When I’m on a night out, chatting to a man, and say, “Yeah, I’m a horticulturalist”, they’re like: “Hardly?” It’s a very male-dominated industry and I’m one of a few young people too. Because I’m young and small in stature, I’m not what many would picture. In previous jobs men have infantilised me, commenting, “Good girl, big and strong”.
I think I have a need to prove them wrong.
I’m a 24-year-old plant maintenance technician from Carlow. I work for Universal Floral, a family-run interior landscaping business. Our company was set up more than 40 years ago and has 600 contracts in Ireland and 25 technicians in Dublin alone. I’m responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of plants in offices and businesses, with daily tasks including watering, pruning, dusting, fertilizing during the summer months, pest control and replacing plants when needed.
I manage 30 contracts in Dublin over a two-week period, including buildings occupied by Google, Meta, the National Treasury Management Agency and The Irish Times.
In recent years with an increased awareness of plant benefits for biodiversity and worker mental health, more and more businesses are using our services. Plants are great for creating a nice atmosphere to work with, they bring some life into the office. Even at home, since Covid, people got really into interior plants.
My friends are always jealous of my work. They’re like: “Oh I wish I could come with you and sit in the van.” I suppose it’s kind of unusual as well. I don’t know anybody my age in horticulture.
A lot of the time my friends have to defend me when they explain what I do – particularly to men. That’s an issue I had working in garden centres as well, where male colleagues would expect I was unable to lift the compost. But my boss would always back me up, saying: “She’s more able to do it than I am.”
I’ve only ever worked in horticulture. My dad has his own little garden centre out in Rush, where I also live with my nanny. That’s how I got into it. Growing up I was always out in the garden, with my grandparents in particular. It’s how I connected with them.
As time passed there were no horticulture jobs in Carlow and I found this job which really suited me. My nanny was also quite lonely and I wouldn’t be able to afford living in the city centre anyway, so I moved in with her. It’s company for her. She’s on dialysis a few days a week so I help with the cleaning. Even so, she gets up with me every single morning and makes sure that my lunch is packed and I’ve had my breakfast and everything. I’ve said it to her so many times that she doesn’t need to get up with me at 6am, but she’ll go back to bed once I’m good to go.
In this job, my mental health has probably been better than ever – despite living in Dublin. Traffic probably stresses me out the most. I love labour-intensive jobs: making displays, setting up pots and the creativity that comes with it. Plants create a really nice atmosphere and studies have shown they boost moods, energy and relieve stress. Unfortunately they don’t increase oxygen that much despite what people promote – you’d have to have a serious amount of plants to make any difference.
A lot of people don’t even realise there is somebody coming in and watering the plants. In offices, people just put dishes in the sink and expect them to be cleaned when they come in the next day. Like cleaners, we are also underappreciated. A lot of the time I replace a plant and people don’t even realise. I can go all week without talking to people, which is nice sometimes. Even so, I’m really content in my job. After time off, I actually look forward to going back to work.
My main tips for looking after plants are:
- Less is more. Everybody always overwaters. A lot of people care too much about plants, when they should be neglecting them just a little bit more. You can always come back from underwatering, but you cannot come back from overwatering.
- Plants don’t need direct sun. Often direct sun is actually bad and will burn them. As long as you have bright indirect light, that’s where they do best.
- Everybody always forgets to feed plants. It is as simple as getting some tomato food from the €2 shop and putting a cap-full into water. That will keep your indoor plants flourishing from March to September – that’s growing season. No food is needed during winter and you should reduce water hugely.
– In conversation with Conor Capplis