If you have a keen interest in plants, growing and garden design then a career in amenity horticulture could be for you

Amenity horticulture covers the design, construction, management and maintenance of living, recreational and leisure areas. These include:

  • botanic and public gardens
  • cemeteries and crematoria
  • country parks
  • historic gardens and landscapes
  • sports facilities
  • urban tree planting
  • other public spaces.

An amenity horticulturist may be involved in all stages of design, growing and maintenance. The work is increasingly complex, requiring management and technological competence alongside scientific understanding and the traditional skills of cultivation.

Responsibilities

As an amenity horticulturist, you'll need to:

  • take the lead role in planning, preparation and maintenance of gardens, grounds and other leisure areas
  • supervise and assist in all stages of cultivation and maintenance
  • design and plan planting schemes for new projects and review existing planting schemes
  • prepare, implement and monitor weekly, monthly and annual maintenance programmes
  • analyse the horticultural and operational costs
  • manage pest, disease and weed control programmes against health and hygiene standards, ensure a prompt response and the maintenance of service contracts
  • meet the increasing requirements of organic cultivation
  • assist in the development of the wildlife in gardens and grounds
  • conduct environmental assessments
  • consider proposed changes to existing public amenities and leisure locations and assess their potential benefits
  • visit historical sites, research old plans and documents and plan restoration programmes
  • manage machinery and equipment via regular inspections and arrange services
  • acquire knowledge of regulations, including pesticides, chainsaws and use of machinery, the use of personal protective equipment and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH)
  • identify technical and operational problems and investigate the causes
  • formulate solutions and plan and organise trials to assess their effectiveness
  • prepare new or modified operational and business plans
  • manage contractors and negotiate with suppliers and buyers
  • organise presentations, technical visits and demonstrations
  • take inventories of stock items such as plants, trees and machinery
  • ensure that UK, EU and international quality, hygiene, health and safety and employment standards and regulations are met
  • develop the knowledge and experience to guide and support a team
  • communicate effectively with the visiting public, local officials and elected representatives, working colleagues and professional groups, both orally and in writing, through briefings, reports and presentations
  • carry out essential administration including records, budgets and accounts
  • adapt to industry developments and keep up to date in your specialist area and in developments in the whole horticultural sector
  • advise and plan tree planting, succession planting and maintenance programmes, and arrange for surveys and tree surgery to be carried out - depending on your role this may be one of your duties
  • provide the required standard of sports surface presentation, taking into account budgets, priorities, level of use and standard of play - this is likely to be a requirement if you are working with sports facilities
  • advise on pitch conditions and requirements for resting pitches, maintaining current standards and making improvements as necessary - relevant if you work with sports facilities.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for new graduates range between £16,000 and £18,000, with supervisor roles offering £18,000 to £23,000. Apprentices are usually paid between £100 and £170 per week.
  • Starting salaries for more experienced entrants depend on ability and experience and can vary widely according to the initial level of responsibility, but may start at £21,000.
  • Typical salaries for a head gardener range between £18,000 and £33,000. Accommodation is sometimes provided or subsidised. Relatively few head gardeners earn more than £40,000.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You will typically work a 40-hour week. However, working hours and workloads may vary according to the season. Hours can be long and weekend working may be necessary. Part-time work and career breaks are also possible.

What to expect

  • Elements of the work are conducted outdoors at all times of the year, and you may be cold, dirty and wet, or hot and sweaty. However, the work has become increasingly office based and so indoor jobs can often be undertaken when the weather is really bad.
  • You will need to apply a general 'hands-on' approach at first but can specialise later if you wish.
  • Self-employment is possible, with some horticulturists working as horticultural contractors.
  • Working in amenity horticulture is very different from working in your own garden; you should accept that you are providing facilities for the general public, some of whom may lack appreciation and understanding of your work.
  • Travel within a working day may be necessary, but overnight absence from home is rarely required.

Qualifications

You could improve your chances of developing a professional career in amenity horticulture by taking a degree in one of the following subjects:

  • commerce
  • crop and plant science
  • environmental science
  • food science/technology
  • horticulture
  • soil science.

Foundation degrees and HNDs are available in a range of subjects including:

  • amenity horticulture
  • garden design
  • landscaping
  • sports turf management.

Postgraduate study is not essential.

