Careers in horticulture
November 17, 2008 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about careers in horticulture

I was planning on going to grad school for my undergrad major, but recently, more than one person has commented that I have learned so much about plants and gardening outside of school that I should really consider careers related to horticulture. I've always thought of gardening as strictly a hobby, but I'll entertain the thought of doing it professionally.

So, what degrees lead to what kinds of jobs in horticulture? I know landscape architects are more about engineering and design than they are about the plants. I know lots of PhDs do pure research on plants for biomedical properties and agriculture. I know lots of people just volunteer at botanical gardens or farms and end up working there, or starting their own nursery. What else is there on the scale of professionalism between these?

Once I read about a special seed vault in Finland, and being a seed librarian sounds like a cool job I would never have considered. Another is being the head of a museum's gardens or a botanical garden. What degrees do those kind of people have, and how did they end up in those jobs?
posted by slow graffiti to Work & Money (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The New York Botanical Garden is having classes on this topic.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:21 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Uncle Sam is always hiring.
posted by Balonious Assault at 11:35 AM on November 17, 2008

Twenty years ago I thought I'd like to do this, b/c in college my thumb went from black to spring green really quick. So I got a job as a plant lady while I was still in college, taking care of tropical plants in hotel lobbies and bank lobbies, etc. Then I started a farmer's market stand.

Within a year I realized I was never, ever, EVER going to make enough money to support myself, let alone anyone else, on this kind of backbreaking work, no matter how many hours I put in or how well I marketed.

If you really want to stay in this field, I can only recommend that you work very hard to get a desk job managing people who do the manual work, or studying horticultural anthropology or something. The manual labor of farming/gardening/nursery work is real, it never goes away, and it's often tedious in the extreme.

So now I'm kind-of an over informed weekend gardener with a lovely grove of citrus trees and stone fruit, and that's worked out really well. I can still do what I love, and I've found another career unrelated to planties I really like. There's no hole in my soul that I'm not digging all day long, and there's no hole in my pocketbook, either.
posted by pomegranate at 12:51 PM on November 17, 2008

I work in history museums, and the two that have had large grounds have employed full-time historic landscape curators. Each supervises a staff of hourly employees, teaches workshops, gives tours, and researches and recreates period garden design.
posted by Miko at 2:17 PM on November 17, 2008

Response by poster: Miko- do you know how they became historical landscape curators? Do they have PhDs in horticultural anthropology, or just had a more general degree and worked their way up through volunteering, etc.?
posted by slow graffiti at 2:24 PM on November 17, 2008

I've worked in nurseries and gardening design/build/jobs for the last 13 years, and am now pursuing a degree in Landscape architecture, because I would like to get paid a living wage and not destroy my body entirely. You can be a LA and specialize in horticulture; in fact, I would say those sorts of people are desperately needed, since so many high-end LAs suck at plants, to put it bluntly.

I have known many people without degrees who have gotten very lucky and gotten jobs at botanical gardens or on big estates. I've even known a gardener who essentially was given a nursery because the guy whose house she tended wanted to start a business of some sort. Those are rarities though.

I think a a degree in in Biological and Agricultural Engineering could be a good one; there's also Agronomy and Range science. There are also degrees in Ornamental Horticulture. It just sort of depends on what you want to do with plants, and what type of plants you want to do it with. Jobs you wold get with those degrees can be all sorts of things- working with landscape architects, city planners, farmers, sustainable systems- it's a wide open field.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:30 PM on November 17, 2008

My dad was an LA specialising in native plants and ecological systems (in Australia), and did a lot of work for govt departments rebuilding habitats and restoring natural systems but also for private clients wanting native, sustainable landscapes. His work required an extensive knowledge of the plants with which he worked, the insects and animals and the environmental history of the area. He has a BEng (Civil), a BLA and a Master of Ecology, but what he did was essentially environmental engineering with a strong focus on the plants.
posted by goo at 3:39 PM on November 17, 2008

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