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Business, Production & Food

Business, production and food in the UK horticulture industry is worth over £5 billion each year. Businesses growing fruit and veg employ over 50,000 people, while ornamental plant nurseries and garden centres produce and sell millions of plants, generating thousands more jobs. And it’s not just the green fingered among us who are valued, there are plenty of opportunities for technical or mechanically-minded workers, as well as sales people and entrepreneurs.


What they do: Floristry combines a love of plants with artistic talent giving the opportunity to be involved in some of the biggest occasions in people’s lives , like their wedding day. You will need good people skills to be able to cope with the highs and lows of clients on their big days, but the main talent you’ll need is bags of creativity, including having a good eye for design and colour.

Where they work: From independently owned florist shops to major chains like Interflora 

Career path: There are various opportunities to learn the skills of working with flowers. Many Local Education Authorities run basic flower arranging courses as night classes. These are normally from a term to a year in length (ie 3-9 months). Professional qualifications range from an NPTC/City & Guilds ‘National Certificate in Floristry’ to NVQs in Floristry to HND/HNC/Foundation Degrees.

More info: British Florist Association

Fruit / Vegetable Grower

What they do: Think of a greengrocer shop or supermarket aisle filled with British fruit and veg: you’d see apples, pears, plums, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, salads, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms, watercress… They’re all grown by fruit and vegetable nurseries in the UK. The technology involved in business production and food plus the job opportunities from management to marketing make working on a fruit or veg nursery a rewarding career.  

Career path: Many growers start by working at a nursery and develop their career through apprenticeships, combining on the job training and practical experience with a day at college. Others go straight from school to a full time college course. These vary from one to three years’ study, and you will usually need at least three GCSEs at C grade and above, including maths and English to get in. Most colleges have their own farms where students gain a mix of theory and practical work.

At a higher level there are also degree programmes on offer, these require one to two A Levels and tuition fee. The Royal Horticultural Society runs a one year special option certificate training programme at its Wisley gardens on fruit growing, and also employs gardeners to look after the extensive orchards and vegetable gardens.

Where they work: From glasshouses growing tomatoes and other salad crops to industrial farms specialising in field grown vegetables or fruit growing.

There are a wide range of jobs outside the immediate area of growing. Supermarkets require field officers to manage the need for a daily supply of fresh produce. There are also the suppliers, who provide everything from packaging to spray chemicals, who need specialist advisers and research workers to develop new products.

More info: British Independent Fruit Growers Association, British Growers Association, Red Tractor

Related job titles: Production Worker, Fruit/Vegetable Farm Manager, Horticultural Production Manager/Supervisor/Specialist, Quality Control Assurance Manager/Technician, Tractor/ Machine Operator

Garden Centre Assistant/Manager

What they do: If you are someone with good people skills and a passion for plants, a career in garden retail could be the right choice for you.

As well as selling all things to do with gardening, big garden centres are increasingly turning into leisure destinations which means there is a demand for staff willing to develop expertise in areas from houseplants, to chemicals, outdoor clothing, in-store catering, pets, aquatics and even garden sheds.

Career path: Garden centres can employ anywhere from 30 to 200 staff and extensive on the job training is standard across the industry. Some employers look for a mix of horticultural qualifications and retail skills, especially for staff in the plant area of the store. However, other centres see a can do attitude, customer focus and willingness to learn as the most important characteristics of new recruits. A degree in horticulture remains one of the most popular routes into garden centre retailing, but completing National Vocational Qualification courses or National Certificates in horticulture are equally valid options. The Royal Horticultural Society runs a one-year special option certificate on plant centre management skills and employs garden centre workers.

Where they work: Stores range from small individual garden centres to big chains like The Garden Centre Group or Dobbies, to the DIY stores such as Homebase or B&Q.

