Besides specialist areas like plants and equipment, there is also a wide range of other things which garden centres and retailers sell. These include fertilisers, pesticides, soils, containers and seeds, among other things. Members of the public may ask for all sorts of things, so staff members need to have a solid practical knowledge.
Scope of Work
Garden centres and garden retail outlets may be small or large. Some independent garden centres may be attached to nurseries but others are stand-alone stores which buy in all their plants and equipment. These days there are also online suppliers and these too can vary in size. Some may only sell plants e.g. tube plants but others may sell a broad range of gardening equipment e.g. all sorts of hydroponic equipment.
Sundries can include anything from having knowledge about fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and other garden products through to knowing about more specialist items like garden lighting. The amount and type of knowledge and skills that are needed will vary with the workplace.
Daily roles can be quite diverse and may include checking stock inventories, ordering new supplies, serving customers, cleaning floors or spillages, throwing out waste products, and arranging displays.
Staff may also need to know about any services offered by the retail outlet, such as gardening services or delivery services and be able to organise these on behalf of clients and customers.
What You Need to Learn
Product knowledge - Awareness and knowledge of a broad range of products and services e.g. pond liners, garden lighting, seeds, propagation equipment
Tools and equipment - Selection of the right tool for the job, correct operation & use, maintenance & repair of tools, machinery use
Sales skills - How to interact with customers, sell equipment and equipment repairs, earn repeat business, network with suppliers of parts and equipment, place orders, keep inventories, marketing, advertising
Plant knowledge - Plant species & cultivars, identification & cultural characteristics of at least 500 different varieties,including turf and and weed species
Potting media and soils - Structure, chemistry, management techniques (e.g. improving media, aeration)
Health management - Identifying and controlling pests & diseases, environmental disorders
Irrigation - Equipment selection, installation, use
Cultural techniques - Pruning plants, watering frequency and duration, how to repair & renovate, planting, transplanting, staking
Management - Time, financial, stock control
Starting a Career
Many people who end up working for commercial horticulture retailers do so by first doing other things. Some come into this area of work later in life having had other jobs and careers where they may have accumulated specialist knowledge. Others may begin by working as a garden labourer but take an interest in equipment, plants and gardening paraphernalia. There are also those who start out as employees in a garden centre or similar environment as a non-skilled member of staff but eventually build knowledge in many areas and prefer not to specialise too much.
Other ways to get started include working for a local gardening club or volunteering to help maintain the grounds at local venues like sports grounds, schools and railway stations. Going to trade shows and garden events can also be good ways to network and get a feel for what openings might be out there. You could also consider doing some study whilst working part-time.
Once you have gained enough experience you may be able to approach garden retail outlets to take an entry level job. If you can demonstrate enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, many employers will be willing to give you a start providing they have vacancies.
Progressing a Career
There are different ways to progress a career in commercial horticulture retail. In family run businesses and small nurseries there may be fewer opportunities for development. Conversely, a large DIY store with a garden retail department or a large garden centre might offer a clearer career development path. Some people may forge a career which involves working for different types of outlets, perhaps beginning in sales and serving customers and progressing through to becoming a company rep doing demonstrations and seminars in different cities.
There are opportunities to advance from a general assistant type role to higher levels of management so long as you are prepared to show some commitment and motivation to succeed. If you do wish to move up the employment ladder then some learning is always going to be a great advantage. If there are gaps in your knowledge then it would be wise to fill them and especially the types of skills listed under 'what you need to learn'.
Joining a professional or trade organisation and networking are also good ways to keep up to date with current technology and trends in horticulture. Attending trade shows and garden fairs is another means of continuously evolving your knowledge. Taking courses and additional training will also help.