Carl Spackler was a hero.

He was a groundkeeper at Bushwood Country Club and was portrayed by Bill Murray in "Caddyshack." I’ll never forget his memorable lines when he paraphrased the Dalai Lama. I doubt he got them right, but they changed my life. I started working on a golf course.

I really wasn’t a golfer but I liked being on a golf course when the irrigation cycle finished as the sun was rising; I liked the smell of fresh-cut grass. That was in high school. After that, I went to college because, to be honest, that’s what I was supposed to do. After a year of classes, the college people said I needed to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I was still at the golf course. So I became a turf guy.

I think that’s how many of us choose careers. We stumble into it or just keep doing what we’re doing. Funny thing about turf, though. I loved it. And with all due respect to Carl Spackler, the career was nothing like him. Golf course superintendents, by and large, are professionals. Their skill set is more managerial than blowing up gophers. And even though nobody in my family had ever gardened anything more than a tomato plant, I was becoming a grower.

For the next 10 years, I was in the multimillion dollar industry of turfgrass science. But when I moved to the Lowcountry, I veered slightly off course. I went from turf specialist to horticulturist.

The horticulture industry is, in a general sense, about plants. It’s so diverse, though, that you can’t know it all. It ranges from turf to ornamentals to edible crops. In the horticulture program at Trident Technical College, we teach everything, including propagation, irrigation, design and construction as well as identifying more than 400 plants.

People come to us for a variety of reasons. Either they don’t like their current job, or they’ve always liked to garden, or they’re 19 years old and don’t know what else to do. All legit reasons. Many of them are exploring how to turn a passion into a career.

Their options include golf courses, plant nurseries, both wholesale and retail, farming, outdoor lighting, paving, irrigation, pesticide applications, aquatic management, design, greenhouse management and lawn maintenance, just to name a few. But what about folks who love plants but not digging holes or sweating through multiple shirts in July? There’s the field of plant-related communication. These are the writers, the speakers and educators of the horticulture industry.

I’m still in a career that is directly related to my college major. That is, I think, a rarity. However, I stumbled into writing. Oddly enough, I wasn’t much of a writer early on. In fact, I was still struggling with the English language in graduate school. My major adviser poured tubs of red ink on drafts of my thesis. I was just too stubborn and naive to give up.

I teach for a living now, but writing is a major part of what I do. My high school teachers, I’m certain, would not believe any of this. I would say stranger things have happened than me writing coherently or speaking in front of a classroom, but not many.

One of the great joys I get from education and writing is that I continue being a student. There are endless avenues in the horticulture industry, from green roofs to rainwater harvesting to aeroponic farming that continue to fascinate me. And I get to write about them. 

So if you want to explore horticulture, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is hosting the Association of Garden Communicators' annual CareerNext event on March 2. This is a full day of talks from industry professionals that cover a wide range of topics.

This is an opportunity to network as well as discover new paths in the world of horticulture. And you can hear more about how I ended up here. For more information, go to www.magnoliaplantation.com/whatsnew.html.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at tony.bertauski@tridenttech.edu.

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