A Life in Horticulture


On the many specializations and occupations available to the aspiring horticulturalist.



In his 1901 book Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, Liberty Hyde Bailey, one of America's most important botanists and co-founder of the American Society for Horticultural Science, defined with these words the discipline he had helped to pioneer: "Horticulture is the growing of flowers, fruits and vegetables, and of plants for ornament and fancy. Incident to the growing of the plants are all the questions of plant-breeding, variation of plants under domestication, and the bearings and applications of many biological and physical sciences. Primarily it is an art, but it is intimately connected with science at every point."


Over 100 years later, that intimate connection between art and science remains an essential element of horticultural practice. Horticulture is unique among plant sciences in its use of art and design principles. Though the word horticultureóderived from the Latin hortus, meaning garden, and cultura/colere, meaning cultivateótends to connote amateur home gardening, commercial horticulture is a diverse, dynamic, and scientifically advanced industry. Some horticulturalists work at agricultural jobs, producing fruits, vegetables, and/or nuts. Others cultivate grapes for wine. Many horticultural jobs involve the propagation and maintenance of ornamental and aesthetic plants or the design and construction of private or public landscapes.


A bachelor's degree in horticulture is the basic foundation for any career in the industry. Courses of study may include:


Olericulture, or the production, storage, processing, and marketing of vegetables
Pomology, the science of fruit production
Landscape horticulture
Floriculture, the study of flowering and foliage plants
Arboriculture, the science of trees, shrubs, vines, and perennial woody plants


Some horticultural occupations may also require a master's degree or Ph.D., particularly science-related jobs in biotechnology or laboratory research.


In general, horticulture jobs are distinct from traditional agriculture jobs in that they involve the intensive cultivation of high-value crops, with greater input of capital, labor, and technology per square foot. In addition, agronomy tends to deal with the production of grains via tilling in open fields, while horticulture makes use of smaller and sometimes enclosed spaces, e.g. greenhouses. Monoculture, the cultivation of a single crop, is also far more prevalent in agriculture.


Much of the recent economic growth in the horticulture industry has actually occurred in the field of ornamental horticulture. Specializations such as horticultural therapy and environmental horticulture (the use of plants to enhance the human environment) have developed rapidly in recent years. A joint 2005 study by the University of Florida and the University of Tennessee declared the $150 billion environmental horticulture sector to be one of the nation's fastest-growing industries.


An aspiring horticulturalist would be surprised at how many different career fields can be found within the industry. Government jobs in horticulture might involve working at national, state, or local parks. Turf management specialists can find jobs at golf courses or work for a professional sports league. Science jobs in horticulture range from the study of plant breeding and propagation to the evaluation and testing of pesticides. Qualified horticulturalists can even obtain media jobs in journalism or broadcasting. In short, horticulture presents a vast and intriguing array of career opportunities to anyone who is interested in nature, concerned about the environment, or simply desires to make the world a more beautiful place.


--Joshua Avram

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