Horticulture; Just The Job

It’s that time of year and all the talk is of the CAO, college choices and the points race. It’s a pivotal time in the life of a young person when the already pressurised environment is exacerbated by the inescapable but totally misguided insistence that these choices are final and irrevocable.  To some, of the requisite focus and work ethic, the options are clear and achievable but to a vast swathe of the middle portion of school leavers there is a lot of head scratching to be done.
The prominence of the guidance counsellor in the process has increased exponentially since my era and admittedly there are a myriad of tools and workshops available to help. But there is a still a sizeable cohort of students for whom no clear path emerges, for whom no vocation is immediately apparent .
Horticulture and landscape design are career paths that, for many, have the potential to solve this conundrum, to step in and fill the vacuum. It is no coincidence that horticulture is one of the most popular areas of study for the mature student. The fact that so many consider it a calling missed is clear evidence that it is a road that would have been taken if circumstances first time around were different; if career counselling was up to scratch, if more information had been available.


Not every seventeen year old is enamoured of the prospect of an office based existence, soullessly staring into a computer screen for the rest of their days. Those that are enthused by the idea of work which offers a broad range of settings and is primarily outdoors have traditionally gravitated to the construction sector , engineering in particular. This is a strand for whom horticulture and landscape design, now more than ever,  is a viable alternative.

Few would argue that climate change and food security are amongst the most pressing issues facing humanity in the coming years. Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, of Hadlow College in Kent says: “The issues the planet is facing in relation to climate change, water shortages, pressures on land usage and vastly increasing population will result in a shift in focus and I believe that horticulture will become recognised as one of the most important industries of all.”

Plants serve a huge number of roles in everyday life; from the fruit and vegetables we eat, to the trees that populate our forests and punctuate our public spaces, to the turf we play football and lounge around on to the shrubs and flowers that adorn and soften our gardens and built environment. Plants are everywhere and this opens up a broad range of potentially rewarding career options, for all aptitudes.

So why aren’t people queuing up to start down the horticultural road? Well, part of the reason is that, as an industry, horticulture has a bit of an image problem. Many who now have successful careers in the field will attest to how back in the day it was presented as an option only for the less able, offering low wages and few prospects, if indeed it was presented at all.

But times have changed. We have spoken of the zeitgeist and the cultural shift towards re- embracing the organic. We see the international  profile enjoyed by eminent horticulturists and garden designers, our own Diarmuid Gavin being one of the principals. Only five weeks ago myself and my wife and about twelve hundred others paid twenty five quid a head to sit in a shed in Carlow and listen to Monty Don tell us about his garden for two hours. The Chelsea Flower Show gets a week of wall to wall coverage on the BBC every Spring, Bloom In The Park in Dublin is broadening its appeal and growing year on year. Lifestyle TV has made suburban Capability Browns of us all.

Horticulture has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous global misfortune and come out fighting. Business is booming. If not now, when?

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