Horticulture Learners Lend Helping Hand

September 20, 2023
September 19, 2023

Learners undertaking the Certificate in Horticulture (Level 3) at NorthTec | Te Pūkenga have been getting on-the-job experience while giving back to the community by volunteering at the Quarry Gardens in Whangārei.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students,” advises Bruce Johnson, NorthTec | Te Pūkenga tutor. “It allows them to get fantastic work experience out in the real world while also having the added benefit of helping out the Quarry Gardens.”

The Quarry Gardens are a subtropical community garden project located western hills of Whangārei. It was once a dilapidated quarry site. The gardens suffered substantial damage in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle and had to close for some time as repairs were carried out.

Now, however, the gardens are up and running once again and open for visitors. Although many of the walking tracks are still closed for repair, the gardens themselves are back and better than ever. Volunteers, like the NorthTec | Te Pūkenga students have a big part to play in the recovery.

“The Gardens are almost exclusively run on volunteers and donations,” explains Garden Manager Thomas Nance. “There are currently two full-time and one part-time paid staff member, all the rest are volunteers. Some volunteers have been here since the beginning, so there is a lot of knowledge and experience reflected there.” And it’s that experience that the horticulture learners get to tap into.

“It’s a very safe space to ask questions,” says Beth Mitchell, NorthTec | Te Pūkenga learner. “Every one of the volunteers is very nice and keen to chat and share their knowledge.”

As part of the Horticulture course, the learners are expected to get a certain number of hours of work experience. Working at the Quarry Gardens will not only allow them to gain valuable skills out on the job, but it's also something they can put on their CV, showing not only their experience in their industry but also their dedication to the job.

“It’s a responsibility,” explains Maya Newing-Peters, NorthTec | Te Pūkenga learner. “You have to turn up on time, ready to work, and actually put in the effort. It's a valuable experience, especially for those who haven’t worked a job before.”

The Quarry Gardens offers the horticulture learners are unique learning environment.

“We offer something here that other workplaces can’t,” says Thomas. “Due to the voluntary nature, there is a lot more flexibility in how we spend our day. It's not a business so we aren’t necessarily on the clock. We can slow down, try something new, experiment with a new idea.”

Beth says, “There’s a lot more to horticulture than just gardening. You can work in labs running experiments, you can work in landscaping or garden design, and you can get into conservation. There’s a lot of scope and we get to explore some of that here.”

NorthTec | Te Pūkenga’s students have not only been helping tidy up and replant the Quarry gardens, they’ve also been helping to deal with the effects of the cyclone, map out new areas for development, and even help design the new gardens.

“Horticulture is a really important area of study,” says Thomas. “There’s more and more research going into the effects green growing spaces have on our mental health and everyone knows how important they are for the climate. We have spaces that can be cared for and developed, and we want trained people who can take care of them well.”

The Quarry Gardens and the onsite café are up and running for business and Thomas is keen to see people returning to the space.

“Many people think we are still closed. But we are open for the public and just as good as ever.”

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