Most Kiwi teens wouldn’t have a clue what amenity horticulture involves – but Pippa Lucas is determined to reach out through social media and show young people the exciting opportunities that exist.
The 26 year-old’s own whirlwind career has already taken her to the United States on a nine month internship and seen her attend several glitzy award ceremonies.
She now has $6500 to put towards travel and a study scholarship, and a further $6000 in prizemoney after her recent success at the Young Horticulturist of the Year Awards.
Pippa placed third overall (having previously won the Young Amenity Horticulturist of the Year title), and picked up several key prizes including the Primary ITO Career Development Award.
“I was so surprised by my results. I didn’t realise how far I could push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m quite a shy individual but I gained a lot of confidence in terms of public speaking and putting a business plan together. I’m not sure where I’ll travel to just yet – perhaps the UK, or I might go plant-hunting in China.”
Her winning business plan focused on how to raise youth awareness about careers in horticulture. The common misconception is that horticulture doesn’t require many skills or talent, and that opportunities don’t exist.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It’s an incredibly diverse and varied industry, and you have to be highly skilled to be good at it,” Pippa explains. “There are so many different career options and we need to create a face for the industry to show people it’s cool and fun.”
Pippa believes platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are key, and she plans to launch her own website featuring a range of horticultural ambassadors.
“Young people don’t watch much TV unless it’s streamed so they don’t see ads any more. The best way to reach them is through social media. I’m really passionate about getting more young people into our industry.”
Talented and experienced amenity horticulture staff are in hot demand to look after public parks, gardens and retirement village grounds, or to work for landscaping firms. Many people also run their own gardening business.
Pippa is currently a collection curator at Auckland Botanical Gardens, where she looks after the popular perennial garden. Her 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.”
She initially enrolled in a landscape architecture degree at university but pulled out after one year. “I loved plants and I loved art but I forgot how much I hated computers.” Instead, she applied for an apprenticeship at Dunedin’s Botanic Gardens where she undertook on-the-job training and gained a Level 4 Advanced Certificate in Amenity Horticulture.
“The type of training I did, and what Primary ITO provides, 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.”
In 2014 she travelled to Pennsylvania in the US to work at the prestigious Longwood Gardens which she describes as “horticulture on steroids”. Owned by the wealthy Du Pont family, she lived onsite with 40 other interns and helped create impressive public displays.
“I love the artistic side of horticulture; creating beautiful spaces and seeing people enjoy those spaces. People are always happy to visit a garden. It’s also a lovely place to work and enjoy being outdoors.”
As well as setting up her new website, Pippa says she’d like to create an international internship or exchange programme based here in New Zealand.
“Horticulture is a very portable skill but there are completely different environments, plants, and ways of doing things overseas. It’s wonderful to form connections all over the world and I’d like to see more young people have that opportunity in future.”