Horticulturalist of the Year Competition showcases talent

22 November 2023

Primary ITO | Te Pūkenga learner and Nelson orchardist Meryn Whitehead is the winner of the coveted title of New Zealand Young Horticulturist of the Year, after a tightly fought contest in Auckland.

Photo credit: 2023 Young Horticulturist of the Year Competition/RNZIH Education Trust.

Seven finalists took part in the two-day grand final in November, bringing together the best young talent in horticulture. The finalists had already won their respective competitions in the areas of fruit/vegie growing, landscaping, arboriculture, floristry, wine production, amenity, and plant production, putting them in the running for the overall title.

From trailer reversing to pruning, the finalists were tested on their practical skills, leadership ability, speechcraft, business acumen and industry knowledge. A ‘Hortisport’ component added an element of fun and creativity to the competition.

Meryn, 29, a team coordinator at Vailima Orchard in Nelson/Tasman, says she felt a sense of disbelief after being announced as the winner.

“The other competitors knew their stuff and were an intimidating bunch to go up against. Having said that, it never felt like a competition. We were more like a support group for each other. It was a lovely group to be with and I felt privileged and lucky to be part of that.”

Taking second place was Renee Johnson, a team leader at Bark Ltd in Auckland, and in third place was Lydia O’Dowd, a plant propagator at Southern Woods Nursery in Canterbury.

All three wahine have completed or are currently training with Primary ITO | Te Pūkenga.

Meryn's Training Adviser Avis Hellyer says Meryn is highly motivated and has got everything going for her.

“I strongly believe Meryn’s own drive and determination has played a huge part in her success, plus the incredible support from her workplace.”

Primary ITO works with learners and employers across all of the sectors involved in the Young Horticulturalist of the Year competition. As well as supporting learners through training, staff have been involved in mentoring learners for the regional and national competitions and attending finals events to support learners taking part.

Photo credit: 2023 Young Horticulturist of the Year Competition/RNZIH Education Trust.

2023 Young Horticulturalist of the Year Finalists

  • Caleb Washington, Goom Landscapes – Young Landscaper
  • Jason Gwynn, Waipa Networks Ltd – New Arborist
  • Lydia O’Dowd, Southern Woods Nursery – Young Plant Producer
  • Meryn Whitehead, Vailima Orchard – Young Grower
  • Renee Johnson, Bark Ltd – Young Amenity
  • Sarah Ewe, Faux & Thorn – The Unruly Fleuriste - Young Florist
  • Tahryn Mason, Indevin – Young Viticulturalist

Read more about the finalists and competition on the Young Horticulturalist website.

To find out more about Primary ITO | Te Pūkenga horticulture training programmes, click here