Tom Belworthy can walk down almost any street in Wellington and admire his handiwork which is on display for all to see.
Beautiful garden beds and colourful plantings on roadsides, roundabouts, community gardens and around war memorials are all carefully created and looked after by Tom and his fellow members of Wellington City Council’s horticultural team.
“There’s a garden we maintain on almost every corner of every street. It’s really satisfying once you’ve finished a garden and it looks really good. Everyone notices it and is very appreciative.”
Tom’s love of gardening started as a child when he used to help his grandfather maintain the gardens at Timaru’s golf course. “He’d throw me in the truck and I’d follow him around. I didn’t realise to begin with but as I have gotten further into my career I’ve realised there was a subconscious pull there.”
The 22 year-old joined Wellington City Council’s amenity horticulture team as an apprentice in 2014. The council operate a three month rotational policy, so each apprentice gets to work in a different depot and acquire new skills before moving onto something else.
“It’s great because you get to do completely different work at each one. Nursery work is very specialised, then there’s the botanic gardens or Otari-Wilton’s Bush which is New Zealand’s only native botanic garden. The senior staff we learn from all have different techniques so you can take those skills with you when you move depots.”
As part of his apprenticeship, Tom also completed on-the-job training and study through Primary ITO and now has a Level 4 Advanced Certificate in Amenity Horticulture.
“Primary ITO and the council’s planning was pretty exceptional to be honest. My Training Advisor and my apprentice co-ordinator put it all on a platter for me. They organised all of my study and gave me certain papers at the right time to fit in with whatever depot I was working at.
“You can smash your assignments out as fast as you can or you can sit back and take your time, it’s really flexible.”
Tom says the industry qualification has helped him gain confidence to interact with the public who frequently stop to admire the garden beds he’s working on and ask questions. “We get a lot of tourists who stop and have a chat too. People love to learn something new about gardening so you have to know your stuff.”
The most challenging aspect of his study was learning hundreds of Latin names for different plant species. “They were completely foreign to me and it was pretty hard.”
Having now finished his study, and his apprenticeship, Tom says the whole experience has broadened his knowledge of gardening and the different career pathways that exist within horticulture. “You can concentrate on gardening or get into turf, tree work or a nursery. It’s all one big circle and there are lots of different opportunities you can pursue.”
For now Tom’s happy to continue on at Wellington City Council and deepen his knowledge even further. “Some of the people I work with have been doing this for over 40 years and they’re still learning. So I’m keen to continue becoming a better gardener and learning new skills myself.”