Greenhouse work often involves growing plants in containers, and managing plants differently to how they would be managed outside. In larger structures plants may be permanently planted into the ground. If the house is being used for propagation, the job requires propagation skills.
Scope of Work
Public gardens, like botanic gardens, sometimes contain greenhouses, glasshouses or shade houses. These are often used to display plants from a warmer climate e.g. the tropics. These are sometimes used for propagation too in botanic gardens, but in many locations these glasshouses are for show. Glasshouses management is a specialised area of horticulture. The type of work undertaken and skills needed for greenhouse or shade house work can be quite different to other types of gardening work.
Greenhouse work often involves growing plants in containers, and managing plants differently to how they would be managed outside. In larger structures plants may be permanently planted into the ground. If the house is being used for propagation, the job requires propagation skills. A public greenhouse is also often used to provide decorative indoor plants for public buildings or special public events.
The work involves not only managing the plants but also managing the environment. This can require you to use sophisticated, and perhaps computerised equipment to control temperature, humidity, ventilation and other conditions. Knowing where to place what plants, and when; can be a challenge too. If the greenhouse is to present public displays; the work can involve planning for different displays at different designated times of the year.
What You Need to Learn
Plant knowledge - Taxonomy, identification & cultural characteristics of many different varieties
Plant science - Botany basics; biology, physiology, anatomy, ecology, nutrition
Propagation - Leaf, root, hardwood & softwood cuttings; division, layering, budding, grafting, tissue culture
Potting media and soils - Structure, chemistry, management techniques (e.g. improving media, aeration)
Environmental control - Ventilation, irrigation & misting, heating & cooling, lighting, carbon dioxide injection
Health management - Identifying and controlling pests & diseases, environmental disorders
Plant culture techniques - Planting, transplanting, fertilising, pruning, weed control, greenhouse hygiene
Tools and equipment - Selection of the right tool for the job, operation & correct use, choosing fixings, maintenance & repair of tools
Starting a Career
Since this is a more specialist field, to get a start in greenhouse work it may be necessary to first get employment and experience in other areas of horticulture. This way, you can learn about plants and familiarise yourself with the basic principles of horticulture.
A good place to gain basic experience would be through a public garden like a stately home, or a botanic garden. Many of these will also have greenhouses used to house collections of unusual or tropical plants. As you learn about plants and their maintenance, you may be able to progress to working in the greenhouses.
Another possibility is to seek employment in a hydroponic farm. Although the work in farms is mainly about mass producing crop plants for consumption or flowers for the fresh flower market, it is a good place to learn about environmental control in protective structures.
A further option would be to study horticulture and take courses which offer the opportunity to include greenhouse growing and propagation.
Progressing a Career
With experience it is possible to become increasingly technically competent. Every problem or challenge you confront can be a new learning experience. Those who have had little formal study may find gaps in their knowledge that need to be filled. These people 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.
Work in protective structures like greenhouses can be very fulfilling. You often get to work with rare and unusual plants. Large botanic gardens and public enterprises will offer better career progression (and potentially more money). This may include things like offering masterclasses to the public where they can learn propagation or other skills, being offered talk time on radio gardening shows, being interviewed by local papers, or doing school visits.
Sometimes people with this specialist knowledge take a path that moves into broader management or allied trades, or perhaps teaching, consulting or research. Some of these opportunities may require significant additional learning – formal or informal. Other career paths may depend more on experience, attitude and perhaps communication skills than on higher technical expertise.
Those who have worked in public greenhouses can easily transition to other areas of horticulture if they so wish. Some may seek to move into the private sector or establish a commercial greenhouse production business.