Advancing Your Career through Gardening Internships

By Virginia Hayes

You’ve tacked up your favorite poster, adjusted the lamp on the
desk, and plugged in your computer. Your wallet is feeling thin
after a trip to the campus bookstore, you’ve scouted out all your
classrooms, found a place to park your car, and bought a junker
bike. Now all you have to do is show up for classes and do your
best to absorb all the new material you are offered, right? There
may be something else you should consider during your college
career. And I’m not just talking about the socializing (yes, you
are at one of the top-rated party campuses).

Your major task at school is to learn, and one proof of that
learning is your final transcript where those long hours of study
for tedious classes are boiled down to a few lines of type. When
you go to transfer that meager evidence of all your newfound
knowledge to a résumé and apply for a job, you will want to list
some other activities and experiences to round out the academic
fare. Most employers will be favorably impressed by evidence of
additional abilities gained through participation in internships or
work-study programs. If you are a first-year student just starting
out and don’t even know where your college studies will lead you,
an internship or two can give you real-life experiences that may
help you decide.

Internships are a great way to learn skills and gain experience
in how the world really works. Most are geared to take place for a
short enough period of time, say a quarter or semester, so that
they can easily fit in your schedule. For the company or
institution offering an internship, it is a good way to get some
inexpensive help, but for you, the intern, the instruction may be
invaluable. In the field of horticulture, for example, an
internship offers a way to literally get your hands dirty outside
the classroom.

Horticulture, including everything from garden maintenance to
landscape design, is one of those fields of study where you can
spend countless hours in the classroom and still not really know
how to prepare soil for planting or install an irrigation system.
Learning to draw a perfect landscape design does not only involve
the design elements, but knowledge of how plants grow — their
ultimate size and environmental requirements and how to provide
those components. Practical experience is essential, and working as
an intern or on a work-study assignment will provide that

Most internships are supported in some way by funding from the
institution offering them. You won’t get rich as an intern, but you
will probably earn enough to have pizza and beer and take in the
occasional movie. If the internship is offered by a non-academic
institution, housing may or may not be offered. Most
university-sponsored ones offer regular dorm rooms. Accommodations
will vary widely from dormitory-like quarters to a room in the home
of one of the supporters of the program. For example, interns at
the famous Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, are
housed on the grounds, while those at the Chicago Botanic Garden
are farmed out to willing members of their board of trustees who
have a spare room.

A good internship program will offer a structured course of work
designed to introduce you to a range of skills and concepts. If you
intern at a botanic garden, you may spend some long hours pulling
weeds, but you will also get to operate a variety of hand tools,
and learn about the plants that are being grown for display, for

Work-study programs are similar to internships in that they
offer hands-on training in your subject. They may not be as focused
or comprehensive as an internship, but can still offer a good way
to learn practical skills. They offer a pay rate similar to what
entry level workers can expect for that particular job, providing
another way to try out your chosen career. Many work-study programs
also offer credits toward your degree, a great way to keep gas in
the tank and food on the table while checking off a few more

One other benefit of internships and work-study programs is that
you will meet others in your chosen field. Every day that you spend
on the job exposes you to supervisors and coworkers alongside whom
you will be working. These people can be extremely helpful in your
path to a full-time job or graduate program once you are through
with school. Letters of recommendation are essential to any job or
program application. It is completely clear to prospective
employers who screen applications which letters have been written
by someone who worked closely with the applicant and those who were
only a passing acquaintance. A successful internship or work-study
stint could also lead directly to a full-time job. Many job
openings never make it onto the job board or into the classifieds,
but instead go to insiders, people with a proven track record.
After all, you’ve already been initiated and trained to your
employer’s particular standards.

If horticulture is your chosen field, there are a number of
great opportunities right here in our community. Santa Barbara
Botanic Garden periodically offers internships in education,
research, and horticulture. Lotusland also offers a yearly
internship with an emphasis on learning sustainable horticultural
methods. The Community Environmental Council internship will
provide nursery and organic gardening experience. Some nurseries
also hire interns for plant propagation and maintenance. Landscape
architects often employ interns and one such position is regularly
open at the City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department.
Santa Barbara City College’s environmental horticulture department
has one of the best work-study programs around and student workers
find ready employment in the community. To find the right position
for you, the Internet has a huge number of job listing sources.
Just search on internships and narrow the search with a modifier or


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