Municipal parks departments are typically responsible for developing and maintaining public parks, sports grounds and streetscapes. These can include both high and low maintenance landscapes. Other public parks can include undeveloped or semi-developed reserves (e.g. along watercourses or roadsides), camp grounds or picnic grounds in regional and national parks.
Scope of Work
Often a large part of the work of a parks department involves mowing, weed control and plant maintenance; together with some maintenance of the hard landscape (e.g. roads, paths, fences). In rapidly developing areas there may be a large amount of landscaping work. Some parks departments may also be responsible for cleaning toilets and rubbish removal. Some have a greater focus on sports ground maintenance whereas others may be more focused on streetscapes.
In larger public enterprises, job roles can be more delineated; with specific departments set up to deal with street trees, sports grounds, landscaping, or even playgrounds. Some parks authorities may subcontract (outsource) work such as mowing, landscape design or street tree pruning. Others undertake such work in-house.
What You Need to Learn
Plant identification - Ability to identify trees, shrubs and weeds (at least 500 cultivars to start)
Horticulture fundamentals - Plant structure, soils and nutrition management, tree care, turf care, pruning, landscaping, planting, transplanting, fertilising
Health management - Pests, diseases and environmental disorders
Water management - Drainage and irrigation
Tools and equipment - Selection of the right tool for the job, operation & correct use, maintenance & repair of tools
Management - As career progresses; supervision and management of staff, planning & organising, ordering equipment & materials, communication skills
Starting a Career
Anyone who displays persistence and passion, as well as a basic horticultural knowledge, will be a prime candidate for employment at an entry level in a parks department. Most jobs that are filled, in most departments around the world, are not advertised. They tend to be taken by people who keep putting themselves in front of the parks departments, seeking an opportunity.
Public spaces are often allocated for community gardens. These can be a good way of learning and networking at the same time; and perhaps developing an opportunity to kick-start a career in gardening. Some people may start their career in other ways though; even just joining a garden club or starting a small part time gardening business may be enough to get you started and convince a public park to employ you when you keep approaching them.
Once you have a start, the opportunities to progress are mostly dependent upon your performance - how hard you work, how much you improve by continuing to learn, and how you demonstrate an ability to find innovative solutions to problems.
Progressing a Career
Up to a point, you can progress by becoming increasingly technically competent. At some stage though; you need to be moving beyond doing the work, to supervising then managing it. The real opportunities, and exciting challenges in this industry sector, arise when you step up to become a supervisor, foreman or section head; and eventually move into the role of assistant manager, superintendent or director.
Large departments offer an excellent opportunity for career progression starting as an assistant gardener, or even labourer, and progressing through technical and supervisory roles to end up in very well-paid management positions, for those who apply themselves, display a good attitude and continue learning.
Plant knowledge must continue to expand beyond initial training for a career to grow properly. This is one area all conscientious parks workers address through learning on the job, or by taking formal or informal study courses. Those who have worked in parks departments are in a good position to move to other areas of horticulture if they so wish.