Horticulture: a Great Second Choice

Published on January 22, 2016
A career in horticulture

Take a moment to examine your life: is this a time for change? I am speaking strictly on a professional level, so don’t get nervous.

For many of us there is a time when we examine the work that we do day to day and realise, perhaps, there may be something more meaningful that we could do with the majority of our waking hours. Maybe it is time to consider a change in your career path. Mid-winter contemplation will do that: encourage you to look more than skin deep and examine the bones of life. 

If you find yourself in this position (or know someone who is) then why not consider horticulture as a second career? You would not be the first person to have switched careers in favour of the gardening world. There are over 300,000 people employed full-time in horticulture and you can be sure that many started their adult life heading in a different professional trajectory.

To help you understand how this could work for you, I interviewed these extraordinary people: Tony DiGiovanni is the Executive Director of Landscape Ontario. He oversees a membership base of more than 2,200 professionals in the industry and refers to himself as ‘official observer’. 

Adam Angeloni is the Parks Manager of Downsview Park. He came to the business from the film and television industry: a broadcast media refugee, who found deep satisfaction in his work at the Park.

Ron Swentiski is the owner of Trillium Associates, Landscape Design, Consulting and Project Management.

Why is horticulture often a good second choice for a career?

“Those in the profession love what they do.” replied DiGiovanni. “They get to create a piece of paradise in peoples’ lives. They are making people happy with their knowledge, skill and creativity.”  Note the use of two words that we do not hear a lot in the work-place: love and happy. Already we can see how this business is different from most.

Angeloni is equally enthusiastic. “I was looking for a career that was personally rewarding and that fit into my beliefs on environmentalism and public service.”

A job that provides fulfillment and satisfaction. Wow. One that touches the personal and emotional side of our character. No mention of making lots of money.

What should a prospect for work in horticulture think about before entering the work force?

The horticultural industry is wide and deep. DiGiovanni points out that you can choose from an extensive list of work-options including: garden design, construction, maintenance, retail garden centre, wholesale nursery plant growing, trees (cutting/planting/nurturing), indoor plant maintenance, greenhouse growing, sod growing, turf management and the list goes on.

As Tony reminds us, it is important to be realistic as some jobs are physically demanding, others focus on office work, others involve selling and the work schedule generally is seasonal. You may have to work the usual 2,000 hours a year but have to do it within a 9 month time frame.

Swentiski recommends, “That you get post-secondary education that fits the field within horticulture that suits you.”

What educational opportunities are there for ‘second career’ horticulturalists? 

According to DiGiovanni, there are many University and College programs that are appropriate for a mature student. In addition you might consider an apprenticeship program. This concept is growing in popularity across the country. He calls this ‘earn as you learn’ and it can work exceedingly well for both the student and employer.

Angeloni put his feet on the ground in horticulture through an apprenticeship program, “I would not be here today (in horticulture) without the Apprenticeship program and for those who believed in me along the way.” 

Hard to beat that.

After many years of managing the building and grounds of community colleges, Swentiski took a diploma course in landscape design.  He graduated with honours in 1994.

And finally, why horticulture? What makes it special in the vast field of employment?

Angeloni sounds like an inspired man when he responds, “Being connected with nature and the long term benefits of working outside are what I love about horticulture. You are always working to build something and watching things grow. There is yet to be a day on the job when I didn’t learn something.”

Ron Swentiski waxes on about the benefits to the environment, creating fresh air and the improvement of local, community based aesthetics as motivators for him. 

Mr. DiGiovanni has equal passion, “The individuals who currently work in the ‘green’ profession contribute huge economic, environmental, social, therapeutic, health and legacy benefits to society. Together they are changing the world for the better. The industry welcomes all who want to join and make a contribution.”

He adds that the #1 challenge for employers in the horticultural profession is finding good people.

If you are a person who is thinking of a career change, perhaps there is a future for you here.


Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is the Lawn and Garden expert for Home Hardware. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com