Embracing Your Green Thumb As A Horticulturist

Some people simply don’t want to sit in an office staring at a screen all day. And for those of you out there who prefer to be among the great outdoors, there are plenty of career choices available. If you’ve always had a bit of a green thumb, and love being in nature, becoming a horticulturist is the way to go. 

What is a horticulturalist?

Literally meaning the art or practice of garden cultivation, horticulturalism is more than just gardening. A horticulturalist uses scientific knowledge to not only choose the right kind of plants, but also to cultivate them properly, applying their knowledge and skills to maximise the growth of fruits, vegetables and plants to help their growth and maintain their health. 

While there is a scientific element involved, it’s not necessary to have a scientific background prior to studying. Many courses, however, will include scientific elements so it is important that you are scientifically-minded as you’ll need to understand what is going on. This includes how to identify plants via their botanical keys and then how to use the plants most effectively. It also includes the processes of meiosis and mitosis, the importance of photosynthesis and respiration. 

Other subjects that are covered include outdoor food production, how to plan a garden properly, plant nutrition, how to protect the plants that are being cultivated, the selection of plants for different purposes, planting techniques, and how to deal with pests and diseases. 

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Career progression

As mentioned earlier, there is more to being a horticulturist than tending to a garden. Many people choose to go into horticulturalism to work outdoors, be creative and help others. Never discount how happy you can make a client by ensuring their garden is everything they dreamed it would be. While many horticulturalists will work in a nursery or garden centre, there are many others who work in research, education, marketing, management and therapy. There are also many horticulturalists who work for themselves, building businesses in the garden design space or acting as consultants for parks, playgrounds and other public spaces. 

In fact, there are plenty of very rewarding career options for those who study horticulture courses. This may include helping to combat food poverty, chemical-free methods of pest management or even helping patients with therapeutic gardening. On the scientific front, career opportunities include working in pathology or entomology to study garden problems, or supporting the environment by developing new crops. 

Of course, it can also include career options such as arboriculture, design and landscaping, turfgrass research or nursery plant growing. Really, the green world is your oyster and those who become a horticulturist can expect an average annual salary of between 20,000 to 30,000 pounds, with experience. 

Getting into the garden

Whether you’re getting your hands dirty, physically working in the garden or helping people choose the right kinds of plants while working in the nursery, you’ll still be required to have some level of physical fitness. But physical fitness is not make or break when it comes to choosing a career in horticulturalism, especially if you’re keen to move into the environmental or science space. 

In order to succeed as a horticulturist, the main ‘skill’ you’ll require is an interest in plants and nature. In fact, even if you don’t have a natural green thumb, it’s not a barrier to becoming a horticulturist, because a lot of the physical skills needed can be taught. However, you will need to be ok with getting your hands dirty. While there are administration or advising career options, many choices do require working with soil, plants and other areas of nature.   

Being a horticulturist can be a very rewarding career, no matter what area you find yourself working in. Whether it’s helping people design and manage their garden, working with governments to plan public spaces or find practical and safe solutions to environmental problems, or delving into the scientific elements of plants there’s something pretty special about working with and in nature. 

Best of all, studying horticulturalism doesn’t box you into a specific career. In fact, it opens doors that may not have been available before. You can be as scientific as you wish or as creative as you wish. And even better news – demand for horticulturalists is growing due to urbanisation and sustainability trends. So get studying!

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Gladys is the Associate Director of Admissions & Student Services with over 10 years of experience at the International Career Institute.