Customer service manager, Coolings of Knockholt
Mark Reeve is the customer service manager and plant doctor at Coolings Garden Centre in Knockholt and has honed his keen interest since a teenager into a career. He enjoys being involved with plants, feeling the soil on his hands and being out in the fresh air and sunshine while helping people find the ‘right plant, for the right place’.
What advice would you give? Try to get experience if you can when you’re at school, even if it’s getting a Saturday job at a nursery or garden centre. Many people started out that way who are now high up on the ladder. Colleges such as Hadlow, Pershore or Writtle will do parttime courses or block courses, which are the best way to get some horticultural qualifications and practical experience.
Be able to deal with people and don’t mind that you have to muck in occasionally. Experience isn’t gained overnight and you will learn from mistakes, although hopefully not make them again!
Where do you see the needs? There seems to be a lack of skilled and qualified younger people now as there was a period where the horticultural colleges didn’t have a good intake of students.
Opportunities I think lie in the retail side of things rather than big private gardens; there does seem to be a big demand for gardeners for small gardens where people don’t have much leisure time as they work long hours. They really don’t want to be coming home after the commute to mow the lawn or weed the borders. Garden designer, nursery owner and RHS judge, Roger Platts has had a love of horticulture since childhood, which led to formal training, work experience in nurseries and then setting up his own business in Edenbridge.
What advice would you give?
Consider what it is about the industry that interests you the most, whether it is growing plants, garden centres, nurseries, garden design, amenity gardening or landscaping.
Contact organisations such as Horticultural Colleges, The RHS and The National Trust, Garden Design courses and trade bodies such as APL, HTA and BALI to see what courses are available and ask them where the training may lead in terms of an ultimate job.
Whichever path you choose to take I think it is important to have practical experience dealing with plants at an early stage, so working in a nursery or a large garden is a very good way to start out. There are some good courses run by gardening organisations, which combine training with working, some full time and others part time.
Which skills are most important?
As in any career, you need communication skills and a commercial understanding. The specialist skills required depend upon the area of horticulture, but all aspects benefit from a good plant knowledge, including an understanding of soils and growing conditions.
Mark Reeve at Coolings Garden Centre
Roger Platts has a multi-faceted career in horticulture