Education broadens the mind and can also give your business a boost. However, how many landscapers believe that their study days are well and truly behind them? Rachel Gordon discovers how earning a landscaping degree as a mature student can open up new perspectives.
A college degree might not have been on your radar when you were in school, but it’s always time to put some well-deserved letters after your name. Most importantly, there isn’t a lot you can learn on your own. Learn about
Soil science, landscaping with the latest materials and techniques, and computer aided design are just a few of the topics that come to life when taught by professionals.
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Achieving a degree is not easy, but you don’t necessarily need a level A. Basic degrees usually offer an alternative route, often lasting two years, with the conversion to BA or BSc taking a additional year.
Some colleges will alternatively offer higher national certificates and diploma courses before moving on to the curriculum – these too last one year each. Other colleges focus on NVQ courses – once you reach level 3 it is the equivalent of level A and if you want to continue studying it will be recognized by other colleges.
So what is stopping you? Clearly the cost can be off-putting, although loans are often available, but sometimes it’s a lack of self-confidence – some may also think they left it too late – the idea of studying. with “children” fills them with dread.
The reality, however, is very different. Students of landscape gardening are often older and will have a range of life experiences. It can add to the fun of studying and learning for people of all ages. Some will be out of school while others will already be in landscaping or wanting to change careers.
Lack of qualification is not an obstacle
Not having obtained the marks in school should not be an obstacle to higher education. Some degrees are highly academic – an example could be landscape architecture, as can be taken at the University of Sheffield. But, is your goal to work closely with planners and on major developments? This is probably not where most landscapers working on smaller residential and commercial projects want to specialize.
Many garden design courses, especially at lower levels, are easy to follow if you have hands-on experience and can show commitment – and once you get started you’re on the learning ladder.
There is a lot of flexibility – colleges may offer additional English and math courses, others may offer entry based on relatively low GCSE scores, such as two D grades, and factor in experience from relevant work. Depending on the college, there may be an accommodating approach, which may be helpful for those hoping to return to study or perhaps who have moved to the UK from overseas.
Local or more distant?
Obviously, a local college can be the most convenient, especially if you want to cut costs or if there are family commitments. But, successfully taking the right course can be transformational in terms of the benefits it could bring – look at both close and wider options. If your nearest college wants to attract home gardeners rather than professionals, this won’t do. However, it might also be a good idea to try a short course, if there is one available on a topic of interest, to get a feel for a particular college.
Some of the colleges to visit include Merrist Wood in Surrey, Myerscough in Cheshire, Writtle in Essex, Sparsholt in Hampshire and Plumpton in East Sussex and the following are just three options to whet your appetite…
Eden Learning Project
At the western tip of the UK is the futuristic Eden Project – but despite its unusual appearance, filled with bioomes, it is a center of horticultural expertise, part of Cornwall College.
Matt James, head of the landscaping and gardens program, says many mature applicants are gaining places. He advises coming to an open house – meeting with a tutor can help potential students decide which route is most appropriate.
He says that for those who wish to earn a degree, a typical route would be the one-year National Post-Graduate Certificate in Garden and Landscape Design, followed by a National Post-Graduate Diploma for a second year. A third year can then earn a full BSc (Hons) Horticulture (Garden & Landscape Design) degree. This is far from being a question of written exams, but it is still demanding – a lot depends on the portfolio of work the student builds during the course.
“For mature students or those looking for a ‘second career’, we generally recommend the HND, which is the most intensive garden and landscape design option,” says Matt.
“While all of our design students, regardless of their program, study basic design topics together, it was the students in this course who won awards, including the Society of Garden Designers Student Award in 2014. and 2016. “
Matt adds, “Basically the BSc option is a horticultural degree with a specialization in landscaping and landscaping. Meanwhile, the HNC is an introductory year in the field, ideal for those who want to change careers but also for those interested in designing gardens and landscapes for more holistic reasons.
“The HND is a course designed specifically for those who want to get into the garden and landscape design industry as quickly as possible.”
The tutors work part time as they are all professionals, working in the landscaping industry, and the students have come from as far away as Hull and London to study, find accommodation with the help of the housing manager student.
Based in Skipton, North Yorkshire, this college is located in scenic valleys and offers a basic degree that can be converted into a BA Garden Design (Hons). Marketing director Jennifer McDowell says using technology is one of the most attractive options for students.
“They develop high levels of CAD professionalism using programs like VectorWorks, SketchUP Pro and Adobe Photoshop,” Jennifer notes, adding that this is combined with a focus on creativity.
Tutor Richard Easton, for example, is a gold medal winner at the Harrogate Flower Show, belongs to the Approved Society of Gardeners, and also teaches fine arts. Another tutor, who lectures on garden design and horticulture, is Mary Swan, who writes on gardens and design and is a speaker on the subject in the UK.
Former graduate student Ness Green recently won the Balcony Garden Award at Landscape, the industry trade fair, and says: in areas surrounding garden design.
Manor of Capel
Spread over five campuses in Greater London, it may surprise some students that horticulture can be studied at an advanced level in the capital. The college says its focus is on teaching hands-on instruction in work environments.
Basic degrees are awarded in partnership with the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, although most courses are held in London.
Sophie Guinness, Senior Lecturer in Plants and Plantation Design at Capel Manor College London, comments: “We teach all kinds of students and we want to make sure they have the skills they need to be successful in their careers. But, she stresses that having the skills and talent must be backed by some business acumen if they are to run their own business.
“Garden design companies are often not big employers, so if you have entrepreneurial skills this can be a good decision. Certainly in London I would say there is work – there are a lot of money-rich, time-poor people who want someone to design gardens and then help them take care of them. People need skilled gardeners – if a recession hits, maintenance can take over the design – you need to be flexible.
She adds that the students come from very different backgrounds. “There are a lot of people who change careers, who can be people with stressful jobs but who are serious about doing something they love and students support each other as they progress. “
Going back to school can bring many benefits, so if you feel like your business is hitting a wall and it’s time to find new inspiration, then education and hands-on training could be stepped up. – the world of learning is within your reach …