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Certificate courses that will change the way you grow and identify plants

Volume 7 Number 1 - April 2010

Leigh Morris

French: Des diplômes qui vont changer la façon de faire pousser et d’identifier les plantes

Spanish: Cursos certificados que cambiaran la manera en que las plantas se identifican y crecen

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), Scotland, has successfully developed two new training courses in field botany and horticulture.  Leigh Morris describes how these popular courses have been developed and his plans for their future.

When I first arrived at the RBGE in September 2004, I was impressed by the quality of practical training delivered, both to learners in Edinburgh and within capacity building projects abroad. I was surprised, however, that there were no formal certificated programmes, no firm guidelines for delivery, staff often had to develop new bespoke programmes and there was minimal link-up between the Education Department and the botanists/horticulturists who carried out much of the training. There was, I believed, a need for RBGE to offer more structured practical training. We looked at other courses already in existence to see if they would suit our needs, but found that they were generally theory based, with a relatively small practical element. There was clearly a gap, so in early 2006 I started to plan the development of our own practical-based programmes. The aim was to create standardized yet flexible qualifications in practical field botany and horticulture, that would allow trainees to acquire the key basic practical skills and at the same time attain internationally recognized certificates. The courses also needed to be flexible so they could be tailored to any country or situation.

In December 2006 I had the opportunity to go to Oman, with a colleague from RBGE, Peter Brownless, to deliver training to staff of the developing Oman Botanic Garden. This was a great chance to formalize our training in propagation, mixing media and potting. For each topic we produced a short, image-based PowerPoint presentation covering the key points, carried out demonstrations and then supported the learners while they practised the skills. This model was extremely well received by the Omanis and spurred me on.

The next significant stage in development occurred at the Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanik Bahçesi (NGBB) in Istanbul. I had previously met the Director of NGBB, Professor Adil Güner, in Edinburgh and told him about the practical course we were creating. He believed this was ‘just what NGBB needed’ and invited me to Istanbul to develop the course for them as part of our joint Darwin Initiative Project. I spent a week in Istanbul in February 2007 and wrote the first formal syllabus for the RBGE Certificate in Practical Horticulture (CPH). Two RBGE staff members then visited Istanbul in 2008 to deliver the CPH to a group of staff as an intensive two-week course. In turn, the NGBB staff then delivered the CPH to adult learners over a longer period in 2009 (i.e. one day per week). In May I returned to observe and verify the Turkish students doing their practical exam at the garden. This was very successful and the standard of assessment was equivalent to that at RBGE. NGBB is now offering this certificate annually and RBGE continues to carry out verification of both training and assessment.

The CPH has subsequently been successfully delivered in Edinburgh to a group of Yemenis from new botanic gardens in Ta’izz and on Socotra. A group of 16 staff at the Oman Botanic garden are now halfway through the programme, delivered by myself and RBGE horticulturists in Oman. The course has also been provided for staff of the Lijiang Botanic Garden in China and, closer to home, to the horticultural team at Edinburgh Zoo. The Education Department at RBGE are now also delivering the CPH twice during the academic year to adult learners at weekends and there is a long waiting list for places.

We have established a close link with the Eden Project in Cornwall, who saw the new certificated course as an opportunity to involve their horticultural team in training the public. To facilitate this Greg Kenicer and I went to Cornwall in March 2008 to assist with the first two days of the course. Mark Paterson, who is CPH coordinator for the delivery at Eden, regards it as a huge success and they, like NGBB, are planning to widen their programme of recipients. We are delighted to be working with Eden and the latest version of the CPH syllabus was produced by us jointly at a workshop in Edinburgh.

The basic structure of the Certificate in Practical Field Botany (CPFB) was scribbled down in my notebook while travelling in the back of a 4 x 4 on a botanical field trip, en route from Sa’na to Ta’izz in Yemen. It was then developed as a companion qualification to the CPH and has been extremely well received. Presently the CPFB is used to train our own staff, BSc and MSc students; it is being offered by RBGE as a block course, with locations including the Kindrogan Field Studies Centre and the Isle of Eigg. We also took CPFB students to Belize in January 2009 and in 2010 to do the course in a tropical setting. Further, RBGE taxonomists delivered the programme in Iraq last year and a course for Oman Botanic Garden staff is planned for 2010–11.

