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Education and the Trade
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

September 30, 2012


Gentle Reader, we recently celebrated an historic and significant event: the completion of the first Red Seal Horticultural Apprenticeship Programme in our area.

This was a combined effort of the School of Skilled Trades at Loyalist College, the local offices of the Ministry of Trades Colleges and Universities and the Upper Canada Chapter of Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association, as well as many local businesses, employers, instructors and, of course, the students.

This is important for many reasons. The first was the co-operation and concerted element by all stakeholders in the horticultural arena- with the exception of the customer. This demonstrated the recognition that there is an ongoing need for skilled and knowledgeable people in the horticultural industry. By the way, GR, just to let you know the starting point for entry into this programme: a student must have several thousand hours (yes- several thousands) of verifiable experience and the endorsement of their employer before they can be admitted into the course.

The course requires specific knowledge and demonstration of skill sets as determined by the trade and the ministry: not every Tom, Dick and Jane who signs up will pass. And that is as it should be.

The second is that the concept of “stakeholder” in the education milieu encompasses much more than student and school. There were some bumps along this road, and I suspect a few have yet to be smoothed over, but hopefully the definition has been broadened somewhat to include everyone mentioned in the first paragraph.

A third, and possibly the most important reason, is that the Ministry responded to a demonstrated need and approved the programme where students could attend. As a bit of background, one of the underlying principles of education is that it should be accessible to the student. Along with the usual definitions, this includes the idea that students should be able to attend. If transportation, accommodation, single-parent status, day care, familial needs, etc. prevent this, then the education is not accessible. Other institutions such as Humber College and Kemptville Campus, University of Guelph offer this course but, in the case of the Loyalist course, they were inaccessible to this group. Succinctly, education was brought to the students not the other way ‘round. When there is a demonstrated need, with fiscal accountability factored in, this is how it should be.


For those of us in the trade, we are often dismayed at the little credit given to our industry. When a factory closes in our area, I can expect to see several dozen “instant landscapers” standing across from me at the trade counter where I work. I have driven by job sites of these “professionals” and shuddered: no regard for safety, little understanding of construction techniques, a demonstrated complete lack of basic plant knowledge, absolutely no idea of business and the list goes on. Several months after a factory closes in our area, I can expect to see a dozen former customers of those landscapers in our store who need to spend many more dollars to correct the mistakes. Folks, this is not sour grapes on my part, it is an expression of genuine concern for your satisfaction with my trade. If it was a money thing, golly-gosh, I would be very happy because we sold the plants and materials for the original work and then we sold all the same products to the real experts. Financially, the end loser is the customer.

Realistically, the big loser is the reputation of the industry, through no fault of our own. Currently, landscaping is an unrestricted trade, meaning anyone who complies with the regulations can practice within it.

Caveat emptor is the law of the contract. So, I look forward to the day when Landscaping is a restricted trade in the same manner as the electrical and plumbing trades. Mind you, not all of my colleagues will embrace this concept with open arms. Until then, GR, ask your contractors for their certifications, proof of liability coverage, and references.

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