Work and study at one of UK’s most impressive horticultural centres – Kew Gardens

Housing and caring for 68,000 plants is no joke! It takes a dedicated team of over 1,000 staff to look after the world’s largest botanical collection. Home to some of the most endangered plants in the world, Kew Gardens has made news headlines year after year for their devotion to plant conservation.

Kew’s amazing horticultural apprenticeships offer students the chance to gain a qualification while also gaining work experience. What makes this apprenticeship unique is that the programme is open to applicants of any background with a clear vision of what impact they want to have on the world. Will you apply?

In this interview, Martin Staniforth, Training manager for The School of Horticulture, shares his experiences and information about the course.

How did you start working for Kew gardens and why did you chose to work there?

I was drawn to Kew to study the Kew Diploma; this is a 3-year advanced educational course in botanical and amenity horticulture. It is the best horticultural training course combining practical and academic studies. After I graduated in 1984, I was fortunate to get a job managing the Temperate House at Kew and I have done various jobs since, I am now focused on training staff and apprenticeships.

I’m assuming your staff come from different educational and scientific backgrounds; what are your team’s common goals and what unites your team towards them?

Kew recruits from many different backgrounds and we take diversity of our workforce seriously. We always strive to recruit the best and everyone is seriously interested in plants or gardens on our horticultural teams. Kew is a complex garden with very many teams, but we are all focused on raising the profile of plants and fungi and their importance to humanity.

When did Kew gardens start offering apprenticeships and other educational courses and why?

Kew has a long history of training horticulturists reaching back to 1859, this was the beginning of the Kew certificate which took journeyman gardeners (Gardeners that had experience of multiple employers) and acted as a finishing school providing horticulturists for colonial expansion, mostly in the development of botanical gardens and parks and gardens at home and abroad.

The Kew certificate morphed into the Kew Diploma in 1963 and apprenticeships came and went until 2000 when the issue of obtaining skilled workers to look after Kew’s precious collections became more acute.

A Rotational Training programme was commenced that developed into a Kew bespoke apprenticeship. Kew then actively became involved in developing the new government backed Trailblazer apprenticeships in arboriculture, forestry, horticulture and landscaping, adopting this standard in 2017.

Read more about Kew’s history!

Can you tell me about the three apprenticeships Kew offer?

I manage two apprenticeships at Kew, the standard apprenticeship in botanical horticulture for 6 entrants a year combines outdoor practice in the Arboretum and Gardens section with Glasshouse and Nurseries experience a year of each.

The second apprenticeship is sponsored, so is always dependent on us receiving funding, is one glasshouse apprenticeship specialising in Kew’s rich indoor plant collections and conservatories. The third apprenticeship, again sponsored, is located at our Wakehurst site in the high Sussex Weald this concentrates on arboretum, garden collections, nursery work and conservation of the landscape in our wild botanic garden.

What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship with Kew?

A Kew apprenticeship comes with fantastic access to our plant collections and knowledgeable staff, we also support apprentices with a travel scholarship opportunity and staff exchange so apprentices can get wider experience, these are continuing to be affected with Covid-19 restrictions and Brexit will also have an impact.

 Are there any specific qualities/skills that you look for when choosing an apprenticeship candidate?

I look for applicants that have planned their entry into horticulture and have 3-months practical hands-on horticultural experience, this is important as not everyone takes to the culture of horticulture but after some experience of being outside in all weathers and enjoying the physical nature of the work you either love it or hate it. Then we look for applicants with a passion and interest in plants or gardens.

What does a typical week look like for an apprentice?

Apprentices are integrated into our teams very quickly and will work alongside Kew diploma students and horticultural staff. They will do a wide range of work and gradually develop independence and autonomy eventually taking responsibility for an area or watering duty.

In the Arboretum and Gardens, the working day starts at 07:30 and finishes at 15:30 and in Glasshouses 08:00 to 16:00. There will be one day-release day at a local training provider college and Kew arranges plant idents and some additional assignments, travel scholarship and weed collection.

How does Kew Gardens help students become more employable after completing the apprenticeship?

A Kew apprentice has excellent prospects for future employment or further study many have gone on to excellent positions in the industry.

 If you could give future conservationists one piece of advice for job hunting what would it be?

A lot of applicants are motivated to save the planet and conserve plants and biomes, so this won’t make you stand out in the crowd. Conservation totally fits in with Kew’s corporate stance but when we are looking at job applications, we are more impressed with candidates that have a focus on what aspect of conservation they wish to pursue. This really needs to be connected to the job position on offer.

My advice to students setting out to study conservation would be look at the jobs market and find an educational course that will make you more employable. Whilst it is easy to career change sideways this will impact on your career advancement.


To learn more about this exciting opportunity visit the School of Horticulture training page.

For more experiences at Kew check the interview ‘Helping Kew put Conservation on the Map with Steve Bachman‘.

For more insight into horticulture at Kew you can read about Carlos Magdalena’s experience in ‘Saving the Planet One Plant at a Time‘. If you’re ready to explore a career in botany, why not check out the Ultimate Guide How to become a botanist.

Images are courtesy of Kew Gardens.


Author profile | Charlotte Taylor

Charlotte is a Wildlife Conservation student in Wales. Living in a hotspot for conservationists she’s surrounded with inspiration for her studies and blogs. Her favourite hobby is travelling and finding something interesting or beautiful in unexpected places. You can find out more on LinkedIn.


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