A fresh start
After growing tired of working in hospitality and retail, Rikki Tubman channelled his lifelong passion for plants and gardening into a dream career.
Landscape Gardener, Ashford Landscaping
It was such a great feeling to go from beginning the year in a dank kind of space, to finishing the year walking into an amazing job and not having to stress about it at all.
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 in to retail – but it was much too chill for me. I was bored.
I was in a bit of 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.
Why did you choose to study Horticulture?
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.
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 lillies 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?
Working in the garden is quite therapeutic for me. I like looking at a really messy plant and thinking of a way of tidying it so it can come back and look good without becoming messy again. It’s a problem-solving thing – working out what it is going to take to get a garden to look really good.
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 to 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.
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.
I’ve found this to be really helpful for identifying plants I don’t already know. Now I can make an educated guess about what genus a plant might come from, look that up and tweak my search to find the right plant.
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?
Yes! Horticulture is my work life, it’s my hobby – it’s great. I’m so happy.
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!
What does your role involve?
All my colleagues are very much construction-minded, so I get the plant niche which suits me perfectly. I prepare planting plans and maintenance schedules.
We work on gardens of all types, from rural to inner city sites. We have corporate clients in town with tiny little spaces out the back; small residential clients with gardens that require weeding and maintenance; and then rural clients who want me to turn an empty paddock into an amazing landscaped garden with thousands of plants.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It really is a fantastic job!
They've made it theirs - now make it yours!