So You Want to Be a Horticulturist?

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By Matias Taylor

With around 6000 taxa of plants distributed over 10 different gardens, UBC Botanical Garden is a bona fide source of biodiversity in Vancouver. Helping maintain it is a small army of horticulturists, who regularly incorporate new members into their ranks, some of whom come from the Garden’s Horticulture Training Program (HTP). Launched in 2012, it is the only full-time program of its kind in Metro Vancouver north of the Fraser River, and aims to teach the skills necessary to enter the field of horticulture through eight months of instruction, from late summer to spring.

Headed by Chief Educator Egan Davis (BCLNA’s Educator of the Year), the program introduces students to, among other areas, principles and techniques of landscape construction and design, garden ecology, plant biology and health, the role of soil in natural and constructed landscapes, ornamental and food crop management, and hands-on landscape and garden management.

Students of the Horticulture Training Program complete an espalier renovation
Students of the Horticultural Training Program complete an espalier renovation

Graduates of the program are well prepared to apply for entry-level positions with landscaping firms, golf courses, nurseries, and municipal park departments, and also receive credit for the classroom portion of Levels 1 & 2 of the provincial horticulture apprenticeship.

Student learn how to harvest squash seeds
Student learn how to harvest squash seeds

Past alumni have been able to use the program to springboard a successful career in horticulture, from starting their own businesses to working for parks and botanical gardens. Michael Guinness, owner of landscape gardening company Guinness 4 Greens, states that he “learned more about plants and landscape construction than all the other years [he spent working in horticulture] combined. HTP allowed me to really understand how a garden works so I could correct things I was doing wrong and confirm things I had long suspected to be good garden practice.” Innessa Roosen, Horticulture Apprentice with the Vancouver Park Board, mentions that “the teachers are masters of Horticulture and deliver the necessary curriculum with great detail and enthusiasm. I use the skills I learned in HTP everyday in my job with the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.”

Nicholas Demers, who now works as a horticulturist at UBC Botanical Garden after completing the HTP, was new to the industry when he decided to embark on the program, but credits it giving him “the knowledge and training required to pursue [this] career”. He mentions the construction of a new staircase in one of the gardens at UBC Botanical Garden as a particularly memorable experience, and one that is also representative of the kind of hands-on, practical training students receive. “It was a lot of hard work” Nicholas says. “Over 10,000lbs of basalt stairs. The class really came together under Egan and Kerrie and did an amazing job. It was a great moment laying that last step.”

The first class of Horticultural Training Program students and staff members
The first class of Horticulture Training Program students and staff members

The Horticulture Training Program is holding free information sessions on March 15 and April 12 at UBC Botanical Garden.