Spotlight on careers at Southern Woods Nursery

20 Dec 2021

Southern Woods is one of the South Island’s largest and most progressive nurseries, producing a wide range of plants for projects large and small. It currently produces millions of trees for shelter, forestry, tree crops, native revegetation, fuelwood, fodder, hedging and specimen trees. Its ever-expanding 7.5ha site has a purpose-built plant centre and extensive display gardens for both staff and customers.

Southern Woods’ vision is to inspire generations to regenerate New Zealand through innovation, education and propagation. This vision starts with providing an inspiring place to work.

We hear from three Southern Woods staff members about their experiences of working within the nursery.

Working for future generations

Lydia O’Dowd has been crop care supervisor at Southern Woods for 9 months. She joined the nursery after four years in the horticulture industry. Lydia and her team are responsible for the trimming, fertilising, pruning, watering and hardening off crops to be ready by their dispatch date. They also keep an eye out for pests and diseases and any required structural improvements.

Lydia says she was attracting to plant production because New Zealand has such a diverse natural environment and she loves working outdoors.

“I think it’s important to learn about our environment and be able to maintain it for future generations. In my position, I’m able to trial natural alternatives to work towards reducing our collective environmental impact, especially in relation to agrichemical use. Plants are known to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, reduce stress in individuals and contribute to a better quality of life, which I think is pretty darn awesome.”

When Lydia first joined Southern Woods she says her biggest surprise about her new role was the sheer number of different varieties grown in the nursery – 500 in total. The work involved in producing millions of plants of these 500 varieties each year means that the Southern Woods staff are close and highly supportive of each other.

Lydia says of her team: “We’ve all become great friends and catch up outside of work too. We encourage each other to share new ideas and to complete work we’re proud of.”

She says a job in horticulture is perfect for anyone who has an interest in plants and the environment, is keen to learn and has new ideas to contribute.

“Also, someone who doesn’t shy away from adverse weather conditions!”.

Leading a team

Bridget James is a production supervisor at Southern Woods Plant Nursery. She started working part-time at the nursery while studying for a Diploma in Horticulture at Lincoln University. The part-time role then turned into a full-time nursery assistant role in the production team. She’s now been with Southern Woods for 3.5 years and has been in the supervisor role for almost a year.  

Bridget begins each week by creating a plan with her production manager for the plants her team will be potting up. In between the potting and bagging up,  the team also undertakes a lot of crop care such as weeding, tidying and helps out in other production areas as required.

“It's nice to mix up the days and get involved in other areas so we can expand our plant knowledge.” 

Bridget says she has always been interested in the horticulture industry and what it has to offer. When she was studying she discovered pretty quickly that she wanted to work in a nursery in a plant production planning role.

“I’m always learning something new every day, it's a very diverse job which keeps it interesting. I’ve loved working with so many different plants and being in charge of a great team who work alongside me. “

She would recommend her job to someone who’s an outgoing, hard-working, confident person who has a passion for the horticulture industry and is a great team leader.  

“ Advice I’d give is don’t ever feel you’re not good enough for a job, if you work hard enough for what you want, you can get it.”

Bridget is proud to be working within a key primary industry that benefits the economy and the environmental.

“Seeing plants in local areas e.g. suburbs, motorway planting, parks, riparian plantings is an awesome feeling knowing you’ve done something great for the environment. I feel pretty lucky to be a part of such a cool work industry.”

Growing up in a (plant) nursery

Haylee Gillian works in Southern Woods’ nursery dispatch and logistics area. Her mother has worked for Southern Woods for 16 years and so, since she was seven years’ old, Hayley came to the nursery during the school holidays and helped out. She left school early to work fulltime in nursery production and recently moved into her dispatch role.

Haylee now spends her mornings completing the collections then gathers the plants to pack for freighting out in the afternoon and then goes back onto collections for the following day.

She says Southern Woods is a great business to work for as staff are always willing to help, teach her new skills and share their knowledge.  She enjoys working in the dispatch team as everyone gets on well and has a shared background with plants through their parents.

“This job would be great for anyone who likes the outdoors and hands-on work and enjoys working as a team.”

Haylee is very proud of the fact that Southern Woods supplies millions of native and exotic plants each year for revegetation projects, which positively contribute to the New Zealand environment and ultimately, to the planet.




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