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UBC to launch horticulture program in fall

Classroom and practical instruction combined

GARDENERS are inquisitive people - always learning in little ways, big ways, by reading and especially by doing.

Beyond the hobbyist level there continues to be demand for qualified horticulturists to work in our gardens, doing all the pruning, planting, lawn cutting, pest control and to design and build our outdoor living spaces. If all of the aging baby boomers retire as predicted in the coming years there will be demand for horticulture technicians to develop and own new gardening and landscape businesses and to fill employment vacancies for public and private sector employers.

But since the loss of the Capilano University horticulture program in 2004, there have been few places close to home to learn horticulture at a professional level. But the horticulture learning landscape in Vancouver is about to change.

Coming this September, the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research will be offering its first foundation-level, horticulture technician certificate program in ornamental horticulture for people wanting a career in horticulture. The program has been designed and initiated by Douglas Justice, curator of collections and associate director of the UBC Botanical Garden, and Patrick Lewis, the director of UBC Biodiversity Collections, which includes the Beaty Museum and the UBC Botanical Garden.

I asked Justice why this program is needed and he told me, "Looking at the current system of horticulture training in B.C. led me to realize there was a need for a program within the Vancouver area that trains, mentors and develops high-quality horticulture technicians."

I must agree with him because the standard of training that horticulture students receive has a direct effect on the quality of residential and commercial landscape maintenance and construction that people pay for in their gardens.

After all, if we don't train the next generation of gardeners to prune correctly, how will we ever get rid of the hack-and-whack style of pruning all plants in sight into tight little geometric balls.

Horticulture training is not easy. It requires a large amount of patience, the ability to mentor and a wide range of practical experience that can be passed on to the next generation. The new UBC Botanical Garden certificate program will allow students to train at the garden for nine months, receiving guidance from a range of mentors who will teach horticulture foundation skills at theoretical and practical levels. The opportunity for students to learn and gain practical skills in one of Canada's preeminent botanic gardens is unparalleled on the West Coast.

Running from September to June, this provincially accredited, full-time program is designed to give students the skills and experience necessary for entering the dynamic field of horticulture. Completion of 1,100 hours of classroom and practical instruction, together with 150 hours of supervised practical work, will lead to the provincially recognized Horticultural Technician Certificate and Levels I & II Apprenticeship technical training credit.

Students who successfully complete the garden's certificate program will be able to find an employer who will indenture them as an apprentice thereby allowing them to bypass levels I and II of the provincial journeyman program for horticulture and transfer directly into Level III of the horticulture journeyman program to attain full journeyman status in three years instead of four years as normally required.

According to Justice, management and staff at the garden place a high value on horticulture apprenticeship.

Promotion to senior horticulturist positions at the garden, for example, requires horticulture journeyperson status. The UBC Botanical Garden does not hire entrylevel employees without a certificate from a recognized horticulture foundation program.

"Indeed, the qualification for the garden's entry level position includes such a requirement because it is seen as an indication of the commitment to a career in horticulture," Justice says.

"I feel that a horticulture foundation program is the most appropriate and effective way to provide potential employees with the background skills they need for work in horticulture.

Justice adds, "Since theoretical and experiential learning underpins everything we do in our gardens, I believe that quality horticulture training that provides a solid foundation of theoretical information along with practical training that breeds innovative thinking combined with a strong work ethic is the best way to develop the next generation of horticulturists to meet the future demands of our growing gardens and aging workforce."

Undoubtedly, my participation as a teacher in this program will allow me to get back to my core belief that great gardeners need experienced mentors to teach and motivate them to be great gardeners.

The UBC Botanical Garden will be hosting an open house in May for prospective students to meet instructors and obtain more information about the program. For more information on the UBC Botanical Garden's horticulture certificate program visit their website at: www.botanicalgarden.ubc. ca/horticulture-program.

Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, writer, consultant and organic advocate. For advice contact him at [email protected].