You can also gain entry to a career as an amenity horticulturist through a non-degree route, by completing an apprenticeship, such as those detailed on the Grow and Eden Project websites. Rather than completing a full degree you can work towards a range of nationally-recognised certificates and diplomas. You can choose from a variety of subjects, including amenity horticulture, horticultural sciences, landscape and garden design, and organic production.

Beginners' courses are available for those thinking of a career in horticulture. For details of courses, see the LantraCourseFinder.

Practical skills courses such as the City & Guilds Land Based Services NPTC Level 2 Award in Felling and Processing Trees up to 380mm (QCF), and the NPTC Level 2 Award in Ground Based Chainsaw Operator (QCF) may be particularly useful.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • good communication and interpersonal skills
  • efficient planning skills
  • the ability to organise and manage your own workload
  • problem-solving skills
  • physical fitness
  • the ability to work as part of a team and also to work under your own initiative
  • management and business skills
  • creativity
  • financial awareness
  • a good eye for detail
  • a hands-on, practical and realistic approach to work
  • numeracy and IT skills
  • flexibility and a willingness to work in a busy and varied environment
  • knowledge of health and safety regulations and procedures
  • a full driving licence (usually a requirement).

Work experience

Practical horticultural experience is vital. Try to obtain a work experience placement or a vacation job within the industry. Voluntary gardening work is also useful, for example, with organisations such as the:

There are opportunities to undertake work experience placements in all areas of horticulture abroad.

Short-term contracts are a good way of gaining relevant experience. Be prepared to start in posts where you get your hands dirty before taking responsibility for a workforce.

Employers

Typical employers of amenity horticulturists include:

Public bodies such as local authorities and national park authorities employ amenity horticulturists. For a list of these see:

Vacancies are also available with botanic gardens such as those connected to universities and specialist gardens like:

A number of amenity horticulturists work as self-employed contractors.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are advertised by specialist recruitment agencies, such as:

Many employers only have a small number of vacancies each year and do not recruit on a regular basis. Such posts are advertised as they arise. A network of personal contacts in the industry can be valuable for finding out about available jobs.

Colleges and university schools of agriculture and horticulture usually have established contacts within the industry.

Professional development

Training varies from minimal on-the-job training to well-structured training schemes and in-house training programmes. Some employers provide opportunities to take management qualifications and health and safety training.

The big names in horticulture offer a variety of training opportunities, covering a range of practical experience and horticultural theory. For example:

  • the Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture, a two-year course of paid work experience with academic studies is run by the RHS.
  • a one-year Certificate in Practical Horticulture (CPH) at RHS Gardens Harlow Carr.
  • the two-year Kew Apprenticeship in Botanical Horticulture and a three-year higher-education level Diploma in Horticulture are both offered by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Both are paid positions with a salary of just over £13,530, plus a book allowance of £725. Kew also runs an unpaid three-month internship programme.
  • the Foundation Certificate in Gardening and a two-year Diploma in Heritage Gardening are run by the National Trust, co-funded by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS).

Some courses have a minimum entry requirement, such as a Level 2 certificate in horticulture.

The RHS also offers a range of qualifications in horticulture, from courses for beginners through to qualifications for experienced professionals. The Master of Horticulture, for example, is the RHS degree-level qualification and holders of the award may use the designation MHort (RHS) after their name.

A one-year paid traineeship in horticultural practices, for those with at least six months' previous practical experience working under a professional gardener, is offered by The Professional Gardeners' Guild (PGG). Trainees will receive at least minimum wage.

Qualifications offered by City & Guilds Land Based Services and BASIS (Registration) Limited may help you progress in your career.

Career prospects

Your first job will usually involve hands-on cultivation and maintenance work, but with experience you will begin to supervise teams of people in the various operations necessary for the horticultural maintenance and refurbishment of recreational and leisure areas.

Graduates can often move on to higher-paid management positions relatively quickly and eventually you'll be involved with the management of these facilities.

To improve your chances of promotion, you could work towards horticultural qualifications such as those provided by the RHS. You may also aid your career progression by joining a professional body, such as the Chartered Institute of Horticulture and the Professional Gardeners' Guild.

Should you decide you want to change direction, there may be opportunities to transfer to landscape architecture, design and planning, or to move into other areas such as education and the media. In the latter, opportunities arise from time to time for researchers or production assistants for gardening and garden design television and radio programmes.