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New Horticulture Studies for Climate Change

26 Mar 2013

Traditionally, the horticulture industry has always recognised the importance of climate in its vocational, educational programs.

An awareness of Australia's dry, hot conditions as well as its plentiful rainfall in diverse regions around the country has underpinned training courses in horticulture and conservation and land management.

Now, with increasing concern about global warming and climate change issues, education at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) has adapted its horticulture curriculum to acknowledge the reality of climate change.

In 2005-06, NMIT's Horticulture Department trialled a pilot program with a new competency subject called Design Towards a Sustainable Landscape as part of a new Certificate IV in Applied Design (Landscape) which addressed sustainability issues relating to water and energy strategies.

According to NMIT horticulture teacher Mike Hirst, it is the first course to address climate change and sustainability issues in its curriculum.

Mike added the course was developed by a horticulture industry and TAFE sector working group, on which he was a member, to ensure climate change was a factor in the course.

A new Diploma in Ornamental Horticulture, recently accredited by the Victorian Government, also explores horticulture from a climate change and sustainability perspective.

Subject competencies such as Maintain Sustainable Horticultural Practices and Identify and Select Plants have been designed to ensure horticulturalists have the knowledge and skills for global climatic conditions.

The introduction of new methods in sustainable work practices and plant selection will allow horticulturalists to remain competitive and plan ahead to ensure the long term viability of the highly significant horticultural assets Australia is renowned for.

'There is now a much greater emphasis and stronger focus on climate change and sustainability issues in all NMIT's horticulture programs with new programs being developed that include study about these issues,' Mike said.

'We are all acknowledging that climate change is happening and obviously, has an impact on what we teach and how we teach.'

With about 1200 students enrolled in diverse horticulture programs, NMIT's Horticulture Department runs a number of certificate and diploma courses that cover domestic residential gardening, parks and gardens in suburban areas, commercial landscapes and turf management.

Subject competencies that have been affected by climate change issues include plant selection studies where students learn to understand plant suitability for the environment.

'Studies are now focused on plants that are more efficient with water which might mean the use of more native flora, without dismissing some of the exotic plants which come from areas of similar climate such as South Africa, Mediterranean Europe and Asia Minor,' Mike said.

'Previously, where our focus was on the aesthetic, now, we have to give equal focus to the function in changing climate conditions.'

Mike added that the horticulture industry had always had 'a fashion focus', but this had to be tempered now by the reality of climate change.

'A good design strategy that incorporates the right selection of plants to deal with climate change is now critical.'

In studies of Conservation and Land Management, NMIT will also introduce a new Diploma of Sustainable Water Catchment and Management in mid 2007 that looks at water management with a climate change perspective.

It is a new diploma, recently accredited by the Victorian Government, and will be offered part-time to those already working in the industry with some experience.

Interview / Photo Opportunity

Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener, on 03 9269 1579, 0413 483 182 or

NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) – Situated on six campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne’s north plus a regional campus at Ararat, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce.  NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.