Green goals: learn to garden

People partaking in a gardening course together. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

People partaking in a gardening course together. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos - Credit: Archant

Not sure how to prune properly? Want a beginner’s guide to vegetable growing? Fancy a new career as a garden designer? Then read on

A group of people partaking in a gardening course together. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

A group of people partaking in a gardening course together. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos - Credit: Archant

Whatever your horticultural bent, there is a course out there for you, from one-day taster courses to degrees and recognised horticultural qualifications. But where do you start?

If you are looking for a change of career, you may opt for an officially recognised RHS course which can give you a significant qualification after two or three years.

Alternatively, you may opt for a day here, a day there working on a particular skill which you want to master in your own garden, such as propagating, pruning, wildlife gardening or planting with perennials. And you may learn as much from their fellow students as you do from the lecturers.

Andy McIndoe, garden design consultant, winner of 25 consecutive gold medals at Chelsea Flower Show and tutor at MyGardenSchool (, the world’s first online garden school, explains: “People have to think about the time commitment.

“With online courses, people need to be really committed to it and they have to put the effort in and have to relate it very much to what they want to get out of it.

“Sometimes people think they are just going to watch the video or turn up to a weekly lecture, thinking it’s going to give them all they want. But it’s a huge subject and the chances realistically of it covering what you’ve got in mind are quite remote.”

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Studying on a computer has its place, but there’s no substitute for digging in and getting your hands dirty, says McIndoe, who gives his students practical assignments after each lecture.

“I encourage them to take pictures of a particular situation and tell me how they are going to deal with it, identify plant material or other aspects of horticulture. If it’s a trees course, I tell them to pick a situation, pick a tree for it, tell me what they are going to plant with it and we build on the practicalities of that and the design element as to how they are going to use that as part of a planting scheme.”

Those thinking about a career in horticulture should choose their courses carefully and their choice may depend on whether they are going to be employed or self-employed, he says.

“Doing an RHS course is fantastic and if you can get a job as a trainee on a private estate or specialist nursery that’s great, but it’s all about application. You have to work for relatively little for a while to get the experience.

“Plant knowledge is key, whether you are doing productive or ornamental horticulture.”

“There’s no substitute for practical experience,” he continues. “I think that’s vital. The idea that somebody’s going to read a book or watch a lecture and think that’s going to teach them how to do something is unrealistic.

“You need someone to take you out there and do practical stuff. That is so important, whether you’re planting or embarking on garden design. What it comes down to is being able to cope with the practicalities of the real situation.”

He laments that there are not enough horticultural apprenticeships, although the organisation Grow ( provides advice on apprenticeships and careers in horticulture.

There are 93 approved study centres running RHS courses that lead to qualifications, many of which offer practical teaching.

Potential students wanting further information and a full list of all the centres offering RHS courses can be found here.

McIndoe says that if you are after a degree in horticulture, Pershore College – the national centre for horticulture – is still an industry leader.

A variety of shorter workshops are also run by the National Trust (while the Workers’ Educational Association offers a number of courses on a wide range of aspects of gardening at centres throughout the country.