More info: The Horticultural Trades Association, The Garden Centre AssociationHorticulture WeekGarden Centre Group

Related job titles: Garden Centre Assistant, Departmental Supervisor/Manager, Plant Centre Manager, Planteria Manager, Garden Centre Manager, Director/Regional Manager

Logistics Manager

What at they do: Growing fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants is only one part of the horticultural production process, you also need to make sure it gets to the seller on time and in good condition. Supermarkets and garden centres are very particular about the quality of the produce they sell, so making sure the produce is properly packed, labelled and dispatched is an important part of the process.

Career path: Usually working at a nursery and developing a specialism in packing and dispatch.

Where they work: For the producers – fruit, veg or ornamental nurseries – or the purchasers (supermarkets, garden centres etc)

Related job titles: Packhouse/ Dispatch Worker/Supervisor/Manager, Transport Manager, Quality Control Supervisor/Manager

Machinery Operator / Mechanic

What they do: Harvesting many crops in production horticulture (fruit, veg and plant growing) involves specialist kit, often costing £50K or more. These machines require skilled drivers and competent mechanics to keep them running. Skilled machinery operators, especially tractor drivers, are always in demand.

Career path: Many supervisors, machinery workers and mechanics come into the industry as apprentices and most agricultural colleges now offer apprenticeship programmes. Such schemes typically take on school leavers and train them for two or three years. Often the only qualifications are keenness and being prepared to work hard in all weathers.

The training involves a mix of working in a business with some time at college. To begin with you can expect to be involved in harvest and planting work but as your skills progress you will be expected to be involved in more and more machinery work.
College training will help you to understand how the crops grow and how the machinery works. It will also provide training in such skills as first aid and pesticide handling as part of the package.

Where they work: From glasshouses growing tomatoes and other salad crops to industrial size farms specialising in field grown vegetables or fruit growing. Production of ornamental (non-edible) plants also involves the use of machinery and kit, from conveyor potting or pruning machines, to tractors, mini trucks and even forklifts.

Ornamental Plant Grower

What they do: From your local park to the shelves of the big garden centre chains, the trees, shrubs and flowers we all enjoy are grown at ornamental plant nurseries. The work involves propagating, planting, potting and spraying plants, and most tasks involve the use of machinery and kit, from pruning machines to hand tools and even forklifts. Nursery hands will also be required to identify weeds, pests and diseases and know how to control them.

Career path: Many of the larger nurseries will only take on staff with formal horticultural qualifications, particularly for middle and senior positions. However, some take on nursery trainees who study for a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ), such as Level 2 in commercial and production horticulture, with other horticultural skills taught in-house. Applicants for these schemes should have at least four good grades at GCSE level or equivalent, including English and maths.

Nursery workers who want to progress through formal higher education have a number of options. For example, the National Diploma in commercial plant production is a two-year course. The Higher National Certificate in commercial horticulture is a two-year course carried out two days a week and is suitable for those aiming for managerial or technical positions.

The Royal Horticultural Society runs a one-year special option certificate on ornamental horticulture.

Where they work: The ornamental production sector is wide and varied, from family run or even sole trader businesses producing batches of specialist plants, to high tech automated glasshouse nurseries producing pot and bedding plants, shrubs or trees by the million.

These mass production nurseries provide plants for retailers, garden centres, supermarkets and DIY chains, as well as landscapers and local councils.

More info:  The Horticultural Trades AssociationHorticulture Week Careers

Related job titles: Nursery Proprietor, Plant Nursery Worker/Grower/Manager, Horticultural Worker/Grower, Nursery Stock Production Technician/Specialist, Manager/Technician, Plant Propagator

Propagation Scientist

What they do: Propagation scientists study the best ways to create new plants from old by collecting seeds, taking cuttings or through micro propagation which is propagating new plants from just a few cells of parent plants in a laboratory. This may be to propagate a new variety, to multiply a difficult to propagate plant or to save an endangered species.

Career path: Propagation techniques can be taught on the job at nurseries, or learnt as part of a wide range of horticultural courses, including degrees, National Diplomas and distance learning.

Where they work: Nurseries, research bodies (eg Central Science Laboratory), commercial plant breeders.

Related job titles: Micro propagator