More than tending flowerbeds, pursuing horticulture could lead to a rewarding career - whether you're helping to combat food poverty or healing patients through therapeutic gardening
Contributing £24 billion to the UK economy each year and employing 568,700 people, the horticulture industry offers a range of careers - whether you're scientifically minded, have creative flair or want to put your technical aptitude into practice.
As Amber Crowley, curriculum development officer for horticulture at Argyll College, University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) explains, 'Horticulture is responsible for:
- growing plants for biomass, textiles and medicines
- keeping good supply of plants for habitat restoration and conservation
- maintaining over 20,000 hectares of vegetable and fruit growing in the UK.
'The industry needs plant specialists, educators, researchers, mechanics and technicians, designers, gardeners and more,' she says.
Whether you're a school leaver, have a degree or would like to make a career change, horticulture courses are available at all levels to applicants of all backgrounds. Discover why you should consider a career in horticulture and the entry routes available to you.
Why study horticulture?
The chance to work outdoors, be creative and turn a passion into a career often top applicants' reasoning for wanting to work in horticulture, says Suzanne Moss, head of education and learning at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
But these aren't the only appealing factors. Studying horticulture offers a route into many interesting and varied careers. 'Beyond getting your hands dirty working in a beautiful garden or country estate, opportunities include everything from designing gardens to working in a pathology or entomology laboratory studying garden problems,' Suzanne says.
Visit the Chartered Institute of Horticulture - Grow Careers to explore the full range of careers you could pursue.
A career in horticulture would also suit you if you're passionate about helping to solve global environmental problems. 'Horticulture is increasingly about supporting the environment and helping to prevent and mitigate climate change, with demand for these skills only likely to grow,' Suzanne explains. 'This could involve developing new food crops to feed a growing population or finding ways to combat ever emerging plant pest and disease threats.'
Amber agrees. 'With looming fears around climate change, food poverty and political uncertainty, horticulture is the industry that could save us,' she adds.
If you're new to the field and would like to gain hands-on experience as you become qualified, consider completing a horticulture apprenticeship.
The RHS offers two Level 2 apprenticeship programmes, where over the course of two years you'll work alongside horticulturists at one of the society's five garden locations:
- Harlow Carr, North Yorkshire
- Hyde Hall, Essex
- Rosemoor, North Devon
- Wisley, Surrey
- Bridgewater, Greater Manchester.
On the Horticulture/Landscape Operative Apprenticeship, you'll focus on plant propagation and growth. On the Arborist Apprenticeship, your tasks could involve aerial tree work, pruning and operating machinery such as brushwood chippers.
You'll work a 37.5-hour week, including day or block release to college to study. To apply, you'll need two GCSEs in English and maths at grade C or above (or equivalent). No previous experience is needed, although you'll be expected to demonstrate a strong interest in plants and horticulture, and have a reasonable standard of IT literacy.
Applications open on 1 December and close on 11 March, for an August start of the same year. Find out more at RHS - Apprenticeships.
On this apprenticeship you'll spend time working in Arboretum, Gardens & Horticultural Services and Glasshouses, Nurseries and Display Horticulture, and have the opportunity to complete a two-week exchange to a European botanic garden or plant collection.
To apply you'll submit an online application, and 250-500 words describing why you'd like to do the apprenticeship, no later than 6 March in the year of recruitment. The apprenticeship starts on the first Monday of August.
Alternatively you could consider the range of Level 2 YMCA Horticulture and Gardening Apprenticeships, including Golf Greenkeeping, Horticulture and Landscape Operative and Sports Turf Operative.
Learn more about apprenticeships.
You'll find undergraduate horticulture courses at institutions across the UK, specialising in different areas. Whatever your ambitions, there will be a degree to suit you.
For example, if you're creative the BA (Hons) Landscape Architecture and Design at Leeds Beckett University may appeal to you. The course involves collaborative working and live projects designed to grow your confidence and explore your individual creativity.
First and second-year modules include Designing for People & Place, Plants in the Landscape and Strategic Ecological Design, and you'll complete a Specialist Design Project in your final year. Previous students have gone on to work as garden designers, landscape conservation officers and landscape architects.
If you're scientifically-minded, you may consider courses such as BSc Plant Science offered at The University of Manchester. You'll be introduced to a range of biological science topics in your first year, before choosing more specialist units in later years. On this course you'll also have the opportunity to see plants in their natural habitat on a field course in Europe, Africa or Central America.
Some institutions offer a structured route with qualifications at all levels. At Argyll College UHI, Amber explains a typical route starts with the National Certificate (NC) in Horticulture (offered at Scottish Level 5/6), before moving on to HNC, HND and finally degree levels of study.
See what you could do with a landscape and garden design degree.
A Masters or postgraduate professional qualification offers another route into horticulture, whether you have a degree in an unrelated subject or you'd like to build on the knowledge you've already gained.
Institutions offering postgraduate horticulture courses include:
- The University of Edinburgh - MSc Sustainable Plant Health, Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants (available as MSc and PGDip)
- Harper Adams University - Plant Health and Biosecurity PGCert, Plant Pathology PGCert
- Writtle University College, Essex - MSc Horticulture, MSc Crop Production (Horticulture), MSc Postharvest Technology.
For a more flexible study option, the three to five-year Master of Horticulture offered by the RHS is delivered mainly through the society's MHort Virtual Learning Environment - allowing candidates to fit their studies around other commitments.
In the first year you'll broaden your understanding of the horticultural environment, and develop skills which will help you deepen your knowledge in a specific area in subsequent years. In your final year, you'll carry out research on a topic of your choice to write a dissertation, and undergo an applied knowledge assessment where you'll put your knowledge into practice.
Find out more
- Search for vacancies at Horticulture Jobs.
- See what else the environment and agriculture sector has to offer.