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

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

Amenity horticulture can be a rewarding career choice as it involves making a valuable contribution to conserving the environment and improving quality of life.

Amenity horticulturists may work in education or the media.

Responsibilities

Job roles vary depending on the type of space you are working in, however typical work activities are likely to include:

  • taking the lead role in planning, preparation and maintenance of gardens, grounds and other leisure areas;
  • supervising and assisting in all stages of cultivation and maintenance;
  • designing and planning planting schemes for new projects and reviewing existing planting schemes;
  • preparing, implementing and monitoring weekly, monthly and annual maintenance programmes;
  • analysing the horticultural and operational costs;
  • managing pest, disease and weed control programmes against health and hygiene standards, ensuring a prompt response and the maintenance of service contracts;
  • meeting the increasing requirements of organic cultivation;
  • assisting in the development of the wildlife in gardens and grounds;
  • conducting environmental assessments;
  • considering proposed changes to existing public amenities and leisure locations and assessing their potential benefits;
  • visiting historical sites, researching old plans and documents and planning restoration programmes;
  • managing machinery and equipment via regular inspections and arranging services;
  • acquiring knowledge of regulations, including pesticides, chainsaws and use of machinery, the use of personal protective equipment and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH);
  • identifying technical and operational problems and investigating the causes;
  • formulating solutions and planning and organising trials to assess their effectiveness;
  • preparing new or modified operational and business plans;
  • managing contractors and negotiating with suppliers and buyers;
  • organising presentations, technical visits and demonstrations;
  • taking inventories of stock items such as plants, trees and machinery;
  • ensuring that UK, EU and international quality, hygiene, health and safety and employment standards and regulations are met;
  • developing the knowledge and experience to guide and support a team;
  • communicating 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;
  • carrying out essential administration including records, budgets and accounts;
  • adapting to industry developments and keeping up to date in your specialist area and in developments in the whole horticultural sector.

Additional activities for those working with trees may include:

  • advising and planning tree planting programmes with local authority arboricultural officers;
  • advising on succession planting and tree maintenance, arranging for surveys and tree surgery as and when required.

Those working with sports facilities are likely to be involved in:

  • providing the required standard of sports surface presentation, taking into account budgets, priorities, level of use and standard of play;
  • advising on pitch conditions and requirements for resting pitches, maintaining current standards and making improvements as necessary.

When you reach management level, the work will require meeting agreed deadlines and operating within agreed budgets. More time will be spent on office-based tasks, which will take you away from some of the core activities of horticulture, e.g. the actual gardening.

Salary

  • The range of starting salaries for new graduates is £16,000 to £18,000, with supervisor roles offering £18,000 to £23,000. Apprentices are usually paid between £100 and 150 per week.
  • Starting salaries for more experienced entrants depend on ability and experience and vary widely, according to the initial level of responsibility, but may commonly start around £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.
  • The range of typical salaries for management positions, from assistant to senior are £20,000 to £50,000.

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, which allows for more flexibility. Indoor jobs can often be undertaken when the weather is really bad.
  • A generalist 'hands-on' post is usually the first job for a new graduate. Specialisation may come later.
  • Self-employment is possible, with some horticulturists working as horticultural contractors.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK.
  • Safety equipment such as protective gloves, helmets and eye protectors may be necessary for some work.
  • 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

The following degree subjects could improve your chances of developing a professional career in amenity horticulture:

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

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

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

There is a range of non-degree level qualifications available, including apprenticeships, certificates and diplomas. The subjects you can study are also vast and include 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 Lantra CourseFinder.

Postgraduate study is not essential.

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

In addition to practical cultivation skills, you will need to show:

  • communication and interpersonal skills;
  • planning skills;
  • the ability to organise and manage your own workload;
  • problem-solving skills;
  • physical fitness;
  • comfortable working in a team and using 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 is usually required.

Fluency in another language is helpful if you are thinking of working abroad.

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

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

Public bodies such as local authorities and national park authorities employ amenity horticulturalists. 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.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

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 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 £12,000 plus a book allowance of £750. 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 whole 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.

It is important for amenity horticulturists to keep up to date with industry developments as well as with their own specialist area, through reading the industry press, e.g. Horticulture Week, and undertaking relevant training.

Training requirements vary depending on your area of work. For example, those involved in the management of sports facilities may undertake training in sports turf maintenance, turf science or sports ground management. For details of relevant courses, contact the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG).

Qualifications in the use of chainsaws, mowers and other relevant equipment may be required, along with qualifications necessary for the use of sprays and other pesticides. For details of relevant courses, see City & Guilds Land Based Services.

Graduates aiming for senior management and technical posts or to become head gardeners or technical consultants, should look for employers who will provide the training necessary to obtain BASIS (Registration) Limited qualifications in the use of pesticides. Qualifications offered by BASIS include the Foundation Award in Amenity Horticulture, an introduction to the key elements of the use of professional pesticides in amenity horticulture.

Career prospects

First jobs 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 will also be involved with the management of these facilities.

Promotion depends on your ability to develop your own skills, both practical and managerial. Creating a portfolio containing details of successful projects can aid promotion.

Career progression is more likely in large organisations, from generalist to supervisor and/or specialist to team manager and thereafter to a general management post. Geographical mobility may be necessary for promotion.

There may also 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.

To improve your chances of promotion, you could work towards horticultural qualifications such as those provided by the RHS. For those wishing to proceed to the RHS Master of Horticulture award, MHort (RHS), it is essential to have at least four years of full-time work experience in a professional horticulture environment, (one of which should be in a position of responsibility), and a level 3 qualification in horticulture.

The MHort (RHS) is one of the highest qualifications that can be achieved in the profession and tests horticultural knowledge, understanding and practical skills.

Opportunities for networking and career development can be found through gaining membership of a relevant professional body, such as the Chartered Institute of Horticulture. Members can progress through the grades as their career develops and on achieving the necessary experience and/or further qualifications. See their website for details of membership options.

For networking and training opportunities it may be useful to gain membership of PGG.