From Opera Singer to Heritage Horticulturist…..

Logo: RHS

By Chris Moncrieff

Promoting your own career can at times be something of a tortuous and difficult campaign, with many a day spent in a school hall waiting patiently for a single student to stop by. This has never been truer than in promoting careers with plants and It can at times be soul destroying as other careers appear to always attract larger numbers of new entrants, especially where parents are involved and rightly want the best for their impressionable offspring. Such a labour of love in promoting this industry under the collective title of horticulture, has been personally, one of more than 35 years, but I wonder whether horticulture as a career is any better understood amongst those impressionable students now than it was those 35 years ago when I attended my first careers convention as an employer.

Katy Watson from opera singer to horticulturist (RHS)
Katy Watson from opera singer to horticulturist (RHS)

What is clear, in this fragmented world of horticultural and countryside careers promotion, is that at the heart of all of our careers, are the plants and trees that underpin the myriad of horticultural careers that are on offer to students and careers changers at this time. It may well be that the tide is beginning to turn, with recent events around Covid19, outdoor spaces, green parks, the countryside and gardens have taken on an ever increasing importance, along with a greater interest in the plants that combine to make these spaces so appealing. The purchase of plants for both outside and inside has never been more popular with a calculated three million additional gardeners (Horticultural Trades Association) have taken up the challenge of gardening. This has resulted in an ever increasing need for additional trees and plants to fulfil this surge in demand. This upsurge in demand plus an ever increasing interest in the environment and ever growing demands for tree planting and management of the countryside must one hopes, transfer into more and more individuals who see a move to working with plants as a possible career and lifestyle change.

So how does this hoped for new surge of entrants find what they are looking for in terms of a career working with plants? Horticultural careers promotion has seen a number of schemes over a number of years, such as the Grow Careers Campaign now hosted by the Chartered Institute of Horticulture and the Bright Crop project overseen by AHDB. Sadly these excellent starts have either been lost completely in terms of Bright Crop or have become somewhat inactive for many years as resources to keep them going have become more and more scarce.

Kate Nannery from office worker to grounds maintenance worker (RHS)
Kate Nannery from office worker to grounds maintenance worker (RHS)

In their absence, different sectors within the horticultural industry have set up their own very successful schemes such as GoLandscape from British Association of Landscape Industries and Choose Landscape from the Landscape Institute highlighting their own particular areas and seeking to attract new entrants into their sectors. What has been missing up till now, has been a resource that provides a careers information hub where the real variety of possible careers available within the horticultural sector can be viewed and understood. With this in mind, the Royal Horticultural Society created a new resource, based on its website, dedicated to providing an insight, into the number of careers available in horticulture. The site show cases some 50 different careers avenues with over 65 videos from both the younger generation and from careers changers highlighting their own particular career path and how they found their way into their career and their undoubtable passion for it.

What is most important to understand from this project is that underpinning all of the careers from greenkeeping to botanical artist, to plant scientist and agronomist is that plants are central to what all of them do.

Likewise this management of plants in all its forms, crosses over in many of the areas highlighted into the management and stewardship of the wider countryside and green spaces. Areas such as arboriculture, forestry, natural environment worker, ethnobotanist and entomologist to name a few of those careers featured on the website, all cross over the artificial divide we sometimes apply to different industry’s but which are all effectively based upon the management of plants be they in wild or managed situations.

Clive Boursnell from ballet dancer to  garden photographer (RHS)
Clive Boursnell from ballet dancer to garden photographer (RHS)

What the new resource tells us, is that there are a number of careers changers, who are looking to plants and the wider countryside to provide a new start away from previously chosen careers which had seemed right at the time but now for them feel constrained and often associated with high levels of stress. The setting up of this new resource, which we hope will continue to grow in terms of its content year on year and become the chosen site for individuals to find their chosen horticultural career.

The project asked individuals within the industry to explain how they found their way into their present career and from where they began, threw up a myriad of amazing stories. Examples of the more unusual routes to a career with plants, included Katy Watson a world class opera singer who toured the world and who has now trained in heritage horticulture and is working in walled gardens. Clive Boursnell who started life originally as a ballet dancer before becoming a uranium miner before moving onto several other careers before finding a real passion for plants and garden photography.

What this has taught me is that despite where these individuals began their careers, they eventually found that a love of plants and the outdoors caused them to realise that the career that had perhaps been suggested at that original careers convention or by a careers adviser was not the one they truly desired to do. The aim of the new site is to provide visitors, be they looking for their first roles or for individuals who want a change, with a resource that will provide them with the inspiration to take a chance on a career working with plants.

So the future………..further work is planned on the site to increase the number of careers represented even further and to aim for 80 to 100 profiles eventually and it would be great to feature many of the countryside opportunities with horticulture at their heart in this site. Additionally, it is planned to provide links and roadmaps for interested individuals to find the routes they need to take in order to deliver their new career of choice.

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