Switching careers into professional garden maintenance

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People often say to our team members – whether landscapers or garden maintenance staff – that they would love to work outdoors too. We can relate; it is definitely a privilege to create and care for beautiful gardens and grounds, and the personal benefits of working in the outdoors are well recognised.  Some people take things further than a ‘wish’ to work outside, and they switch into a career in gardening and horticulture.  Within our own small business, we have several members of staff who started out on quite a different career path.  One of these is Ben Longhurst, now one of our Maintenance Team Leaders. 

Three years ago, we appointed Ben to join our Maintenance team. He was in his mid-20s and had never worked in the horticulture industry before, but he had skills that we believed were highly transferable and valuable to the company.  Recently, we asked Ben for his reflections on the career move he made into professional gardening …

Tell us about getting started at The Garden Company

Ben pictured at The Garden Company office
Ben pictured at The Garden Company office

I was looking for a new career having left the army, and when I realised how much I was enjoying gardening at home and spending time outdoors, I decided to make the switch. I had no professional gardening experience so early on at The Garden Company I began a work-based diploma in horticulture – this was conducted on the job as an apprentice and in my own time studying. Having finished my qualification, I began to take on more responsibility and working alone in high-end gardens.

I was promoted to Team Leader less than 2 years after joining and now I lead a small team on a busy ‘round’ maintaining private and commercial gardens for clients in North London and South-East England. My role is basically to make sure that their requirements are met to the highest standards of quality.  Our clients are very discerning, and a big part of my job is to make sure we communicate well with them and are proactive with our services.

 

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I never stop learning, either on the job or at home through personal studying. Every season I work through increases my knowledge and experience.  I love the fact that there is no limit to your education in horticulture – in my opinion, it’s a unique industry trait. I feel very lucky to spend my job amongst the elements and see the effects of my work, whether it’s daily, weekly, seasonally or yearly. It gives me great satisfaction that I have not been able to find in previous jobs.

What was your career history prior to the move into horticulture?

I had a variety of different roles – from Aviation Groundcrew Specialist in the British Army, to Parts Advisor for BMW and a self-employed Personal Trainer. Obviously quite a contrast to garden maintenance, but I learnt a lot about teamwork, communication and problem-solving.

Looking back over the last 3 years, what are you most proud of achieving at work?

I do view my progression to Maintenance Team Leader after 20 months of service as a significant accomplishment and – more specifically – I was proud to be involved in caring for ‘Laurel Cottage’ in Pinner, North London which won the Society of Garden Designer’s Small Residential Garden Award this year.  I trust that the judges were impressed with the appearance and condition of the garden during their judging process!

Laurel Cottage garden, photo credit Rebecca Bernstein

Laurel Cottage garden, photo credit Rebecca Bernstein


What are your career goals now?

I want to continue to build my horticultural knowledge and skills – through studying, by learning from the people around me at work and through visiting a variety of gardens and green spaces.  I also enjoy sharing what I have learnt with others and see this as a significant part of my role going forward.  I think that sharing our learning helps us to improve not only our personal contribution at work but also the way our team works together.  I would like to gain more experience in all aspects of The Garden Company, from landscaping and construction of the gardens that I work in through to design and customer service and aftercare. I believe that having such an understanding of how all the ‘pieces of the puzzle’ fit together will help to improve the service I provide in maintaining gardens.

What mark would you like to leave on the sector?

I hope to demonstrate to more people – especially new team members and clients – just how valuable good horticulturalists can be to a garden. A garden doesn’t stop developing once a build is finished – it requires care, planning, scrutiny and attention to detail to reach the designer or customer’s ultimate vision.

What would you say to others considering a career in professional gardening?

Working outdoors and being surrounded by nature is good for you – it provides many health and wellbeing benefits, both physical and mental. Taking care of green spaces is hugely rewarding especially at a time when there is a growing appreciation of the environmental responsibilities and issues of sustainability facing us all. I also believe that this work requires skills and knowledge that are in short supply, so the opportunities for employment and further career progression are very positive.

How has your career move influenced your life outside of work?

Outside of my ‘day job’, I spend as much time as I can visiting gardens or being outdoors.  My wife and I have recently taken up Family Membership of the National Trust so that we can help our young son to engage with his surroundings and to appreciate the natural world.

The Garden Company invites staff every year to visit at least one RHS Show.  As a result, I have been to RHS Chelsea three times and this year also to Hampton Court Flower Show.  The quality of the gardens and plants on display has been inspiring and I always find something to talk to our clients about afterwards.

Conclusion

We feel that Ben’s reflections on his career change really demonstrate how working in horticulture enables you to make a positive difference to peoples’ lives. It’s hard work and can bring some challenges (British weather being high on the list!), but it is ultimately a very rewarding experience. We love to see people enjoying being in the gardens that we have nurtured and knowing that we have created beautiful havens where people can relax and unwind.

If you have enjoyed reading about Ben’s role at The Garden Company, you might also enjoy a couple of related blog posts:

Being a garden and grounds maintenance professional – an interview with our Maintenance Manager, Joanna Mege

A day in the life of our Landscape Project Manager, Alex Haerle.

If you are thinking about a career change (or helping a family member or friend with their career options), then do take a look at the Society of Garden Designers website and also the British Association of Landscape Industries. The horticulture and landscaping industries are keen to attract new talent! Nearer to home, why not find out about current opportunities at The Garden Company through our Join Us page.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic, please post at the top of the blog.

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