Leaving a deskbound job in favour of the great outdoors has paid off for Renee Johnson.

Only four years since leaving a computer job and starting at Bark Ltd (a company focused on the care of significant gardens and grounds throughout New Zealand) Renee has won a national title and been selected to compete in the prestigious NZ Young Horticulturist Competition.

Renee won the Young Amenity Competition this year and will represent her sector at the Young Horticulturist finals in November, competing against six others working within horticulture sectors such as floristry, arboriculture and wine growing, for example.

Renee – armed with a love of pottering around in the garden at home – started as a trainee with no formal experience at Bark Ltd in 2019.

The fact she “took to gardening like a fish to water” was helpful as was her interest in rapidly accumulating new skills and expanding her plant knowledge.  This passion, combined with her leadership experience from past roles, promptly saw her advance to her current position of team leader.

At Bark Ltd Renee manages a small team caring for a variety of clients’ properties in north Auckland, where she is based, largely in the retirement village and communal living  sector.

“Sharing my passion and seeing my team members develop their knowledge and skills is a very rewarding part of my role,” Renee says.

Hedge trimming, lawn care and management, weeding, planting annuals, feeding established plants, pruning, mulching, developing plots and refining garden spaces to elevate their aesthetic value are all part of Renee’s working life.

It’s a job that ticks the physical and mental wellness boxes as well as creative ones.

“I never find myself without a creative drive in the garden, from shaping shrubs and hedges to resemble mini mountain-scapes, to using the colours of an annual bed to reflect autumn leaf fall, or a pastel summer sunset. It's a positive feedback loop of inspiration,” she enthuses.

Renee has a degree in psychology, a subject she would like to incorporate in her horticulture work.

“I would like to work on finding new ways to convey the value our greenspaces provide to our community to people who are not exposed to the horticulture industry. Hopefully, this would lead to larger parks and gardens being incorporated in new housing developments.

“I would also like the schooling sector to embrace horticulture as a viable career pathway for our rangitahi. I hear of so many individuals like myself, where finding horticulture was a serendipitous discovery,” she says.

Renee was selected to represent her sector following a virtual competition, held over two days, involving an interview and a speech competition.

She will compete in the Young Horticulturist Competition in Karaka on November 7,8. The seven finalists will represent the following sectors: Young Grower of the Year (Horticulture New Zealand Fruit & Vegetable Sectors); Young Plant Producer of the Year (New Zealand Plant Producers incorporated); Young Landscaper of the Year (Registered Master Landscapers New Zealand); New Arborist (New Zealand Arboriculture Association Inc); Young Florist/Flower Grower (FLONZI Florists and Flower Growers NZ Incorporated) Young Viticulturist of the Year (New Zealand Winegrowers); and Young Amenity Horticulturist (New Zealand Recreation Association).

Young Horticulturist chairperson Hamish Gates says Renee and the other finalists represent the best in young horticultural talent in New Zealand – “they are young people seeding the country’s horticultural future”. The competition is renowned for its rigor and finalists will be judged on several challenges including practical skills, industry expertise, leadership ability, business knowledge and communication.

The Young Horticulturist Competition’s Official Partners are: Countdown, Fruitfed Supplies and T&G Fresh.