'I had never grown a carrot in my life... but I'm now studying at Organic College'

Andrea McCann with celebrity chef Neven Maguire during filming for the series Irish Food Trails which aired recently
Andrea McCann with celebrity chef Neven Maguire during filming for the series Irish Food Trails which aired recently
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

'Horticulture is not for everyone and I sort of stumbled into it," says Andrea McCann, farm horticulturist for the Amber Springs and Ashdown Park Hotels for the past two years.

"I started this job having never grown a carrot in my life, but now I'm nearly finished a two-year part-time QQI Level 5 in Organic Horticulture at The Organic College in Co Limerick."

Andrea outlines a typical week. "Every Sunday night I send a text to the head chefs at both hotels to see what they need for the start of the week. A typical early to mid-week order will include potatoes, carrots, swede, turnips, parsnips, cabbage and celeriac, all of which are grown on the farm. I'm also starting seed at the minute for tunnel crops including salads, herbs, tomatoes, courgettes, beans and edible flowers.

"The Redmond family, who own the hotels, has a vision of producing the best grass-reared Aberdeen Angus beef, potatoes and vegetables and we all work hard to achieve that."

The farm recently featured in the series Irish Food Trails with celebrity chef Neven Maguire.

"The farm is incredibly busy year-round. Once the weather picks up I will be trying to clear last year's crops from ground that has been waterlogged. Then I will prepare it for new sowing and planting."

Some of the more unusual vegetables grown at the farm include celeriac and kohlrabi. "It tastes something like an apple-flavoured cucumber with the sweetness of melon."

The farm covers approximately 300 acres. "While we are not entirely organic, much of what we do is based on organic principles. The crop rotations are essential to help prevent problems like club root in brassicas and eelworm in potatoes. The benefits of having cattle in the rotation are colossal for the vegetables - very little inputs are needed to bring up soil fertility because there is a steady supply of well-composted dung there."

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Andrea agrees that there is a lot of responsibility in the food industry. "There is an onus on all of us, as consumers and producers, to be conscious of where our food comes from.

"There is definitely potential growth in fruit and vegetable production in Ireland, especially as people are becoming more interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced."

At a glance: Irish Horticulture courses

Teagasc offers a wide range of full-time and part-time horticulture courses at both the College of Amenity Horticulture in the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, and at Kildalton College in Co Kilkenny.

Full-time and part-time courses are available at both locations at Level 5, Level 6 and Level 7. The QQI Level 5 Certificate in Horticulture is open to any applicant aged 17 and over. Applicants must have a Level 5 Certificate in Horticulture or equivalent to study for the QQI Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Horticulture.

In this programme, students have the option to select from four streams - Food Production, Nursery Stock Production, Landscaping and Sports Turf. The Level 7 Bachelor of Science in Horticulture is offered in partnership with Waterford Institute of technology in both the Botanic Gardens and Kildalton College.

Graduates from this course will have the option to study for a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Land Management (Horticulture) at Waterford Institute of Technology. See teagasc.ie

The Organic College

With organic farming continually on the rise, one option is The Organic College in Co Limerick which offers both full-time and part-time courses leading to a QQI Level 5 Certificate in Horticulture.

The one-year, full-time course runs from mid September to late May. It features lectures, demonstrations and group discussions, field trips and tours.

Modules include organic standards and principles which will cover all the basics you need to know about growing crops organically in Ireland. Students will also cover fruit and vegetable production, beekeeping and plant science.

Each year the college caters for approximately 60 distance learning students, in addition to about 50 day students who attend full-time and part-time. See organiccollege.com

Also offering Level 5 QQI accreditation in horticulture is The Organic Centre in Co Leitrim. The course runs from February to February and attracts students from across the globe. See theorganiccentre.ie

The Institute of Technology Blanchardstown

The Institute of Technology at Blanchardstown in Dublin offers a variety of courses in horticulture, both full-time and part-time.

Students can eventually progress to gaining a Level 8 Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Horticulture. This is a one-year course where modules include Recreation and Green Infrastructure, Golf Course Design, and Social & Therapeutic Horticulture.

Designed to incorporate both the theoretical and practical aspects of horticulture, courses include modules on organic production, sustainability, landscape design and turf-grass management as well as computing, business and personal development. 

A new state-of-the-art facility includes geodomes, poly-tunnels, workshops, welfare facilities, as well as a range of outdoor practical work areas for fruit and vegetable production and sports turf management. See itb.ie


UCD offers two full-time courses for undergraduates - Horticulture, Landscape & Sportsturf Management and Landscape Architecture. Both are four years in duration.

The Horticulture, Landscape & Sportsturf Management course focuses on the science behind developing and maintaining Ireland's designed landscapes, golf courses, tennis courts and sport pitches.

Career opportunities include management, technical advisory, consultation, research, quality assurance and sales or marketing positions, working for companies or within your own business. Opportunities also exist in state, semi-state, EU and international organisations.

Careers for landscape architects can lead them all over the world designing habitats for humans and non-humans, homes for city birds, playgrounds for children, rooftop gardens, streetscapes, city parks and even cities themselves. See ucd.ie

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