From education to employment

Growing Green Skills in Horticulture?

Sue Moss

Green skills for the future

Thank goodness we have reached a point where green skills are valued. Across industries, impetus is growing to ensure the provision of skills which are required to support a sustainable society, and horticulture is no exception. 

But aren’t all horticultural skills green skills? Surely an industry which focuses on plants and gardens must be great for the environment? To an extent, this is true. Ensuring that plant life thrives is one of the most significant ways we can have a positive impact on our planet. But we can all, always, be better, and horticulture is embracing that journey. As such, there are growing opportunities and a plethora of green skills available in garden and plant-based industries.

The contribution of horticulture

Environmental sustainability is an increasing area of focus in horticultural businesses, organisations and charities. The growing need to conserve natural resources and protect global ecosystems has seen a boom in visibility and popularity in the last decade. Jobs related to the ornamental and environmental horticulture industry make up 1.6% of all jobs in the UK, and so have significant cumulative impact.

Plants and gardens make contributions to the environment and to ecosystems in ways both obvious and hidden. Trees, plants and parks cool our cities and clean the air, well-managed soil captures and retains atmospheric carbon, planting areas support thriving communities of biodiversity, green areas harness water and prevent flooding and chemical runoff. Gardens, parks and greenspace are prolific in Britain, with around 47% of Greater London classed as ‘green’ and 23% of that being classified as garden land. 

The industry has reach and scope across the UK, being worth 24.2bn to the UK economy each year, and with the potential to grow to £41.8bn, supporting 763k jobs by 2030 with the right investment. This means, that if managed correctly, there is a huge opportunity to increase the environmental benefit of horticulture, and for that, we need more people with more green skills.

Horticultural training and careers

The breadth of opportunity in horticulture is staggering. From environmental design, to growing technologies, to strategic management, to science, to craft skills, there is an opening for everyone. Nevertheless, the industry suffers from negative perceptions with over 50% of people seeing it as an unskilled career. Well over 70% of businesses struggle to fill vacancies, with hard-to-fill roles including technical, professional and management skills. The industry needs more people, with more green skills, in order to thrive. 


Now more than ever, horticulture is investing in green skills, and that means opportunities for learners and employees. The training landscape is changing to centre around growth sustainable for the planet and for people. This brings green skills to the fore, including:

  • Technical skills: Climate resilience. Including an understanding of land management and the management of growing environments to ensure that inputs and interventions are environmentally sustainable. These skills include everything from ground cultivation, water use, fertiliser application and pest control to materials reuse and much more.
  • Technical skills: Managing biodiversity. Including an understanding of habitat generation and management, local environments and ecosystem services. Many traditional methods of land managements are changing with more focus on growth, rewilding and habitat, rather than chemical and control.
  • Design and generation: How are spaces created to ensure maximum environmental benefit and minimum damage? How do we balance soft and hard landscaping with the requirements of modern life, like the need for parking spaces? Recycling and reusing materials is key. Where can green spaces be created for increased benefit, including on walls and rooftops.
  • Research and scientific skills: We are still learning about the best ways to manage green and growing space, inside and out for maximum environmental benefit. Current research focusses on carbon capture, urban cooling, biodiversity benefits, growing media, air quality, invertebrates and plant health.
  • Land management skills: including skills for resource efficiency, adaptation of new technology and managing natural assets. Also includes risk analysis and environmental health and safety and leadership.
  • Green technologies: The development and improvement of green growing technologies, including glasshouse and crop-based. 
  • Communication and education: There are 30 million gardeners in the UK alone – better education leading to improved growing practices will have a positive effect on the environment.

We need more people with environmental horticultural skills to build both knowledge and spaces for the future. There are plenty of opportunities to train in the industry including apprenticeships in land-based and environmental industries, college based programmes, work-based training programmes and T Levels from September 2023.

By Dr Suzanne Moss, Head of Education and Learning, Royal Horticultural Society

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