People's Love for Lawns is Nursing New Opportunity The Buzz


Many opportunities are available to those thinking about entering the green industry.

"If you like working outdoors, if you enjoy making things grow, if you have concern for the environment, all of these and more make working in the green industry interesting and exciting," says Denne Goldstein. He is the publisher of Irrigation and Green Industry magazine.

Positions in greenhouses, nurseries and landscaping are readily available to those wishing to pursue a career in this field.

"The green industry employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates more than $60 billion into the economy of this country," Goldstein says. "There is a shortage of personnel in every aspect of the green industry. Opportunities are open to all."

The green industry encompasses many aspects, Goldstein says, including nurseries, both retail and wholesale. The wholesalers grow plant material for sale to landscape contractors and retail nurseries, Goldstein explains. Retail nurseries sell to the general public.

Landscaping, irrigation, design and maintenance all fall under the green industry, he adds. "Opportunities exist in working for municipalities. Every city and town has parks and recreation personnel that take care of cutting the lawns and planting flowers," he says.

"Also, golf courses...public and municipal and private...all have the need for a superintendent."

Goldstein says he would advise young people today to think about entering this field. "I would also suggest that they continue to go to school and get a degree in this field," he says. "Although it is not necessary for them to have a degree to enter this field, they will need it to move up the ladder.

"Most landscape contractors who go into business for themselves go to work for another contractor, learn their skills and then start their own business," he says.

"The opportunity is wide open in this area, but the one thing you won't learn from the guy you're working for is the 'business end of the business.' That is critical in any business: learning how to run a business without losing money."

Carla Pastore is the executive director of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (AABGA), which represents the country's public gardens. She says there are also many job opportunities in this branch of the industry, which she says has experienced "considerable growth" in recent years.

Horticulture jobs in public gardening include the plant propagators who grow the plants, and the gardeners who do the daily, hands-on work in the gardens. The people who decide what plants will go in each garden are called curators. Plant recorders keep track of what has been planted.

Pastore suggests that anyone interested in this type of work volunteer in a public garden. "Then they will see...what is being done and what opportunities are out there," she says.

"There are also internship opportunities available to students once they are out of high school." The association has a directory that lists all of its internship opportunities.

"I would say on average, we are seeing at least five new public gardens or more a year, so there is a lot of growth in public gardens. And I have seen some data that shows the general public is becoming more and more interested in gardening."

Pastore points to the aging of the baby boomer generation -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- as one of the reasons for this popularity. "They like to garden, and they like to volunteer and visit in gardens," she says.

Chris Andrews is the executive director of the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA). He says gardening is the fastest growing leisure activity in North America. "It is just growing furiously," Andrews says.

There is always a shortage of labor within the industry, Andrews says. "We don't have enough skilled people in this field. That is improving and changing...and we have put together programs to train the current people," he says.

CNLA runs the Canadian Certified Horticultural Technician Program nationwide in Canada. The Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) runs a similar program in the United States.

Andrews says a university education is very helpful for those looking to enter this field. "It is really necessary," he says. "With the way business operates today, you need to have a good education from the business administrative side and the marketing side, if nothing else. And you certainly need to know the horticultural education.

"The only way you can get away without having a [formal] horticultural education is if you buy a business that is already established and you have a lot of expertise in there or you can afford to bring in the expertise."

It is a very complex industry, Andrews says. "It is not a single crop industry....We grow between 7,000 and 8,000 products, and they take between one and seven years to reach maturity before you can sell it," he says.

Gardening tends to be a recession-proof industry, according to Andrews. "For the most part, when the economy is down, people spend more time at home. They don't buy the new television or the new car. They spend more time in their yards, and to keep busy they go and buy plant material," he says.

Ron Crawford owns a nursery. He agrees that gardening has become very popular today and has led to a boom in the industry. His nursery, which he runs with his wife, Diane, sells mail-order daylilies and hostas to the general public. He says a love of gardening is what prompted him to enter this field of work.

Crawford says he took some correspondence courses. He also gained experience on the job and through hosta and daylily horticultural societies.

"At first, we wanted to be a general plant nursery, but we could not compete with the big box stores and chain garden centers," he says. "We wanted to remain small, and specialization was the only alternative. We sell to a very limited market, but there is a strong following."

Diane Crawford says that people entering this type of work should have a genuine interest in the field. "Most positions in the horticultural industry are low paying," she says.

"This is an industry in which you have to have a love of plants and enjoy the type of work, including interaction with people, rather than [wanting] a lucrative career. It is much more satisfying than most other fields because you see things start from almost nothing and grow to be much larger."

Links

American Society for Horticultural Science
The society promotes and encourages scientific research and education in horticulture

AmericanHort
The horticulture industry's trade association

Irrigation and Green Industry Network
This is a magazine for landscape, irrigation and maintenance contractors