No hibernation for AC horticulturists

Tucked away on the southern corner of the college is a garden where the next class of gardeners and landscapers are trained. In the warm months, the garden is lush with dozens of species of plants that line brick pathways and a flowing pond and fountain. Horticulture students tend to the gardens as part of […]
Photo: Emily Hsueh
Sam Dalley (left) works with classmate Riley Ransom (right) to winterize plants and equipment for the coming months. Though an outdoor-oriented program, the horticulture program prepares students with many other applicable skills.

Tucked away on the southern corner of the college is a garden where the next class of gardeners and landscapers are trained. In the warm months, the garden is lush with dozens of species of plants that line brick pathways and a flowing pond and fountain. Horticulture students tend to the gardens as part of their 16-month program.

But when the snow falls, the landscape is replaced by a blanket of white that forces the students indoors.

“During the winter it definitely calms down in terms of outside hours,” said 20-year-old horticulture student Sam Dalley. “We learn about the winterization of plants, cutting down of perennials, lots of very specific things to make plants survive over the winter.”

Horticulture coordinator and professor Tommy Wingreen says that while there are no outdoor labs, students are still kept as busy as ever in terms of hands-on work.

“We do [work in] construction and the greenhouses and that includes woodworking. We do have design, so they do design on computers,” he said. The design classes use AutoCAD – the same software as the architecture program – as well as Dynascape to create hardscaping concepts.

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Horticulture professor and program coordinator Tommy Wingreen stands among the plants in M building's greenhouses. The plants are part of the college's permanent collection and will be tended to by students throughout the winter. Photo credit: Emily Hsueh

“The last [outdoor] labs will be maintaining the equipment so it gets stored for the winter, cleaning all the tools, and we do some activities inside.”

The horticulture program is not only focused on plants and landscaping. As Dalley explains, students are also taught how to properly remove snow, which Wingreen says is a traditional job that many landscapers take up in the winter.

“There are a lot more in-depth things that you need to worry about such as the type of salt you use, type of blade you use, just very specific things that you need to keep on top of,” added Dalley. Horticulture students are also occasionally the ones responsible for putting up Christmas lights around campus.

While the students have several ways to keep busy in the winter, Wingreen says that the winter months are not as kind to those working in the industry.

“Of course there are a lot of things that are seasonal, and a lot of companies do close down for nearly half a year,” he said. “Very few people are able to work just one job; they have a fallback.” This can include anything from flower shops to supermarkets to drywalling, which can bring the skills horticulture students learn indoors.

According to Wingreen, this causes many people in the industry to leave it in pursuit of other work, which forces companies to find new workers every year.

Despite the harshness of the winter months on the outdoorsmen, Algonquin has maintained a steady application rate to the program.

For Dalley, he sees the industry worker replacement issue as an opportunity to employ the many skills he is gaining from the program.

“It can be difficult, but it is nice to have this knowledge,” he said. “So, if we get out of here and we can’t find a job in a greenhouse, I can get hired by a landscaping company and make a very reasonable wage out of college because they’re always looking.”

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