Toronto Star column – published February 21, 2015
A Career Choice
Life is a series of choices. Making a career choice is among the most important in your lifetime. Well, this is what I think anyway.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been exploring the world of horticulture as a career option in this column. We have talked about education and I have presented the 12 colleges and universities that can help you get a leg up as you wade into the world of employment (http://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2015/02/06/horticulture-blooming-with-job-opportunities.html).
To wrap up on my three-part series, here is an overview of the opportunities in horticulture as I see them. While I am limited to the space of this article, there are in fact over 130,000 stories out there: one for each person working in horticultural trades in this province. The majority of them are happy stories about people who were on another path and ‘discovered’ the magic of horticulture (imagine, being paid for something that you love to do!) while others are less dramatic, like my own. Growing up in the business as a third generation ‘gardener’, it seemed like a natural thing for me to do.
The proposition for a career in horticulture can be broken down into the following categories. Take a good look and pass this on to someone who is at a stage in their life where a career choice (or change) is an option.
The design and installation of gardens, decks, patios and driveways seems straightforward enough. Our post-secondary schools provide many excellent options for anyone who wishes to learn the skills needed to become a professional in this field. But bear in mind that ‘landscaping’ entails so much more than a pickup truck and a cache of hand tools. Here is a short list of sub-categories for your consideration:
a. Landscape Lighting and Irrigation. As people move onto smaller properties they want to enhance their outdoor living space with lighting that allows them to extend their enjoyment of it. Outdoor lighting can also enhance grounds security. According to Bob Tubby of Arbordale Landscaping, LED lighting is booming.
Some landscaping companies are specializing in the field of in-ground irrigation. With in-ground irrigation, many home owners are enjoying the convenience of self-watering systems that allow them more time to golf. Or goof off. Those who learn how to use these systems properly enjoy a better performing garden.
b. Hard-scaping. An industry term that refers to non-plant landscaping. Think of retaining wall systems, interlocking and poured concrete walks and driveways, wooden decks and fences. This can be heavy physical work but there is an element of engineering and creative design also, especially where water features and swimming pools are concerned.
c. Water-scaping. Koi fish ponds, swimming ponds and water falls. I have learned the hard way that this is a specialized business. I had my first pond installed by the landscaper nine years ago, only to have it torn out and replaced by a specialist (Genoscape Landscaping: http://genoscape.ca/) who fixed all of the problems created earlier.
d. Swimming pools. Arguably this is a separate industry. They have their own association in Ontario (http://www.poolcouncil.ca/) but they often attend the same consumer shows as ‘landscapers’ do. Many skills in this industry sector are interchangeable with ‘landscaping’.
2. Retail Garden Centres
Many life-long careers started with a job at a local garden centre as a cashier or ‘carry out’. This is a terrific training ground for all segments of the industry as you are forced to answer consumer questions that encourage you to learn how to find answers quickly. It is where I started, at the tender age of 13.
3. Nursery Farming
Over one billion dollars worth of plants are grown and sold in Ontario each year. If you enjoy the outdoors and the relative solitude of working on your own, have a good look at nursery farming.
4. Lawn Care
So much more than grass cutting. Turf management can lead to a career as a golf course supervisor, a crew foreman of a commercial work crew or owning your own company in the field. Endless potential.
The Niagara Parks School of Horticulture was originally set up to educate and train people for this field 75 years ago. There are endless possibilities that start with general labour in public parks that can lead to supervisory, management and planning positions.
5. Landscape Design
Choose between garden design (Landscape Ontario offers Garden Design Certification courses) and the more sophisticated Landscape Architecture. If you are creative, enjoy engineering, drawing and/or selling, there are many opportunities.
6. Arborists and Tree Climbers
The early winter ice storm last year moved this career choice up the radar. No one has been busier than the tree trimmers and the damage-assessment professionals. Hand me that rope and chain saw…thorough training and a serious eye on safety are key considerations.
Whether you are interested in growing flowering potted plants for special occasions, annual bedding plants, perennials or young seedlings for reforestation, there are many greenhouse jobs available. Greenhouse crops are a net-export in Canada. We are very good at this! www.greenhousecanada.com.
8. Garden Communicators
This is what I am. As you read this, you are indulging my passion for writing about horticulture. It may seem like a narrow field of endeavour but it might surprise you that there are over 600 members of the Garden Writers Association North America wide.
I am not finished: there is work in trade associations, educational facilities, research, green roofs, dry stone walling, sod growing, large tree moving, community gardens, farmers’ markets, social enterprises that reach the ‘unemployable’ (more on that in a future column), and horticultural therapy (www.chta.ca/). No doubt I have forgotten a few more: feel free to contact me with your thoughts.
And finally, what do successful people in this industry have to say about it?
Peter Van Stralen is a recent recipient of the Premier’s Award for Business presented by Colleges Ontario. He is president of Sunshine brands, providing support to over 100 franchises of The Grounds Guys and The Sprinkler Guys.
Peter explains that he is not in the plant business but in the people business. “We hire for character and train for competence. We look for ambitious people who want to make a career in horticulture and we provide them with a clear career path through our GROW program.” He is proactive and, by any standard, very successful.
His words provide a fitting wrap for today’s discussion, “Working with great people while caring for living plants and green spaces can be very rewarding.”
My own daughter, Heather, chose horticulture when she met the dean of landscape architecture at the University of Guelph. She was in her second year of studying geography when she took a right turn with her education after a discussion about the L.A. program with Maurice Nelischer, Director of Sustainability at the university. His passion sold her on the idea and she has not looked back.
Of the many people who I know in the world of horticulture, there are many refugees who escaped from other professions to work here.
Dugald Cameron was a marketing professional and now owns and manages Garden Import, an internationally recognised ‘mail order’ enterprise (recently retired).
Allan Kling is a self-employed landscaper and designer. He is also the very capable volunteer chair of the Toronto Botanical Gardens. He moved from the legal profession to horticulture to enjoy the many benefits. http://www.urbangarden.ca/
Susan Antler was an executive in the packaged goods business and now is the executive director of the Compost Council of Canada. A 20-year horticultural refugee who has not aged a bit since making the move. www.compost.org
There you go: is there more that you need to hear to be convinced? Perhaps there is a future in horticulture for you. Feel free to contact Denis Flanagan at Landscape Ontario if you have questions; or me, at www.markcullen.com, and click on ‘Contact Us’.