In the news: 2015 Horticulture graduate Paul Smyth

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Snowdrops are his passion, but at Crug Farm Plants in Wales, horticulturalist Paul Smyth is thriving on the diversity of plants reports Ali Rochford in the Sunday Business Post

Paul Smyth began his exciting career in horticulture by going from one plant Shangri-La to another. The week he completed his degree in horticulture at Waterford Institute of Technology, he went to work at Evolution Plants, a nursery described by then owner Tom Mitchell as a botanical ark due to its unique and varied collection of plants from all over the world.

When it closed last autumn, Smyth then went to work at Crug Farm Plants, the Welsh nursery of world renown run by Sue and Bleddyn Jones. With that type of CV, it is hardly surprising that the talented young gardener from Carlow is now one to watch in the horticultural world.

Among Smyth’s favourite plants are bulbs and it was this interest that led him to do his college placement with Angela Jupe at her garden ‘Bellefield’, near Shinrone in Co Offaly. “My particular interest is in bulbous plants of any description, particularly spring flowerers,” said Smyth. “My final-year project focused on twin-scaling, which is a method of rapidly producing snowdrop bulbs. The best thing that happened to me was my work placement in Angela Jupe’s walled garden in Co Offaly. Here I learned the ropes and got to meet some really interesting people.”

Angela Jupe was impressed by his enthusiasm and dedication. “I’ve worked with lots of people, but Paul stands out, head and shoulders above the rest,” she said. “He is one of the most interesting young guys around. Somebody who is totally interested in so many things. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does, full of passion and enthusiasm. He really impressed me.”

One of the interesting people he met while at Bellefield was the aforementioned Tom Mitchell. Given Smyth’s experience and research with snowdrops, he was taken on by Mitchell to complete the propagation and organisation of the snowdrop collection at Evolution plants. And while at a plant fair in London, he met Bleddyn Jones, which set the scene for his next move.

Paul’s passion for snowdrops has had to take a back seat this year, as in his new job at Crug he is being bombarded with new plants every day. “I’m most interested in plant conservation and propagation, which is why working in a place like Crug is so cool,” he said. “I can scarcely believe that I am working here. I absolutely love the diversity of plants and I like to test myself by learning a few new ones every day, as I keep coming across plants I had never heard of. My ID skills are being tested and improved daily.”

Smyth might be one of the most talented and exciting young horticulturists around, but he has certainly not lost his appetite for getting his hands dirty. His working day as gardener and field worker for the nursery involves myriad tasks. “There are seven acres that need maintaining, including fields, a walled garden and woodland garden. My work involves anything from lifting, dividing and pruning of plants in the garden to collecting of large orders. There’s never a dull moment, and it’s the type of place you always feel you need to learn more!”

Smyth believes his training at WIT set him up well for his career. “I’ve a good grounding from studying there and left capable of being placed in a huge diversity of jobs. We spent about half of our time in Kildalton Agricultural College and were able to put the theory to the test, which is extremely important when you leave the confines of college and start in the real world. “For anyone considering horticulture as a career choice, I would strongly recommend WIT.”

Smyth was also involved in YoungHort, an organisation that aims to encourage young people to take up horticulture and to show them how rewarding a career in horticulture can be. “Try everything offered to you and relish any experience you can get,” he said. “Horticulture is too broad a topic for anyone to ever be a complete expert in, but find your niche in the industry, then get the experience.”

His current employers are also full of praise for him. “It’s refreshing to see Paul’s enthusiasm for the work-in-hand with our plants,” Bleddyn Jones said. “All we have to do is mention a job that needs doing and it’s done. It certainly helps that his level of plant knowledge and practical skills are good. There is no need to waste precious time explaining why a job requires doing. He instinctively knows, it comes naturally to him. I put it down to his agricultural upbringing. He is a great asset to our team.”

And for those who may have plant blood on their hands, and think they are horticulturally challenged, all is not lost as Smyth believes that by killing your own plants, you soon learn how best to cultivate them. He said: “The best gardeners I’ve met have been plant murderers as much as they are great plant people.” That should inspire hope in us all.

This first appeared in the Sunday Business Post under the headline Good Grounding and has been reproduced with permission.

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Related Courses

Bachelor of Science in  Horticulture (Kildalton College)
Bachelor of Science in  Horticulture (National Botanic Gardens)
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Land Management in Horticulture

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