Courses, qualifications & careers

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Updated August 2012

Horticultural careers advice – where to start
Which horticultural qualifications?
Where to train in gardgening/horticulture?
School children – horticultural trips and work experience
Gardening and horticultural courses for pleasure
How we got into gardening – our horticultural training and qualifications

Horticultural careers advice – where to start

Horticultural work and careers

For a broad introduction to the subject, the Institute of Horticulture’s‘What is horticulture’ and its explanation of the ‘Horticulture industry and profession’ provide good starting points, as does the Royal Horticultural Society – careers page.

Details of different jobs

Grow clearly outlines the many areas of work possible, with detailed job descriptions and links. LANTRA is another site dealing with land-based and environmental industries.

The National Careers Service also has job profiles that accurately describe what a job entails, what qualifications are required, opportunities for training, wages to expect, and useful contacts.

General jobs and careers advice

If you’re not too sure what job or career is for you, then Direct Gov’s young people page, their disabled people’s employment page or their general employment page may give you the contacts you need.

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Which horticultural qualifications?

Range of qualifications

You can study for highly practical work-based qualifications that show what you can do, through to more academic qualifications that show what you know. For an overview on qualifications generally (but not degrees), the latest info is here: Gov.UK for those in England, Wales and N Ireland. Here you can find out more about levels, with plenty of links to find out more detail. For Scotland, although not a direct equivalent, there is the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework to view.

National (ie England, N. Ireland and Wales) and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (NVQ/SVQ) are run by various organisations, including City and Guilds/National Proficiency Testing Council, Edexcel (for BTEC) and the Royal Horticultural Society .

Whatever the qualification, it has a level, with level 1 being a foundation course for complete beginners. The level quoted depends on where you study (England, Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland or Ireland) – the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework – Equivalent qualifications across boundaries has a handy comparison in .pdf format.

Make sure your hard work goes towards a recognised qualification

If you’ve spotted a course leading to a qualification, but don’t know if it’s recognised, or you already have some qualifications, but you don’t know where they fit in, search either for the qualification or the organisation in the Register of Qualifications, which lists all the accredited qualifications and organisations available in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Scotland’s equivalent site has a similar search facility by subject or qualification.

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Where to train in gardening/horticulture?

Study basic and higher levels at evening classes, further education colleges or universities specialising in horticulture, either full time, part time or on day release from a related job. The courses range from the purely practical to the theoretical, with some offering a mixture.

Or choose a correspondence course, but be sure that the qualification offered is recognised (see previous section ‘2. Which qualifications?’).

Gardening placements and traineeships are also available. Women can try the
Women’s Farm and Garden Association
. For all, there is the
National Trust, the Royal Horticultural Society, internships at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens and Kew Botanic Gardens, plus many other local gardens, botanic gardens, garden centres and other horticultural businesses. And there may be opportunities abroad revealed by an Internet search.

There are links to some UK horticultural and agricultural colleges, and some relevant university courses, including face-to-face and distance-learning correspondence courses, on the Garden Forum website.

UK university courses in horticulture (and other related subjects) are listed by Hot Courses

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School children – horticultural trips and work experience

For setting up work experience placements, or educational links, try the Royal Horticultural Society, your local horticultural college(s) and botanic gardens (eg.Cambridge,Edinburgh and Kew, who all have schemes).

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Gardening and horticultural courses for pleasure

For entertainment, information, additional skills or a stepping stone to a horticultural job, you can’t beat the range of slide shows, lectures, workshops and classes across the country, and probably the best ways to find something near you is to search the web and also ask everyone you know, and don’t know.

The local library usually holds a list of evening and day classes, local clubs and associations. And try your local tourist information centre because, despite the name, they also hold lots of information for residents too. Also, a lot of garden centres run gardening clubs with events and demonstrations.

The Workers’ Educational Association runs practical and academic courses in different parts of the country, and the University of the Third Age (U3A) has a lot to offer around the UK too.

Colleges also run day courses and workshops on top of their termly offerings, so have a look at your print or online Yellow Pages or
Thomson’s Directory
to find your local colleges. Look at the previous section (4. Where to train?) too.

The Royal Horticultural Society holds lists of lecturers and events, and the National Trust also holds gardening events.

Botanic gardens hold fascinating events too, such as Cambridge, Edinburgh and Kew.

A major organic gardening organisation, Garden Organic (formerly HDRA), also runs events at Ryton, near Coventry, and Yalding, near Maidstone, plus local events around the country – full of sound gardening principles regardless of whether you want to take the organic route, although obviously there won’t be much about artificial pesticides.

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How we got into gardening – our horticultural training and qualifications

We wanted to become self-employed gardeners, with the safety net of qualifications that would help us get jobs if we couldn’t get enough work. So we trained at what is now called The Manchester College, and spent 9 months full time studying for our City & Guilds 1 and 2 in Amenity Horticulture, plus the Royal Horticultural Society’s General Certificate. This combination provided an all-round knowledge of gardening, a good foundation for a life-long interest in horticulture, whether as a professional or amateur, and a springboard to higher levels.

The City & Guilds’ courses were extremely practical, backed up by class work that gave us the background to the practical stuff. Being a full-time course, instead of day-release, we practised on the grounds of the college, where we students did the bulk of the maintenance of the flower beds and shrub borders.

Amenity horticulture courses are aimed at those intending to work in local parks and gardens, and ours included turf care, greenhouse work, propagation, spraying, as well as plant identification, pruning, feeding and so on. The only gap was fruit and vegetable growing, which we learnt on the RHS certificate course, although there was no practical element for this.

Because we began writing for gardening magazines soon after qualifying, we were able to join the newly formedĀ Garden Writers’ GuildĀ (now the Garden Media Guild), which has kept us updated ever since with its briefing days on different aspects of amenity and commercial horticulture plus plenty of knowledgeable contacts. A few years later, the formation of a Garden Photographers’ Association within the guild led to even more opportunities.

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