Student Story

Rikki Tubman

After growing tired of working in hospitality and retail, Rikki Tubman channelled his lifelong passion for plants and gardening into a dream career.

Rikki Tubman

RIKKI TUBMAN

What did you do before studying at Otago Polytechnic?

I left school without gaining much education and worked in hospitality. It was something I could do quite well so I stuck with it for a long time. But then, after so many years, I realised that I didn’t actually enjoy it anymore. So I left hospo and went into retail – but it was much too chill for me. I was bored.

I was in a bit of a dark patch, actually, thinking I’d made a huge mistake. I didn’t want to go back to hospo so I thought, screw it! I’ll go to Otago Polytechnic instead – bite the bullet, be a student, make do on a student income for a year.

Those family times in the garden sound awesome – can you tell us more?

Nana would come round and clip our roses, so I would help her and learn about that. We did a lot of pruning, clipping, keeping things in shape.

She taught me about companion planting, and all about bulbs, rhododendrons and lilies and things like that – so a lot of florals. And I still fizz for my flowers!

That’s so great! What is it about gardening that appeals to you?

In a work context, you often have to work with what’s there because the clients don’t want to spend money on new plants. Those are my favourites because of the problem-solving element. But don’t get me wrong – I always love shopping for plants!

There must be a real knack for the work you do?

You have to get to know the plants a little bit, to know which plants react to pruning in particular ways. Some plants you can only trim a tiny bit off at a time or they will die. Then you find plants you can almost mow right down to the ground and they’ll still come back. 

“I’ve loved plants as a hobby all my life. Growing up, I hung out with Mum and Nana in the garden a lot, so it just made sense. I knew that if I was going to study, I needed to do something that I would really enjoy.”

Rikki Tubman

Landscaper

Studied Level 3 General Horticulture

Did you develop a lot of plant knowledge during your studies?

Yes, I got a lot out of the taxonomy side – the family groupings of plants.

Was there anything that was completely new to you when you studied?

I had never touched on the landscaping side before – picking up a hammer was pretty foreign to me! But if you want to work in gardens then you need to know how to create edges, steps, and all sorts.

It was really useful to get that construction knowledge and skill, and now I am a gardener and a landscaper in one.

So now that you’re working, do you think you finally found your niche?

I work at Ashford Landscaping – I did two weeks of work experience there during the course and they offered me a job on the spot! Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It really is a fantastic job!

What does your role involve?

All my colleagues are very much construction-minded, so I get the plant niche that suits me perfectly. I prepare planting plans and maintenance schedules.

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