Career change

CattieMay 29, 2005

Have been reading messages in this forum for some time, think I might be able to get some advice from here.

After four years working in a different field which i am not really interested in, I sort of got tired working simply for money(am still repaying my study loan)... I started trying to figure out what i really want to do in life.

I love gardening but have not been doing it due to lack of space in my apartment and more importantly, it's a tempopary place to stay. I love plants and I always have this dream of having my own garden, which some people think oh that's easy, you just grow sth in your back yard... but I think working with plants would be great, you do what you really like and make a living from it. That was almost a dream seemed to be so unrealistic until I found this forum. I am thinking maybe to start with a small nursery...

Now that i have totally irrelevant academic background and work experience, I am not sure how and where to start... Guess I am the old student who cant afford to get a horticulture degree. By the way, do you think I need one in order to get into this field? or a cert will do?

I need some advice here. maybe some insight of the kind of job in this field, etc. I am wondering how to get myself prepared before going back to my hometown after finish repaying the loan which will take abt 1 year after which it'll be more likely to start business.

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get a job with a nursery and see if you still find it romantic .... if so, climb the ladder like the rest of us.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2005 at 4:21PM
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The common blind spot in the analysis that people use to enter the green industry is this. You will be entering a field where there are a great many of people who do have a lot of knowledge and experience. That might be something you realize, but the consequence of that is far bigger than many understand. The experience in the fundamentals of horticulture or design is obvious, but it is not the critical part of the story.

The critical part is that they know the industry, the market, the suppliers, the clientel, and a whole lot more. The effect of that blind spot is this. Almost any aspect of this industry is competitive from getting work or sales to controling costs and suppliers. Everyone that is already doing it and has come up through the ranks can do that better than you can because they are familiar with it. Now you want to come in with little money, very little and distant horticultural experience, no nursery operations experience, no plant buying or commercial production experience, and you believe you can open a nusery and compete for sales with them. Compete is the operative word and the one that is in the blind spot. You can't sell for less if you buy for more. You can't sell much if your stock is not as good as the pro down the road or if they are having a sale at Home Depot, Lowe's, or Wal-Mart. You won't draw a crowd if you can not accurately answer questions off the cuff like the next guy.

Just what skills, knowledge, and abilities do you think people in the nursery industry have? How simple is it to make a living starting a nursery? Why should the guy in the Seven Eleven Store where you buy your coffee not start a nursery?

All of the good work goes for nothing if you can not sell the plants for more than they cost you to produce. You can only do that if you are drawing away customers from the other nurseries and box stores. You can only do that if the customers have a reason to go to you. Please let us know what you think that reason will be.

I think that you should understand that the premise that it takes no experience and just a love of plants to be successful in the nursery business is going to insult the very people you hope to have give you advice. Strap on your helmet.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2005 at 10:53PM
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deeproots(8b South Ga)

and when you are done strapping on your helmet, learn spanish.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2005 at 1:35PM
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Thanks. Apology to all who think I have insulted them. Didn't mean to.

Maybe not to start with a nursery but to end with one. I mean that is a goal i hope to achieve. I didn't mean to start immediately after one yr from now. And I didn't think it's going to be easy. It's just that a love of plants drives me to want to climb the same ladder as some of you did, instead of continue climbing in my current field and get somewhere else. And a career change is always better if it takes place earlier. So I start to find our more.

And to those who have degree, just would like to know how useful is a degree or a cert. I have been considering taking some part time horticulture course which i can afford the time. How about distant learning?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 12:24PM
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deeproots(8b South Ga)

coming from self-educated me:
A formal degree wouldn't have served me much use.... my goal in life was to start a plant nursery. At my age, funding was limited. The money that could have been spent on education could also be used to start a nursery.
This is why I had 5 years of nursery experience when I started this farm at age 21.

I'm certain if my goals were to seek employment with other companies, degrees would most certainly benefit, perhaps even get the job/better pay. If your goal is Botanical gardens or something of that nature, I believe a degree is pretty well mandatory unless you like pulling weeds for minimum wage.
Obviously everyones milage will vary, education has never been a bad thing (except for that one engineer i did a job for).

If I was you, I think I'd start working various different types of work in this industry and really get a feel for it, figure what you like and make a plan on how to get there.... kinda like a personal business plan.

best of luck

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 1:05PM
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Also keep in mind that the hort industry is BROAD. You don't have to operate a nursery or install landscapes to make it big. There are tons of different jobs within the industry, you just gotta find yours.

I also love to garden and know a lot about Biology, Ecology and Science in general. But I see myself more as an all around salesman. I like to introduce the gardening public to new material, or new techniques, or new combinations - whatever. I like people AND I like nature. And though I enjoy growing plants I don't feel driven to produce the plants I sell (lucky for me, this area is overflowing with nurseries and gardeners).

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 10:49AM
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This has ended up on of the best threads I have read on this forum in a long time. I would like to copy Laag's response and save it for posterity. He was spot on. So is Triangle John.

Cattie, I wish you the best. I think you can find a niche in the green industry if you really want it. Irrelevant degrees can even be a liability. I purposely neglected to bring a resume to my first job interview as a grower. Not that I think one should feign ignorance, but the interviewer had prejudices against people who were afraid to get "dirty" and I knew I would be lumped into that category immediately. I started a bit above the other new hires in salary and soon moved past them in responsibility. I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut and considered it an educational institution who paid me to attend. I learned as much about how NOT to do things as how to.

