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Small Talk with Gary Graham of Hortitude

Gary Graham of Hortitude talks to Gary about his personal journey into the world of horticulture, discussing the highs, lows, and recent triumphs along the way



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17 May 2024

In association with Tully Nurseries

At Growtrade, we’re running an interview series titled ‘Small Talk’, where we talk to various influential members of Ireland’s horticulture trade. This month’s conversation is with Gary Graham, director of Hortitude.

How did you get your start in horticulture?

Aged 10, I tried to help my grandad Joe in the long back garden behind the corporation house in Bluebell, Dublin. The idea of a career came many years later, from a summer job working in Caulfield’s, an old-world seed shop in Dame Street, Dublin.

Bagging dried blood and bone meal while trying to pronounce the words of a poster – Convallaria majalis (Lilly of the Valley) sparked the idea to apply to the Bots. Two years later,  I was accepted.

What was one of the proudest moments in your career to date?

I have had very many, working with inspirational people in great organisations over four decades, thus far, but I had to put my name, reputation, and many relationships on the line to get Bloom up and running in 2007. 

At the end of the judging process in year one, chief judge, Andrew Wilson said “Well Mr Graham, it appears that you have a garden show…” I had wanted to create a Bloom-type event for Irish horticulture since the mid-nineties. That was definitely a proud moment.

What was one of the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your career to date?

Maintaining my mental health and motivation levels while working for an inept and misguided boss. The aphorism is true – you join a company but leave a manager.

Give us an example of a recent success you had in your work.

There are many shared successes, as I currently work with so many organisations and individuals. But I am particularly happy to see ALCI embrace and advance the new Horticulture Apprenticeship. It has been a long-time coming.

What are the greatest challenges facing the industry today?

We all know them – recruitment and retention, inadequate skills, and low rewards. Horticulture is not unique in having these challenges, but it is particularly impacted due to weather dependency and the physicality of much of the work.

What are the greatest opportunities facing the industry today?

I could write a book on this (if I had the time.) 

Biodiversity enhancement and climate change mitigation: The horticulture sector is ideally placed to provide nature-based solutions. The trick is to properly monetise these solutions.

Collaboration: Demand outstrips supply, so competition is rarely a factor. In this environment and where most players are still running family/micro/small/medium businesses, there is great scope to form strong collaborations, collectives and partnerships.

Professionalism: Despite all the great work done by Bord Glas/Bord Bia, all the educational work done by Teagasc and others, the ALCI, GLDA, IHNSA, etc, there is still much to do, and this is necessary to drive investment, recruitment and higher rewards.

Gender: Our sector is still dominated by people like me, who identify as a man. Our lack of diversity is an embarrassment in 2024 when we have so many technological and mechanical solutions at our disposal. For want of a better metaphor, it is like working with one arm tied behind our backs while hopping on one leg. 

Scale and Consolidation: It was upsetting to see the closure of so many family growers when I worked for IFA in the 90’s, but now I understand that economies of scale are critical.

We cannot expect Bord Bia or others to fund the level of promotional activity that is required to bring industry growth to full potential. We do not have enough multi-site garden centres, large landscape contractors or others in the sector with sufficient scale or profitability to fund high impact campaigns and awareness raising initiatives. 

Consolidation and scale would create bigger marketing opportunities, bigger markets, better profitability, better career paths and a more even playing pitch with all the other sectors and categories who are chasing the same euros.

What advice would you give to someone just starting their career in horticulture?

Try to gain as much experience as possible and seek out coaches and mentors. We are lucky to have many knowledgeable and supportive people in horticulture. If you are looking for easy or quick money, try another career. 

Don’t forget that horticulture can play an important role in saving humanity. The planet will recover with or without us. You have an opportunity to do something important, create life and beauty, blend art and nature, food families and leave a legacy. Money will follow if you do it well and do it for the right reasons. 

What are your hopes for the future of Irish horticulture?

I am an eternal optimist, so I expect great things. These days I get to do a lot of work with the hard-working members of ALCI. I also get to work on numerous boards developing large gardens. They are a joy. Adjudicating with Tidy Towns and Pride of Place, I see incredible community effort. I also get to work/consult with a plethora of other individuals and organisations. And recently I went back to mentoring and coaching. I meet inspirational can-do people everywhere and this fuels my enthusiasm. The future is bright, if only the rain would stop!


Small Talk is produced in association with Tully Nurseries, one of Ireland’s wholesale nurseries supplying landscape contractors, garden centres, DIYs and supermarkets in Ireland and the UK. For more visit


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