Conservation is not just conservation of structures and components of public gardens but also of significant plants or species of plants within the gardens. Those working in this area may be gardeners, horticulturists, conservation officers or managers.
Scope of Work
Conservation in horticulture is abroad field, covering man-made as well as natural landscapes. The work in man-made landscapes can range from management of established gardens to restoration of historical gardens. Conservation is not just conservation of structures and components of public gardens but also of significant plants or species of plants within the gardens. Those working in this area can be primarily gardeners or primarily conservationists. Many also have a background as garden historians, designers or landscapers.
On a broader scale conservation also includes management of significant plants or plant ecosystems in the wild; and work to preserve vulnerable plant species or cultivars (e.g. managing national plant collections, rare plant species, or seed banks). It can involve working with parks and nature reserves to preserve public spaces and strike a balance between allowing access whilst avoiding damage from erosion, vandalism and land management. Conservation of natural areas can include caring for nature strips through residential areas, adjoining woodlands or areas of special significance. Those working mainly in conservation of natural landscapes may have a background in parks management, conservation, general horticulture or the environment.
What You Need to Learn
Plant knowledge - Taxonomy, identification & cultural characteristics of many different varieties (at least 500 to 1000 species and cultivars to begin with)
Plant science - Botany basics; biology, physiology, anatomy, ecology, nutrition
Plant cultural techniques - Planting, watering, pruning, weed control
Health management - Pests, diseases and disorders
Potting media and soils - Structure, chemistry, management techniques (e.g. improving media, aeration)
Project management - Overseeing small to large scale projects, ordering materials, arranging labour & equipment
Garden design - Taking measurements & site information, drawing plans & sketches, principles of garden design, use of features & components
Garden history - Awareness of the evolution of garden design, different garden styles, significance of famous gardens and gardeners, botanists & plant discoveries
Conservation - Knowledge of conservation techniques, restoration methods, land management
Tools and equipment - Selection of the right tool for the job, operation -using it correctly, maintenance, repair machinery & manual tools
Starting a Career
It may be possible to get into this field with little to no training or experience. To do so, would involve starting at the bottom and working your way up. One way to do this is to start as a general labourer assisting a landscape contractor or team of conservationists. Sometimes local councils or government departments may have opportunities for people to learn on the job by taking positions in conservation projects.
Another option is to offer your services as a volunteer. This may be more apt if seeking conservation roles in man-made projects like historical gardens since many of the organisations that oversee these projects are run by volunteers and enthusiasts who give up their spare time. This can then open doors to paid positions and to better long-term employment prospects.
Those who have had little formal study may find gaps in their knowledge that need to be filled and this knowledge may be slow to come when working alongside someone and facing similar challenges each week. They may do well to seek out study courses which address those needs. In particular, they should focus on addressing the areas listed under ‘what you need to learn’ above.
Progressing a Career
Conservation is quite a specialised field but there are different areas of speciality. In man-made environments, some people may be highly adept at excavating around the structures of garden buildings so as not to disturb them before repairing foundations. Others may have a greater knowledge of the type of vegetation that would have originally been used in a particular historical garden and so have a better idea of suitable replacements.
In natural environments there may be specialists who are able to determine the best methods for addressing wind erosion on a hillside or how to divert foot traffic away from fragile rock structures. With such diversity in the field there can be many different types of specialists and some people may have quite different job roles but come to conservation within their usual role.
Much can be learnt through experience and networking with other people met during projects. However, due to the intricacies involved, almost certainly those with an interest in conservation undertake study along the way to keep abreast of science and technological advancements. This may be achieved through formal or informal study programs but should always be taken with education providers who have qualified tutors and some industry clout.
Given expanding populations and a growing recognition of the importance of preserving green spaces those with experience in this field are never likely to be without work, but they can also quite easily move into other areas of horticulture and related industries should the need arise.