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Primary ITO: Knowledge to grow

News & Features

Covid-19 brings career changes and opportunities in horticulture

11 August 2021


Covid 19 has disrupted life for many and for some it has been in a good way prompting a career change to work in the horticulture sector, something Auckland Botanic Gardens collection curator Pippa Lucas welcomes.

Pippa is the collection curator for the popular perennial garden at the gardens.

A previous winner of the Primary ITO Career Development Award and Young Amenity Horticulturist of the Year Pippa is passionate about beautiful amenity gardens.

“I love the artistic side of horticulture, creating beautiful spaces and seeing people enjoy those spaces. People are always happy to visit a garden.”

Amenity horticulture includes roles in public parks and gardens, retirement villages, and landscaping and gardening businesses.

Pippa enjoys encouraging others into the industry and she’s pleased about a resurgence in interest in horticulture careers after Covid-19 in 2020.

“It is really cool to see a lot of people in their second career who are seeing the benefits of horticulture and wanting to get into the industry.

“A lot of people lost their jobs or have had time to review what is going on in their lives. Maybe that down time has made them realise the satisfaction you get from a job like horticulture.”

Love of plants from a young age

Pippa’s own interest in plants started at a young age, growing up among several beautiful gardens in central Otago. “I used to pot up little ash trees to sell to people as they came through our garden on a tour. I also learnt the Latin names for lots of plants when I was quite little. It was Mum’s party trick to get me to reel them off.”

Pippa also spent a lot of time her at neighbours, the well-known Clachanburn garden at Patearoa, which is open to the public and hosts gardens tours and weddings, while growing up. 

Her interest lead her to take a landscape architecture degree but she changed tack after the first year. “I loved plants and art but didn’t enjoy working with computers.”

Pippa’s successful career in amenity horticulture was launched when she then took up an apprenticeship at Dunedin’s Botanic Gardens, and studied on-the-job to gain a Level 4 Advanced Certificate in Amenity Horticulture.

“That type of training is really valuable because you can’t learn about horticulture just by reading a book. You need to be practical and hands-on to see how plants grow and respond.”

Opportunities lead to overseas study

Also a winner of the $10,000 Friends of Auckland Botanic Gardens scholarship in 2019, together with Pippa’s other awards she was able to travel to the United States and the United Kingdom to study other public, private and amenity gardens.  

Pippa spent two weeks at the Royal Horticulture Society garden Wisley in Surrey which was officially opened in 2021 and visited many gardens throughout the UK. The highlight of the UK trip was going to the Chelsea Garden Show. “That has been a dream of mine to go to that since I was little. It was just mind blowing and seeing all the beautiful gardens.”

In the US Pippa did a two-week internship at the renowned private garden Chanticleer, Philadelphia. Pippa enjoyed seeing many different plants being grown in the harsh East Coast climate, including the use of glasshouses over winter to protect plants.

The 2019 travel was not Pippa’s first experience overseas with her career. In 2014 she completed a nine-month internship at the prestigious Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania living onsite with 40 other interns and working on impressive public displays.

Pippa is grateful for the learning opportunities and connections she has made from her overseas trips, and that her travel opportunities were before Covid-19. “I picked up lots of ideas to bring back here.”

And while she has been grounded for a while because of Covid-19 she’s still getting the benefit of her learnings. “I still revisit all my photos to get new ideas for the garden.” 

Learn more about what horticulture programmes Primary ITO offer here.