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Partnership provides work experience for budding horticulturists

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A unique vocational education partnership between Wintec and Hamilton City Council will be expanded in 2018 to give horticulture students greater opportunity to learn at and contribute to one of Hamilton’s most visited sites.

For the past three years, dozens of green-thumbed students have spent a day a week during the second half of their academic year working alongside staff at Hamilton Gardens to develop and maintain the site’s 54-hectare grounds. The success of the partnership has led Wintec and the Council to expand it in 2018 to give students opportunities for work experience across the entire academic year.

Wintec horticulture tutor Brent Barber said work done by students included preparing and tending flowerbeds, turf maintenance and work on the popular enclosed gardens area. Wintec and Hamilton Gardens staff regularly discussed required tasks and students were given the opportunity to choose where they would like to assist.

"It makes the learning real and the students get greater diversity," he said. "Things aren’t always the way they are just because we say so in the classroom. The students are applying what we tell them in the real environment and finding out for themselves."

Mr Barber said the partnership prepared students for the workforce by giving them an understanding of what a job in amenity horticulture entailed. It also maintained "a good symbiotic relationship" between the students and the city by allowing them to contribute to a Hamilton landmark that hundreds of people passed through and enjoyed every day.

Hamilton Gardens operations manager Gus Flower agreed the arrangement was highly beneficial. It provided the students with "the best classroom they could have" and gave Hamilton Gardens managers a chance to meet potential future employees.

"The students bring a pair of fresh eyes, a new perspective, and many go on from the course to become gardeners, hopefully here. We’ve got 20 full time staff and two summer staff at Hamilton Gardens, and four of them are former Wintec students," Mr Flower said.

One of those former Wintec students now working at the gardens is Juli Furniss. The 20-year-old completed her studies at the end of 2016 and was successful in her application to join Hamilton Gardens team.

She now works in the enclosed gardens area and has spent the past few months helping to make the Mansfield Garden - one of four stunning new themed gardens being created as part of a $7.2 million development programme at Hamilton Gardens. The Mansfield Garden is a recreation of the early 20th Century New Zealand Garden described in Katherine Mansfield’s famous short story The Garden Party.

"A couple of months ago I was sitting in a tree at the gardens pruning and it struck me - this is awesome, I never thought this would be my job when I was in high school."

Juli said she enjoyed the practical education she received at Wintec and the opportunity to ask questions of Hamilton Gardens staff while working in different parts of the gardens.

"The whole class was like a family. The tutors were amazing and the Hamilton Gardens’ staff were really friendly."

Another former Wintec student now working at the gardens is 26-year-old Tarn Harker. He graduated in November 2016 and now works on the gardens’ Rhododendron Lawn. The lawn includes a rhododendron collection and other complementary shrubs such as Pieris, Axalea, Skimmia, and Leucothoe.

Mr Harker said the interaction with the public during his time as a student working alongside Hamilton Gardens staff gave him an insight into customer service that he wouldn’t have got in other horticulture courses.

"On your days working alongside Hamilton Gardens staff as a student you’re providing information to the public, answering questions and guiding them. It’s a big part of working in the gardens that I wouldn’t really have known about otherwise."

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