Horticultural or Garden Centre Worker/Manager

The Job and What's Involved

Horticultural or Garden centre workers/managers are responsible for and involved in the development and growth of plants on a large-scale basis. Horticulture can be broken down into the following areas:

Garden Centres, which produce plants and grow flowers for sale to the general public. In recent years, garden centres have branched out further into retail, selling garden tools, conservatory and garden furniture, as well as protective clothing.

Amenity Horticulture, which is about planning, designing and maintaining parks, botanic gardens, woodlands and estates, or any areas that need shrubs, plants or flowers. Interior landscaping also falls into amenity horticulture.

Production Horticulture, which is the mass production of fruit and vegetables, plants and flowers, in nurseries, market gardens, greenhouses and on farms, grown commercially using the latest techniques. The produce is then sold to the public, possibly through a wholesaler, farm shop or supermarket.

Garden centre workers/managers are likely to be involved in some of the following:

  • Growing plants, including sowing seeds, planting bulbs, cultivating cuttings and transferring the seedlings to pots and containers.
  • Continuing to nurture plants by watering, weeding and pruning, and dealing with pests and diseases.
  • Keeping horticultural tools and machinery, such as chainsaws, mowers and tractors, in good condition.
  • Laying paths and building display features, such as pergolas.
  • Retail sales and marketing, and providing advice and guidance to customers.
  • Identifying produce to be picked and packaged.
  • Maintaining the environment in which they are working - for example, mowing grass and picking up litter.
  • Making sure the temperature, light and humidity in greenhouses is at the optimum level.
  • Planning ornamental features and tending them.

Managers are also responsible for:

  • Developing and overseeing a business plan, marketing, and managing financial budgets.
  • Supervising and recruiting staff.

The work is challenging and rewarding, and affected by the weather and the changing seasons.

Horticultural or Garden centre workers/managers usually work 40 hours a week. The hours vary depending on the season, and in the summer months, early starts are normal. Weekend work, late evenings and overtime are common. There are part-time and flexi-work jobs available.

The work can be physically demanding. Workers may work inside or outside in all weathers. Protective clothing or a uniform is usually supplied.

There may be some travelling to suppliers, wholesalers and clients. A driving licence is useful.

Starting salaries may be around £10,000 to £15,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 18.5 million gardens in the UK, and over £20 million is spent on plants and other gardening products each year. Employment opportunities are plentiful, and there is an increasing demand for experienced workers.

There are positions for horticulture workers throughout the country. Different areas in the UK specialise in particular types of production depending on the climate and soil. Employers cover the public, private and charitable sectors.

Vacancies are advertised directly, through the local or national press or company websites. There are also several excellent careers websites which are good sources of information.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements, but some employers ask for GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), especially in science subjects, or a BTEC First Diploma in Land-based Industries or Horticulture. For a job in one of the major botanic gardens, a horticultural qualification is needed.

Managers are likely to have worked their way up, or to have a degree in horticulture as well as practical and management experience. There are opportunities with larger organisations offering a management trainee scheme.

Full and part-time courses are available at many colleges. These provide theory and practical experience, and give a good grounding in horticulture.

Courses include:

  • City & Guilds National Certificate in Horticulture and Advanced National Certificate in Horticulture.
  • BTEC first, national and diploma awards, and higher national certificate/diploma awards in horticulture.
  • NVQ's/SVQ's in Horticulture and related subjects at Levels 1 to 4.
  • General Examination in Horticulture, the RHS Advanced Certificate, and RHS Diploma offered by The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
  • Foundation degrees and degrees in horticulture.

Degree courses usually last three years full time, or four years for sandwich courses. In Scotland they are sometimes three or four years full time, four or five years as a sandwich course. Entry requirements vary according to the course, and interested applicants should contact individual colleges and universities direct

To gain a place on an Apprenticeship with the National Trust or English Heritage, entrants need four GCSE's/five S grades (A-C/1-3), including maths, English and a science, or equivalent qualifications.

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.

Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have a three-year diploma course, and Edinburgh Botanic Gardens offer an HND in conjunction with the Scottish Agricultural College.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is on the job, and may include in-house training courses. Specialist training opportunities are available at the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley Gardens, and through the National Trust Careership scheme.

The horticulture and agricultural industries have set up BASIS, an independent organisation, which provides training, and maintains standards relating to pesticides, fertilisers and plant nutrition.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Horticultural or Garden centre workers/managers should:

  • Be physically fit, and not suffer from any pollen-related allergies.
  • Understand the scientific and technical aspects of horticulture.
  • Be prepared to work outside in all weathers.
  • Understand and follow health and safety rules.
  • Be able to work alone or in a team.
  • Have good interpersonal skills.
  • Have management experience if needed, such as business skills and commercial awareness.
  • Be able to provide customer advice and guidance.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience and relevant qualifications it is possible to progress to supervisory and management positions. The career structure will vary depending on the size of the organisation, and it may be necessary to change employers to progress. Opportunities also exist to move into teaching, journalism, landscape design, horticultural therapy, or quality control on behalf of retailers.

With the right skills and determination, working freelance or setting up a small independent business is also possible.

Get Further Information

BASIS Registration Ltd,
34 St John Street, Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 1GH
Tel: 01335 343945
Website www.basis-reg.com

English Heritage, PO Box 569, Swindon SN2 2YP
Tel: 0870 333 1181
Website: www.english-heritage.org.uk

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

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

National Trust Learning Team, Heelis,
Kemble Drive, Swindon, Wiltshire SN2 2NA
Tel: 01793 817400
Website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh,
20A Inverleith Row, Edinburgh EH3 5LR
Tel: 0131 552 7171
Website: www.rbge.org.uk

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew,
Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB
Tel: 020 8332 5000
Website: www.kew.org

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

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