What do you like best about your job?
"Having a nice garden gives people satisfaction," says Eleven - and she gains satisfaction from helping people achieve this.
She is enthusiastic about applying what she knows, and there's always something new to learn. The tasks change with the seasons, but a typical day involves activities like:
- Assessing plant and soil health
- Pest and disease control
- Manual labour (including digging and weeding)
- Designing gardens
- Maintaining her body and her tools
Now that she owns a small business, her tasks also include:
- Sourcing materials
- Customer relations
Eleven enjoys the satisfaction that comes from earning a living doing something positive. Practicing organic gardening also gives her the "zealot's delight of being on a mission". She would like to see more organic gardens in Melbourne, and aims to increase the awareness of the detrimental effects of industrial agriculture, over-reliance on chemicals in the industry, and water wastage.
Why did you decide to become a gardener?
Becoming a gardener was "a very considered decision" for Eleven. She wanted a trade where she could earn a living while maintaining a lifestyle she enjoyed. She tried hospitality for a while, but hated the hierarchy of the kitchen. She also had "an interest in the soil," and after looking into it decided gardening was the best trade for her.
Eleven's training included a 12-month course in horticulture and on-the-job training in the industry. There is a wide variety of formal study options available, from six-week courses to undergraduate degrees, as well as the apprenticeship option.
Being a gardener also involves an ongoing process of learning. As well as doing her own research, Eleven has fostered relationships with other people in the industry who she can turn to for advice, which is particularly important when starting out.
What personal qualities are important in a gardener?
Gardening is a physically demanding job. You've got to be tough and "keep on trucking," even when it's raining. Eleven likes the feeling of going to bed tired, the satisfaction that comes with having done a hard day's work.
Like any career, it helps if you have a "genuine interest in what you're doing." Being observant is important, as is creativity: "There's definitely an artistry in it." It is also important to have respect for the environment and to remember that everything you do impacts on the ecosystem you're working in. And in the end you need patience, because "you're not the one doing the growing".
Do you have any tips for aspiring gardeners?
Eleven emphasises it's important to invest in good tools, equipment, and work-wear. "Make friends with your tools," and learn how to look after them. She also suggests you "consider why you want to be a gardener," and what aspects of gardening you enjoy. This will help you work out what you want to specialise in.
There are many opportunities in the industry, and different directions in which you can take your career. Start asking questions of other gardeners and try to find a mentor, someone who you trust and whose style you like. Eleven recommends developing confidence in the skills you offer, particularly for women in this male-dominated industry.
If you value your work, others will too.
Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).