Women in Horticulture: Melissa King

1. What drew you to horticulture originally?

I loved plants and gardening from a very young age. When I was around 8-10 years old Mum and Dad saw that I was interested in gardening, so they gave me a patch of land at the back of our property near the chook pen. I created my own rose garden, herb and vegie garden and flower meadow. I even built my own pond and wishing well. My parents used to take me to our local nursery every weekend to buy plants. That’s when I fell in love with gardening, but I think I realised that it was what I wanted to do for a career when, at 15, I was given the opportunity to do work experience through school. I did my work experience at Warran Glen Garden Centre in Warrandyte and enjoyed it so much that I went on to work there during holidays and on weekends for the next 7 years.

2. What pathway did you take to get there?

Straight after high school I did a degree in Horticulture at Burnley College in Richmond which is now part of the University of Melbourne. I was dux of my year. I continued working at the nursery through my degree.

3. What obstacles did you encounter along the way?

When I was in my final years at Uni I initially wanted to work in the area of heritage gardens. I was particularly interested in garden restoration. I loved the idea of digging up the bones of an old garden, researching its history and restoring it to its former glory using old photos, diaries, gardening catalogues and family history. But when it came time to finding a job there were no entry opportunities in that area. I felt sometimes like there was a bit of a disconnect between what we were studying and the potential to actually pursue those areas of study as a career. I also dreamed about getting into gardening television but didn’t know how to do it. I guess I wish I had had more career counseling. 

Horticultural Media is also an area where being young wasn’t always on my side. I’m obviously older now, but I can’t tell you how many times people doubted my ability because of my age or how I looked. I just always set out to prove them wrong.

4. Who were your mentors?

I have always loved acting and not many people know this but I studied acting (both private tuition and short courses) when I came out of Uni. I wanted to combine my love of acting and gardening and work in gardening television, but it’s not a job that is just advertised in the paper. So I decided that I was going to need to do some networking. I started by contacting my old boss Andrew Raper at Warran Glen. I asked him if he had any horticultural media contacts and he gave me a list. John Patrick was on top of the list and his offices were just around the corner from me. He was a very successful Landscape Architect, but also television presenter and book author and he had an affiliation with Burnley College, so I went to visit him. He was very generous with his time and gave me a list of editors of gardening magazines and contacts that I could follow through with, to start garden writing. He later gave me an opportunity to work on radio with him and got me the audition for Gardening Australia, so meeting John was definitely a turning point in my career. I will be forever grateful for the role he played in nurturing my career.

5. What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been working as a gardening and lifestyle television presenter now for 20 years and these days I’m a presenter on Channel 7’s Better Homes and Gardens, which is an incredible program with incredible people. 

It’s been an exciting journey. I started my career writing for gardening magazines and giving talks, then I was asked to co-host a radio show every weekend. My co-host John Patrick was a presenter on Gardening Australia on the ABC and he heard that they were looking to inject some youth into the show so he got me an audition. I got my start on Gardening Australia on the ABC, which was an amazing training ground. I’ve also worked on Channel 9’s ‘Garden Gurus’, ‘Gurus Explore’ (travel show), ‘What’s Good for You’ and ‘Battlefronts’, Channel 10’s ‘The Circle’, Channel 7’s ‘Melbourne Weekender’ and Foxtel’s ‘Garden Angels’. I’ve also been lucky to travel the world as a tour leader and through my work on TV. This year I got my first invite to the Logies which was really exciting.

I’m also the Ambassador for Northcote Pottery and Scott’s Osmocote which involves everything from social media posts and videos to plant styling at photoshoots.

6. What does an average day consist of for you?

I never have an average day and I think that’s what I love most about my job. Some days I’m out in a beautiful garden filming all day, other days I’m travelling, sourcing props or locations or working at my desk, writing articles or working on my ambassador roles with Northcote Pottery and Scotts Osmocote. I also have two boys aged 8 and 10 so I love that (on most days) my job gives me the flexibility to still be a mum and do school pick-ups, sport etc.

7. What is your favourite plant?

That’s like asking me to pick my favourite child. I have so many of them! But I particularly love sunflowers because they always make me smile and peonies because they are such beautiful, elegant flowers. The peony was my wedding flower.

8. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’ve always dreamed of being on a show like Better Homes and Gardens, so I really hope that it continues to grow and that I can increase my presence on the show. I’ve also spent years trying to establish Ambassador roles with trusted brands so I want to continue nurturing those relationships. I would also like to work with a company to establish my own brand. One day I also hope to explore my acting further – even if it’s just in amateur shows.

9. What are your 3 most worthwhile tips that you can give to women who are starting out in the horticulture industry?

– If you run into brick walls find ways to create opportunities and open doors for yourself.

– Once you find out what it is that you want to do, be sure to network and tell people about it. You’ll be surprised how many doors will open for you.

– If you’re having trouble with anything at work, lean on each other for support. In an industry like this you’re not alone.

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