Thursday, 3 November 2011

Horticultural Education


 A private garden, public park or stately home with gardens open to the public will only be as good as the skills level of those looking after it. Before someone can call themselves a gardener there is an awful lot of skills and knowledge to acquire to be able to carry out a very wide range of horticultural tasks. The skilled gardener may not have the biggest wage packet, but his gardening achievements are open for everyone to see and admire and his sense of pride and personal satisfaction can be very rewarding.
Creating beautiful landscapes with plants, flowers, paving, walls, water features, immaculate bowling greens, or floral decorations for civic events requires training at a very high level. Rewards for achievements may come with certification or winning awards at flower shows or garden and allotment competitions.
Dundee City Council has always played a key role in horticultural education.

Fifty years of training

History records a period of austerity after the last war affecting the whole population. There were numerous private estates employing gardeners to cultivate and produce crops for their stately homes, but they no longer had the funds to continue this lifestyle. At this time the local authorities were keen to improve the environment by brightening up the landscape and a long period began of growing more flowers in Parks, highways, housing estates and city centres.
A natural migration of skilled gardeners occurred coming from private service to work with the local councils. These gardeners brought with them a wealth of skills to create beautiful landscapes and help to train a new breed of youngsters leaving school and wishing to work outdoors in a very rewarding career.
In the late 1950s the Dundee Parks Director, Sandy Dow, who had been trained at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens was very keen to establish a training scheme for his new apprentices taken on every year. At the same time, another Edinburgh trained man, Walter Gilmore arrived in Dundee and started a day release scheme for apprentice gardeners. Young apprentices came from the Parks dept. local nurseries from all over Angus and even young scientists from the Scottish Crops Research Institute. At that time the research needs were still at crop growing requirements, use of chemicals to control pests, diseases and weeds and plant breeding. Virology and biotechnology were in their infancy.
Training normally ran for three years of day release classes with practical hands on work at Duntrune Terrace and theory in the classrooms at Balfour Street trades school. Successful apprentices could achieve the RHS gardeners certificate. Nothing ever stands still, and soon this changed when the City and Guilds certification system arrived. Today this has been superseded by the Scottish Vocational Qualification, with training carried out at Kingsway Technical College.

Kingsway Technical College

The training needs of todays youth is different from the past as it is no longer enough just to become a good gardener. Training needs to cater for those of a more ambitious nature who wish to progress to higher qualifications, better job prospects and even self employment. Some students progress to full time study at other horticultural colleges, Edinburgh Botanical Gardens or even Kew or the RHS gardens at Wisley, to gain a professional diploma qualification.
There are now full time horticultural courses in a range of topics including introduction to horticulture, plant production, garden design and landscaping. These courses run for three years and will include plant identification, botany, propagation, dry stone dyking and plants and the environment.
Although apprentice numbers in industry are greatly reduced today, Dundee College (Kingsway) has a far wider catchment area including Angus and Perth councils. There are over one hundred full time gardening students and a similar number of day release students being trained by three full time lecturers and many more part time and servicing lecturers.
During their training students participate in many projects including the design and construction of display gardens at Gardening Scotland at Ingliston and also Dundee Flower and Food Festival. Their designs have won several gold and silver medals at these events over the last few years.

Dawson Park Demonstration Garden

Keen amateur gardeners however, are not being forgotten, as their needs are well catered for in the programme of demonstrations covering many gardening activities held at the new demonstration gardens in Dawson Park. This garden has full time trained staff covering a wide range of typical garden situations including water features, heather gardens, lawns, fruit gardens, glasshouse crops, herbaceous, border and bedding plants. Demonstrations this year covered hanging baskets, vegetables, flowers, lawns and bulb planting.
The garden is open for visitors all year round with skilled staff very happy to help with advice on most gardening problems.

Dundee Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens offer a more specialised facility catering for school visits, research science students including those studying for their PhD, and those with an interest in the environment, conservation, ecology, native plant communities, botany and plants from all over the world including our basic food plants such as rice, bananas, citrus fruits, coffee and sugar.


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