ST. PETERSBURG – The horticulture program at Pinellas Technical College (PTC) offers those with green thumbs a chance to be creative artists with nature as their canvas, and those with business in mind a way to be entrepreneurs.
Instructor Jacklyn-Rhea Wildey took over the department in January of this year following her predecessor’s retirement, and she aims to prepare students for the real world of nursery and landscape management.
Horticulture is a very science-heavy industry. Science determines how to treat plants, and the best methods both for conserving time, resources and the future health of the plant.
There are three levels to the program. Level A introduces students to chemistry and botany. Levels B and C incorporates it into business knowledge, which helps the students make the best decisions about profits and loss, whether they are working for someone else or working for themselves. This cuts down on environmental waste and/or environmental hazards.
Once students complete half of the 11-month course, they are allowed to participate in internships where they spend half their time interning for an employer and half their time in class. However, Wildey prefers for the students to focus fully on the course, and help get them employment after graduation. She sees that internships for a student in this program can be overwhelming because of the difficulty to balance the program work with the extra outside work that comes with interning.
A lot of the first jobs students obtain out of the program are entry-level positions such as retail and wholesale gardeners. Some students get jobs with breeders, which are people who breed new varieties of plants such as a popular color and/or a certain size. They can also work in landscape management, which is introduced in the Level A phase.
There is a high demand for skilled workers in the horticulture field. When a student completes the program, Wildey sends the completion information to employers. Students who get an interview generally get the job, and since there is a high volume of employers, students usually get a job in the area that they want to live.
“I enjoy it because it involves a lot of different perspectives on how people see the plants that they’re handling,” said Wildey in regards to the dynamic classroom instruction. “I’m always asking them, ‘What are your ideas on the things that we’re presenting, and how would you make decisions for yours,’ and then everybody gets to hear it so I’m not only giving it to the nursery managers but the nursery managers are hearing what the landscape managers have to say.”
Wildey developed a curiosity for horticulture at the age of nine, and knew from that point she wanted to work in the field. Obtaining a retail gardening job in high school, she went on to receive a master’s degree in Environmental Horticulture from the University of Florida. Prior to working at PTC, she worked in retail gardening in Dunedin.
One specific goal she has for the program is to incorporate the business aspect for both nursery and landscape turf management.
“A lot of people don’t realize how extensive running a business is. There are a lot of concepts that people don’t really understand as far as making the business profitable,” she said.
She explained that usually a new landscaper would look at a project and undercharge not realizing all that goes into an assignment, leaving them in the negative.
There are currently 14 students enrolled in the program, which encompasses all three levels: Landscape Management, Landscape Turf Management and Nursery Management. Next enrollment date for the program begins Jan. 5. Classes are held Mon.-Fri. from 7-12:15 p.m.
If you’re interested in exploring this career path, please visit pcsb.org/myptc or call (727) 893-2500. Financial aid is available.