Author Topic: Employing A Head Gardener - A Working Template  (Read 2822 times)

Alan Sargent

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Employing A Head Gardener - A Working Template
« on: May 12, 2013, 09:20:23 am »

The remit of this article is to supply a template to be applied when formulating a job description for attracting a Senior, Deputy Head or Head Gardener in the Private sector (Private Gardens and Estates, including Historic Houses, Hotels, Clubs and the like).

Properties owned and regulated by Local Authorities and Government Agencies operate their own systems, which are based on practices outside the scope of private properties, and whilst many of the featured requirements in the  application and nature of the working practices are similar, they are bound with their own conventions and are therefore excluded from this report.

Due to the wide range of different types of Private gardens, and the various needs of  prospective employers, it necessarily follows that a description of each of these are listed to enable each Employer to select their own job description formula based on that schedule. This menu will allow for a flexible, yet accurate form of words to be used when compiling a job description advertisement.

Private Gardens, closed to the general public.
The wording in the advertisement should clearly state the nature and size of the property, including a description of the existing site. Something along the lines of ‘3.5 acres of managed woodland, .5 acre top fruit orchard, large greenhouses including orchids and productive vines, walled kitchen garden and extensive herbaceous borders. Garden is South facing with multi-level terraces’.
‘Family owned since 1930, with young children and dogs. Some weekend duties.’

The description of the site should provide the reader with a clear idea of the scope of work that will be involved. The applicant will know the type of gardener the employer is seeking. By definition, they will need to be active, fit, with good references and able to deal with dogs and their habits. An enhanced CRB check will be required, together with a willingness to work outside a structured routine, taking responsibility for greenhouses and the garden as a whole.

Without mentioning the words ‘must be used to working in a family garden, have a wide range of skills and experience – we want you to become part of the family and enjoy working for an appreciative employer’, the job description should attract the right person – someone willing to be a good, all round member of the family team.

The description of the job can then be expanded to include the existing work force, if any. ‘ Single Handed Gardener, Head Gardener with a staff of three full time members with seasonal help’ etc – which will clearly imply that the applicant should also be prepared and able to undertake training and staff supervision without the need for a written statement to that effect.

Private Garden open to the General Public
Again, a full and accurate description of the site should be given, along with a detailed picture of the history and nature of the grounds. Are the gardens open all year round? How many days a week/month/season are the grounds open? What, if any, events take place – and their nature (Festivals or Fayres, Weddings or Conferences.) These events have a huge impact on the grounds, with cars and pedestrians, together with restrictions on noise and working hours which disrupt normal working practices.

The job description should not preclude anyone from applying for the job. If they are surprised, during interview, that the Events cause such mayhem, they are the wrong person for the job.

The applicant should know the various methods of pedestrian/vehicle control, and be aware of all necessary Health & Safety issues and Laws in dealing with the public. There should be no need to make any mention of these requirements during the recruitment advertising campaign.

It will however, be necessary to make reference to the working hours and any expectations of additional working requirements to fulfil their function to keep within the Law. A statement along the lines of ‘Normal working hours are 08.00 – 16.30 Monday to Friday, with some weekend or evening duties being part of the job requirement’.

Stately or Historic Houses with Volunteer Assistants
The history of the property and its’ size and complexity should be given, together with any Open Hours and Visitor numbers. These facts convey to the prospective applicant the importance of the site, and the implicit honour of being involved in the long term  well being of the grounds.

Numbers of Volunteers and the nature of their work should be given. Again, this information conveys the importance of the site, as volunteers only become involved for the kudos if working on such an important garden. This will reflect on the prospective employee, as they will be responsible for overseeing the volunteer force, and will require not only Training abilities and skills, but be willing to work under scrutiny themselves – by the often very knowledgeable – volunteers.

Some Historic Houses have sections of the gardens given over to specific volunteers and disabled persons. This facility should be mentioned, with greater emphasis placed on the requirement of the applicant to take a keen interest in the nature of this aspect of the garden.

Hotels, Clubs and Other Private Establishments
Greater emphasis may be placed on the restrictions made on the Head Gardener and the ability to work in a restricted manner, with Events and times being of paramount importance to the Employer. It is one of the most difficult and frustrating jobs, being charged with maintaining the grounds in top order, whilst having to avoid almost every normal opportunity to able to operate in an efficient manner.

This skill, and the ability to work around the Events calendar of the Employer – which may change on a daily basis – will be a major deciding factor during the interview process.
As with all of the above scenarios and site descriptions, it will be the personal skills of the applicants to deal with day to day difficulties that will provide the Employer with their short list of applicants. No amount of College Training is of use if the applicant is unable to cope with the stresses of the site.

Experience and Qualifications
Please note that there has been no mention of qualifications in the formal sense. The job description should not rely on the reader initially identifying the job advertisement as being of interest due to their formal qualifications. Each of the above job descriptions calls for a particular type of person – not their meritorious documents. Experience and previous references should count more highly than formal qualifications.

The ability to produce and understand a meaningful budget, to evaluate the existing Gardens Department and provide a short term/long term programme of works, to identify shortfalls in staff training, to arrange new working practices to suit the needs of the Employer and the garden and to provide an accurate inventory of machinery and equipment are important means by which to judge a prospective employee.

Without these practical skills, the various certificates and diplomas – no matter how difficult to gain –  need to be balanced when evaluating the suitability of an applicant. An Honours Degree in a Horticultural Science is of great merit, and indeed, may be essential in some instances, but without practical ability will be of limited use. (There is a long running debate surrounding ‘qualifications’. Essentially, some tasks may only be carried out by those holding particular certificates e.g. spraying, or using chain saws. Other tasks require years of practical experience, which may also be rightly deemed to be a ‘qualification’.)

No mention has been made here of salaries and benefits, as they depend on the individual site. Similarly, other items that may affect the pay package, e.g. use of vehicle, free accommodation, pension etc, will also be a matter for the individual Employer.

Alan Sargent FIHort
May 2013
« Last Edit: June 05, 2013, 08:33:54 pm by Alan Sargent »