Think out of the box. Like Triangle says, there are a lot more entries into this field than the front door.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 11:34PM
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I agree that a degree is not 100% needed, but they are certainly helpful. My husband graduated with a hort degree from UT, between his junior and senior year he did an internship at Monrovia. His family already had a successful nursery, but there were things that they did not even realize they didn't know (hope that makes sense)... I have often asked my husband if he still thinks his degree helps him and every time he answers yes. Now professors from Auburn and UT bring students to our place to show them a working nursery.... Bottom line, I think a degree is definately not a bad thing.

That being said, I agree with pretty much all the posts above, there are plenty of good horticulture jobs out there for those without a degree. And I do know very successful nurserymen without degrees (but usually they hire someone with a degree to work for them).

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 10:06AM
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It is phenominal how many 'Career Change' threads appear on this forum!

I came to this lifestyle through the world of working with animals. Started out as a zookeeper then moved into the Exhibit Design dept and ended up being a Graphic Artist. Through a lot of those 18 years I worked side by side with the zoo's horticulture department. Now I work with plants.

The same types of people are drawn to animal work as plant work. The part that doesn't get said much when someone approaching midlife/career-change-time comes in looking for an application is that only a few people can handle the physical demands of outdoor labor. Its nice to think about working with your hands, nuturing plants..etc. but after the age of 40, skin cancer is a reality for many, arthritis is a reality for even more. Most humans just aren't built to work hard physical labor outside in the sun. Many would love to, but few actually can. There is a reason companies seek out young people for those jobs. Entry level positions in a lot of hort fields don't come with complete benefits which only adds to the misery. Now I know there are people out there past the age of 40 that work harder than many of the teenagers in the workforce, but overall I think many people looking for a career change view animal/plant work with rose colored glasses.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 3:02PM
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Good call on the physical aspect, Triangle. I'm getting close to the two year anniversary of my torn disc. I'm just getting to the point where I can start to begin cleaning up my own property that I moved into over a year ago (a 1968 Adams Family). The twenty year olds could not keep up with me, until I could barely walk. It turns on you very quickly, so make sure you don't NEED to labor. Have fun and be careful when you can labor.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 10:23PM
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Hello Cattie,
Welcome to the Pro Garden Forum. Pay no attention to all the worn out, old geezer's. They are all in the middle of a very busy season, can't keep up, over worked, have trouble sleeping, tired of customers, it is a wonder they keep going!

Thats the plant bussiness.....makes you wonder why we are in it. I remember...its the plants, the garden!

With a degree, without a degree, with experience, without experience, the common ground is determination and commitment.

Oh Yes, I can hear it now, we are just trying to bring reality home to you. Well...reality the plant business, a dream.

Hard work, endless hours and a dream. That is what all us pros have in common. If you are willing to dream, work hard for endless hours...well you probably have a new career. Get your feet wet, try working in the business for a season and see if your dream blossoms or wilts.


    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 10:51PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

All great advice. Sign on for part-time work during the busy spring season somewhere and get your feet wet. If you show up, work hard, and have a decent attitude, you'll be ahead of 98% of the other employees and will be able to work your way up and/or make contacts with people in related companies that you may end up working for.

See my recent post under the thread "so you thought it was going to be easy" (or something similar to that).

I forgot to mention the rotator cuff damage I am still dealing with a year after moving a couple billion flats of annuals around one week...

You MUST read Tony Avent's book So You Want to Start a Nursery. Your local library may have it. The man is a genius and tells it like it is.

Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2005 at 12:08AM
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O.K. I know this is an old thread.But now that I peeped in here I wanna know what you decided? My 2 cents....JUST DO IT! Figure it out as you go along.What's the worst that could happen? You fail? Big deal, pick yourself up by your bootstraps & keep moving. I did this (career change).It wasn't easy, but man, what a ride! I bought a truck a few tools & 14 yrs. later I still am in love with my job! I left the hair business for landscaping.I did grow up on a farm, so hard labor was not beyond me.What I did do though, I kept my job & picked up work through long time clients.when I felt comfortable enough I jumped & haven't looked back since.I design,install & maintain all by myself.I have no employees & 1 on 1 contact with the clients.Unlike the bigger companies you call me you get me.I can barely keep up & by April am booked for the season.I love a challenge! I hope you went for only go around once!

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 10:29AM
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Good Luck Cattie! Now that you have some advice
I hope you will still follow your dream. Do you have a friend with a garden that you could get your hands dirty in and learn a little more ? You can come over to mine! I am in new Jersey and could use help! You will learn a lot by doing.

To The last writer Dee....
I have the same story as you. So funny. What a nice surprise that was. Of course a creative Artist like a hairdresser would have the eye for design!
Design was my first choice since I was a kid (wanted to be an Interior Designer since about age 10!)
I have been doing hair for 20 years. I owned my own Hair Salon for 8years but was never happy that i didn't follow my dream.
Actually got my first design job while working at my Salon just by someone coming to see what I had done on my own property. So the job came first
Then the education -2 year course while still owning salon. (although 15 years of gardening is great hands on experience). Sometimes the degree or diploma just gives you the Confidence to pursue your dream! I still have the hairdresser job but I work for someone else 3 days a week. I haven't Fully jumped yet!! I am getting busier each year. I design (don't install without crew unless its small job) and maintain alone.
I can't wait wait for the full transition!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 9:45AM
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