can also include garden design and construction.

A gardener's work usually involves jobs such as:

  • Cutting grass and hedges.
  • Edging lawns.
  • Pruning.
  • Digging.
  • Laying mulch (compost, bark or other materials) around plants.
  • Clearing and planting flower beds.
  • Checking the health of plants and spraying against disease and pests.
  • Clearing leaves and litter.
  • Recycling garden rubbish.
  • Maintaining equipment.

Gardeners will be expected to use a range of hand tools and mechanical equipment, ranging from hand forks to large vehicle-mounted equipment requiring specialised training.

The work may involve basic building, such as erecting sheds or conservatories or building patios, walls, decking and fencing.

Gardeners involved in ground maintenance may work in small teams to make sure parks and public spaces are regularly maintained. Some gardeners may also be involved in park safety, carrying out regular checks on children's playgrounds.

Gardeners may specialise in:

  • Trees and shrubs (arboriculture).
  • Maintaining specialist play surfaces such as cricket and football pitches (groundsman) and golf courses (greenkeeper).
  • Interior landscaping and looking after plants in office blocks, shopping arcades and other indoor areas.
  • Restoring old gardens.
  • Tree-planting schemes.
  • The regeneration of derelict land.

Many gardeners are self-employed, working for private individuals and offering services from basic lawn mowing and hedge trimming to full garden design.

Gardeners usually work around 37 hours a week. Their hours can vary according to the season. In the growing season, they often start at 7.30am and need to be flexible and willing to work extra hours at peak times to keep gardens and parks looking at their best. Overtime, part-time and casual or seasonal work are available.

Gardeners work outdoors in all weathers. Some jobs, such as working in the gardens of a historic house, involve regular contact with the public.

Gardeners working in ground maintenance spend time driving to different jobs and loading and unloading heavy machinery. The work can be dirty and muddy.

Gardeners may also have to climb ladders, use noisy machinery or apply chemicals and fertilisers to improve soils or kill pests and diseases.

They usually wear overalls, t-shirts or jackets, which may be provided. Some jobs may need safety boots, gloves, goggles, ear defenders and protective clothing.

A driving licence could be an advantage. The work could be difficult for people with allergies to grass and pollen or those who get hay fever.

Starting salaries may be from around £12,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 90,000 people work in gardening and horticulture in the UK. Employers include:

- Local authorities
- Private companies and contractors
- Developers
- Voluntary sector organisations
- Sports clubs
- Theme parks
- Universities, colleges and large industrial companies
- Plant nurseries
- Heritage organisations such as the National Trust
- Private individuals

Gardening itself is becoming more popular, leading to greater demand for gardening services. Employment opportunities are increasing as local authorities seek to improve the 'green spaces' they control. Many local authorities contract out their gardening and horticultural work to local landscaping contractors.

Self-employment prospects are good, particularly in areas such as landscape maintenance, contracting and design.

However, there is keen competition for jobs. Jobs are advertised in the local and national press and in local Jobcentre Plus offices.

Education and Training

There is a wide range of qualifications for gardening. School leavers sometimes have no formal qualifications, although some employers expect a relevant qualification such as a City and Guilds in Amenity Horticulture.

All gardeners need to show a real interest in working with plants and nature. Some form of work experience, including voluntary work, is an advantage.

There are full-time courses for school and college leavers, including a BTEC First Certificate or Diploma in Horticulture (which may require a few GCSE's/S grades - check with your local college). People aged at least 17 who have a year's experience can take a National Certificate in Horticulture (England and Wales) or SQA modules (Scotland).

Other possible qualifications include:

  • C&G Advanced National Certificate in Horticulture (ANCH).
  • BTEC/SQA higher national certificate or diploma.
  • Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture.
  • Foundation degree or degree in Horticulture or Landscape and Amenity Management.

Apprenticeships in gardening or horticulture may be available.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Local authorities often run structured training programmes covering areas such as gardening techniques, health and safety, using machinery such as chainsaws and pest spraying.

Gardeners can work towards NVQ's/SVQ's from Level 1 to 4 in Amenity and Production Horticulture.

While working, gardeners may study for other qualifications, such as the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture or City and Guilds National Certificate in Horticulture (which can be taken after a BTEC First Diploma in Horticulture or one year's experience). Other courses are the Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture, the Kew Diploma, the Edinburgh Diploma and the RHS Level 3 Diploma in Horticulture.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A gardener should:

  • Understand plant science.
  • Be prepared to work outdoors in all weathers.
  • Have good strength and stamina.
  • Have good practical skills.
  • Be prepared to get their hands dirty.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • Be patient.
  • Have technical and IT skills to operate some equipment.
  • Pay attention to health and safety issues.
  • Be confident when dealing with the public.
  • Work well independently and as part of a team.
  • Be able to work with different types of people and have good negotiating skills (if self-employed).

Your Long Term Prospects

In organisations employing teams of gardeners, such as local authorities or heritage organisations, it may be possible to become a supervisor, managing a team of gardeners, overseeing regular maintenance work and planning new planting schemes. Some gardeners move into different areas of gardening work.

Gardeners with relevant experience can diversify into different careers, including outdoor recreation officer, countryside officer, horticultural education officer, forestry worker and landscape designer.

There may be opportunities to work abroad for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), development agencies and consultancies.

Get Further Information

The Growing Careers Partnership,
The Careers Centre, Writtle College,
Chelmsford CM1 3RR
Tel: 01245 424257
Website: www.growing-careers.com

The Horticultural Correspondence College (HCC),
Fiveways House, Westwells Road,
Hawthorn, Corsham SN13 9RG
Tel: 01225 816700
Website: www.hccollege.co.uk

Institute of Groundsmanship,
28 Stratford Office Village,
Walker Avenue, Wolverton Mill East,
Milton Keynes MK12 5TW
Tel: 01908 312511
Website: www.iog.org

The Institute of Horticulture,
14-15 Belgrave Square,
London SW1X 8PS (include SAE please)
Tel: 020 7245 6943
Website: www.horticulture.org.uk

Institute of Sport, Parks and Leisure (ISPAL),
Grotto House, Lower Basildon, Reading RG8 9NE
Tel: 0845 603 8734
Website: www.ispal.org.uk

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park,
near Coventry CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996
Websites: www.lantra.co.uk and www.afuturein.com

Professional Gardeners' Guild,
47 Church Lane, Girton, Cambridge CB3 0JW
Tel: 01223 560084
Website: www.pgg.org.uk

The Royal Horticultural Society,
80 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE
Tel: 0845 260 5000
Website: www.rhs.org.uk

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