Written by Peter Shaw from Ocean Road Landscaping

becoming a landscape gardener

Have you been thinking that you would like enter the landscape gardening industry?  The following information will hopefully guide you in the right direction.  For myself, entering the landscape gardening industry was a natural progression after leaving high school. I entered the landscape gardening industry primarily because I felt very at home with gardens and plants and less at ease with the school environment.  I had a passion and interest in gardening and growing things.  I was also very good with my hands.

I knew from the very young age what I want to do. If you can align your passion and interest with your vocation you are very lucky – the dream job. And the horticulture and landscaping industry is a space where this happens for many people.

There are numerous ways to enter the landscape gardening industry. The most common and successful way is to find an employer to offer you an apprenticeship. For the right employer, an apprentice it is an investment in the future. When looking for the ideal company and applying for an apprenticeship, try to look for somewhere where you believe you would fit in well.

Apart from undertaking an apprenticeship, there are other ways to enter the industry. This could be simply getting a job and self-training. Enrolling yourself into a TAFE horticulture course is a great way to start.   There are also such things as adult or mature age apprenticeships and traineeships which are often a good way to become qualified if you’ve been working in the industry for some time.

If you feel you are ready to enter the landscaping industry at any age, I would suggest you undertake some of the following steps to prepare yourself:

  • Gardening at home: in my opinion this is one of the best ways to begin learning about landscaping and horticulture.
  • Visiting gardens: these could be private when they are open, or public gardens such as the botanic gardens in your own town as well as the Australian Garden at Cranbourne, Victoria.
  • Attending conferences and public talks: which are often held during expos and at such events as the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show.
  • Undertaking a course: whether at TAFE or University, this is often a good way to get started. If you are serious about becoming qualified and training yourself up, the TAFE environment offers a positive learning environment. The we are shown as having special

Main streams of employment:

There are several sectors within the landscape gardening industry. Firstly, there is the private sector which consists of privately run businesses, mainly set up to service their clients which may be domestic or commercial in nature.   Then there are the government departments such as shires, councils and coastal reserve committees. There are also opportunities within health care – run privately or by the government, within the education system, through zoos and within the plant nursery industry – both retail and wholesale.

Contacting potential employers is when the fun really begins! It is often a daunting process, sending off letters and making phone calls, leaving messages and sending emails. However, persistence does win in the end. You need to be realistic and understand you may not suit every employer, and from an employer’s perspective (in their mind at least) you may not suit their organisation.

I would make the following suggestions when approaching a privately-run business:

  • Prepare a decent resume: your resume should explain your previous work history. If this is not relevant to the horticulture industry, don’t go into great detail, but try and make links between what you have done in the past and how that will contribute to your future career in landscaping. This is your opportunity to tell your story in a brief but distinct way.

It is so important that you provide references for a future employer to call, this will help.  Make sure the person is at arm’s length to you, i.e. not your family. If you do use a reference who is close to you, state clearly why you are using this person.

  • Include Images: these could be photos of garden projects you have worked on or plans or images of assignments you have been involved with. They can easily be attached to your resume to emphasise your keenness and interest. Make sure that the photos are relevant and can actually demonstrate your abilities.
  • Call a potential employer: If the opportunity arises, make a call and have a brief conversation with your potential employer. Tell them why you are contacting them and that your resume will soon be arriving on their doorstep. At this stage, you’re asking nothing more than for five minutes of their time to review it and you understand they may not have any positions open. Once your resume has been sent, a brief follow-up call or email would be appropriate.

Entering government departments and other divisions of the landscape gardening industry beyond the private sector is often done through the advertising of a position which you can then apply for. Again, a solid resume will be your best asset when applying for these positions. Learning about the organisation and understanding who is who and, if appropriate, making contact during the application process, is often a helpful thing.

When making contact on the phone with a potential employer or somebody in the decision-making process it is important to act professionally because this is your first opportunity to leave an impression. Make sure you know what you want to achieve from the call and keep it brief and to the point. Asking good questions will help you, such as what is the process from here, or is there anything else I can do to help support my application? Offering to provide more information, or the opportunity to prove yourself, often pays off and can become an opportunity to get your foot in the door.

It is often all about the timing. If your call comes at a busy time for that employer, they may wish to hurry up and get you off the phone. However if the call comes at the right moment, when they’re thinking about what to do next with a certain job or position, and your voice appears on the other end of the line, you may just be in the right place at the right time and get an opportunity.

A reality check

Some people have a perceived idea of what it’s like to be a gardener or a landscaper. They say things like it must be so nice to be creative and work with your hands all day. Yes, there are days when you are creative and you do really enjoy the hands-on work. Although you do work outside all year round, through winter, summer, spring and autumn. Sometimes you are putting up with extreme conditions. Having the right attitude to the hard work and the conditions you work in will help you immensely.

Personal traits

There are a few traits that will help you be successful in the landscape gardening industry. You will require a passion and interest for plants because at the end of the day, plants make up a garden. If you are considering landscape construction as a profession as part of the landscape gardening industry, being good with your hands and being able to learn how construct garden elements is critical.

Being able to work with people is a must in this industry. Apart from the plants, the people are the next most important thing.  Being able to work in a team, following instructions and also being able to give instructions when required, is critical.  At the end of the day, you will be dealing with a client who has to pay the account for the work that is done, and if they are not happy, your employer is not happy and nor will you be. So getting on well with people and communicating well is immensely important.

becoming a garden designer in the landscape gardening industry

Another sector of the landscape gardening industry is garden design. Garden designers come from all sorts of backgrounds and can be fully qualified landscape architects with university degrees, or someone who has experience in horticulture or landscape construction and has shown an interest in moving towards the design stream.

As a landscape designer you could be purely focusing on residential projects and working directly with home owners, or working as part of a large company on commercial projects or public spaces. Landscape architects and garden designers also work for government and local councils where they become more involved in project approvals or policy writing. Really, to be a garden designer is a broad job description and can fall anywhere from the arts sector to the biodiversity realm.

Garden design can be a rewarding path to follow and will allow you to use a broad range of skills. You must be creative and able to think through different design solutions in a creative as well as practical way. You must have some technical knowledge regarding landscape construction and an ability to apply this into your designs. You must be knowledgeable about the environment as a natural biological system and understand the implications of your designs in terms of water movement, plant communities, circulation and movement through spaces. You must be familiar with local plants. You will be required to think about the way people use space and be able to balance client’s wants with good solutions.

Designing gardens is like designing anything else. At times you will be required to think outside the square and offer innovative ideas. At the end of the day, designers create and work towards providing better options for people.

Both garden design and landscape construction is a great sector to work in and will give you the opportunity to create long-lasting, beautiful built and natural spaces for people to enjoy.