The structures of the CPH and CPFB are similar in terms of their syllabus, delivery and assessment. Each consists of eight mandatory modules and their descriptors list the learning objectives, key knowledge, practical activities, resources required, plus assessment guidelines. Each module is designed to be delivered in one day and each certificate can be delivered in a series of days or as a two-week block course. The format for each day starts with an interactive, highly visual presentation (minimal text so easily translated), followed by practical activities – students doing stuff! These courses are designed to deliver the fundamental, practical, ‘key skills’ a field botanist or horticulturist requires, but also award  certificates, which reward and quantify success. We believe one of the main strengths of the two certificates is their simplicity. Flexibility is key and presentations and lesson plans are designed so that the plants and specific practices of the relevant country can be incorporated. The model shows that educationalists can play a vital part in facilitating botanists and horticulturists in their delivery of training by providing standardized, yet adaptable, teaching frameworks, presentations and support materials.

The plan now is to develop the two courses further. Student handbooks will be produced, as will improved materials to support the trainers, such as resource lists, lesson plans and skills checklists. We have looked at practical training in other vocations and the model used by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors to teach scuba diving around the world is an excellent example to learn from. We are currently in the process of appointing a coordinator for the programmes and they will lead on these developments. The model of RBGE acting as facilitators and verifiers for the CPH, enabling other gardens to deliver it, is working extremely well at both NGBB and the Eden Project and we believe could work just as well in other botanic gardens around the world. I am going to Laos in April 2010 to commence delivery of the CPH at Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden. BGCI has recently endorsed the RBGE certificates and the joint vision is to expand delivery and offer ‘train the trainer’ workshops within different regions. We are looking at creating an accreditation process for instructors and assessors and hoping that the two certificates will become benchmarks of practical training within the wider botanic garden community.



Le Jardin Botanique Royal d’Edinburgh est réputé pour son aptitude à gérer des projets de grande envergure au Royaume-Uni et dans le monde. Durant les 3 dernières années, la formation est devenue formelle et nous offrons désormais des cours avec obtention de diplômes structurés mais flexibles dans le domaine de la botanique et de l’horticulture. Ces cours se concentrent sur le coté pratique et bien organisés avec des présentations illustrées qui peuvent être facilement traduites dans n’importe quelle langue. À ce jour, ces cours ont été fournis par le RBGE et le Eden Project au Royaume-Uni. Ils  ont aussi connu un grand succès auprès des employés des jardins botaniques en Chine, en Iraq, à Oman, en Turquie et au Yémen. Cet article passe en revue le développement de deux programmes et souligne leur avenir. Il contient une documentation d’enseignement et d’apprentissage revue et améliorée, en accord avec les programmes de formation professionnelle. Grâce à une collaboration avec BGCI, le RBGE prévoit un certain nombre de programmes « formation des formateurs » qui susciterait un engouement plus répandu pour de ces cours.



Con una larga historia el Jardín Botánico Real de Edimburgo (RBGE) genera una alta calidad de proyectos de capacitación en el Reino Unido y fuera de éste. Durante los últimos tres años se han formalizado y ofrecen en la actualidad una serie de cursos flexibles con certificados. Estos son ampliamente prácticos y tiene como apoyo presentaciones profesionalmente muy bien ilustradas que pueden traducirse a diferentes idiomas. A la fecha estos cursos han sido impartidos en el Reino Unido en el mismo RBGE y en el Proyecto Edén.  Por otro lado miembros del personal del Jardín han impartido estos cursos en China, Irak, Omán, Turquía y Yemen.  En este articulo se reseña el desarrollo de dos de esos programas y se da un resumen de la visión de los mismos al futuro, los programas incluyen materiales nuevos y mejorados para el apoyo y aprendizaje tanto para los tutores como para las personas que estarán aprendiendo a la par con otros programas vocacionales. A través de la colaboración con la BGCI, el RBGE ha formulado un numero de programas ‘entrenamiento para entrenadores’ el que facilitará mas ampliamente el interés a estos cursos.


For more information of both the certificates (and pdf files of both course handbooks), please refer to the RBGE web site:

Leigh Morris

Head of Education

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

20A Inverleith Rd