The UK has more than 30,000 public parks managed by local authorities, many with deserved high reputations. These parks, many designed in Victorian times, now have to meet the more recent demands of surrounding communities and are becoming more important in fighting climate change, air pollution, public health conditions and community inclusion.
Head Gardeners /Head Grounds Maintenance Workers are generally employed by local councils and private companies managing parks, open and green spaces. They work to maintain and develop public parks and open spaces for the benefit of local residents and visitors.
They supervise and allocate work to teams of gardeners and landscaping staff. This job role gives the opportunity for plenty of ‘hands on’ work as well as opportunities for those who wish to get into the managerial side of park and green space management.
Their main tasks are usually to:
- Organise maintenance of parks and open spaces
- Plan landscaping and planting of flowers, shrubs and trees
- Organise planting programmes at appropriate times of year
- Arrange areas and facilities designated for sports and recreation purposes
- Engage and work with community and volunteer groups
- Organise and plan events in parks
- Ensure environmental and conservation requirements are optimised.
Much of their time is spent checking on the progress and quality of maintenance and planting programmes. Their teams can vary from a couple of people to over twenty, according to the number of sites and the areas covered.
Head Gardener/Head Grounds Maintenance Workers also:
- Ensure vehicles and equipment used by their teams are maintained
- Plan ahead to ensure people and materials are available at the right times of year
- Work with other members of staff to regenerate horticultural features, such as plant beds
- Establish the future needs of parks and open spaces by consulting with the local community
- Ensure all health and safety guidelines are followed
- Discuss policy matters and write reports
- Prepare proposals for services and products and gather data on sites
- Prepare estimates and work to budgets
- Ensure staff receive all the necessary training.
Standard working hours for a Head Gardener/Head Grounds Maintenance Worker are 35 to 37 a week, Monday to Friday. At times actual hours worked may be more flexible according to the season and jobs in hand, sometimes including evenings and weekends.
A fair amount of time is spent working on plans, budgets, project organisation, administration and communication to all the various partnership organisations and the public.
However, the majority of time is spent outdoors in all weathers, visiting parks, open spaces, sports areas or depots where teams and equipment are based. Their work involves considerable walking around sites.
Some parks officers manage work at sites that are some distance apart, so a driving licence may be necessary.
Salaries vary with experience, qualifications and between companies, but here's a guide to what you can expect.
Jobs are available throughout the UK working for local councils and private businesses involved in park and open space management.
Some people start their careers as gardeners or groundsmen and work their way up, taking horticultural or management courses part-time. Management qualifications or other local amenity management experience may also be useful.
You could also enter this career through a Modern Apprenticeship.
What experienced workers can do
- Good knowledge of parks management and landscape design
- Enthusiastic, with the ability to motivate staff, colleagues and local residents
- Good planner, project manager and able to prioritise tasks
- Good staff management and delegation skills
- Respond quickly to customers seeking assistance
- Work within budgets and to meet deadlines
- Administrative and computer skills needed for planning and budgeting.
Personal qualities you should have
- Have a genuine interest in gardens and landscape design
- Be committed to providing pleasant, useful and safe environments for residents and visitors
- Friendly and approachable.
There may be opportunities for promotion to senior or management positions, especially in councils with larger parks departments. Some people move to management positions in other areas of council work.
Promotion opportunities may be more limited in some private companies. Employees sometimes progress by moving into other areas of amenity and leisure management.