Kew Diploma in Horticulture

Study for the world’s foremost qualification in botanical horticulture.

Horticulturalists working at Kew


3 years

Allocated space

Up to 12 students

About the course 

The Kew Diploma offers broad-based training in amenity and botanical horticulture, and is suited to dedicated professional horticulturists with a determination to succeed.

The curriculum provides a unique combination of practical and theoretical study, providing the opportunity to study top-level scientific and technical subjects, whilst gaining practical experience and responsibility working with one of the most comprehensive botanic collections in the world. 

As employees of Kew, Diploma students receive payment for the duration of the three-year course (including lecture block trimesters) and there are no course fees.

As an independent qualification, the Kew Diploma in Horticulture is self-accredited by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It is viewed as a higher education qualification and many universities accept an Honours grade in lieu of a bachelors degree (QCF level 6).

Course objectives 

The Kew Diploma aims to instruct and develop craft level horticultural professionals for technical and managerial positions. To achieve this, instruction ensures there is a broad foundation of technical training and practical experience augmented with teaching and research by students so they are able to; plan and develop courses of action, solve complex horticultural problems or make recommendations for substantial change to horticultural systems or businesses.

Graduates would be expected to act with responsibility and autonomy, taking into account different perspectives and approaches that are current in the industry, and be innovative in moving the horticultural industry forward. In particular, the course seeks to:

  • provide an integrated theoretical and practical curriculum, based on all the horticultural operations of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • encourage student-centred learning so that all students have an opportunity to pursue study of their own interest
  • demonstrate practical applications of theoretical principles, referring throughout to current and future needs of the horticultural industry
  • teach the highest standards of professional practice to all students

The School of Horticulture at Kew has been described on many occasions as a 'centre of excellence' and as such is at the very heart of world-wide horticultural and botanical education. As a result, close links are maintained with many institutions around the globe helping to ensure Kew Diploma students are at the forefront of academic and practical botanical education

Sean James Cameron of The Horticultural Channel visited Kew Gardens and spoke with some of the younger Kew Diploma students about their allotment project, what attracted them into horticulture and on to the Kew Diploma, along with discussing their allotment plots.  These plots are open to the public.

Course content  

Main elements 

The Kew Diploma is taught by internal specialists, external practitioners and professional lecturers. The three-year course has three main elements:

  1. three lecture block trimesters
  2. practical work experience
  3. project work

The lecture block trimester is a formal academic element of the course and there is one lecture block in each of the three years of the course. Outside of the lecture block trimesters, practical work experience is gained as assessed three-month practical work placements in the Horticulture Department at Kew. Students are assessed while in work placements and must also continue to complete and submit projects and assignments and sit regular plant identification tests. 

The comprehensive plant identification tests are an essential part of the course are organised fortnightly through the year, building a knowledge of plants from the collections.

In addition, every first year student is allocated a vegetable plot which they must maintain for one season. The plots are assessed every month on a variety of criteria including range of crops, crop protection, tidiness and overall health of the crops.

Lecture block trimesters

Lectures are delivered by a balance of internal Kew experts, professional teaching staff from colleges and universities and external industry professionals. Each of the lecture block trimesters consists of a three-month period.

The foundation trimester in the first year is a science subject block covering structural anatomy, systematic botany, plant physiology, environmental controls, soil science and landscape studies. An introduction to computer studies is also given.

The second year trimester covers ecology, conservation studies, genetics, landscape studies and an amenity/landscape provision. The final year trimester consists of landscape studies, horticultural management and pathology.

The final week of each lecture trimester is concluded with a series of examinations; these are generally essay style and last from 1.5 to 3 hours.

Practical work experience

The nine months each year spent out in the Gardens is organised into a rotational work scheme where students spend on average three months in each location.

There are two sections at Kew where students undertake practical work:

  • Arboretum, Gardens and Horticulture Services.
  • Glasshouses, Nurseries and Display Horticulture.

Students will spend six month blocks in each section, moving units within that section. After each lecture block they will swap sections.

Students can work in any of these during their year there. Work placements are organised for the students to give as broad a base of practical knowledge as possible, but requests to work in a particular unit are considered.

Project work

Project work links the lecture block trimesters. The projects enable in-depth research to take place into areas of individual student choice. The material is presented in written form with the opportunity for verbal presentation in seminar sessions. The subjects are normally based at Kew, but allow for comparisons to be made with other organisations.

Projects are written either during the lecture block or following it, and are usually between 2,000 and 5,000 words in length. Projects are usually tackled as individual endeavours but some are done as groups. 

Topics for projects are selected from the following general areas:

First year

  • soils
  • plant propagation
  • systematic botany

Second year

  • crop protection
  • surveying
  • ecology
  • conservation studies
  • landscape detailing

Final year

  • practical management
  • a major dissertation


In the third year of the Kew Diploma students are required to undertake a dissertation of 10,000–12,000 words on a horticultural subject of their choice (subject to approval).

Recent projects have included a wide range of topics including:

  • Further education in horticulture, is a standardised qualification the way forward?
  • A review of chlorophyll fluorescence as a stress detection technique for assessing tree health at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Vertical gardening – why the future of horticulture is looking up.

Course assessment

The Kew Diploma Course is assessed by:

  • written examinations
  • coursework assignments
  • landscape plans and construction drawings
  • research projects
  • verbal presentations
  • practical appraisals

All assessments are moderated by external examiners; students have to gain sufficient credits and convince a panel of external assessors that they have successfully completed the course. Successful students are awarded the Kew Diploma at pass, credit or honours level. 

Holders of the Kew Diploma may place 'Dip.Hort. (Kew)' after their name and receive a Transcript of Practical Training. This is a bespoke programme managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Application process 

Each year, up to 15 students are selected via competitive interview to join one of the most rigorous and stretching educational programmes of any botanic garden. 

The Kew Diploma is suited to dedicated professional horticulturists determined to succeed. They should be able to express themselves clearly and be willing to accept increasing responsibility preparing themselves for managerial positions.

Kew Diploma Students are employees and receive payment throughout the three-year course, including during the lecture block trimesters at £19,582 per annum, plus a £725 book and equipment allowance. Limited opportunities exist to care for the collections at weekends and these receive additional payment. This means our students should not have to take out a loan, and do not have to pay tuition fees.

Minimum entry requirements 

  • very good standard of general education 5 GCSEs including English, Mathematics and a Science and 2 GCSE ‘A’ levels preferably in science subjects (or equivalent)
  • a full vocational qualification in horticulture at QCF level 2 (or equivalent)
  • horticultural employment, equivalent to two years full time horticultural work experience in a recognised horticultural establishment prior to the start date for the course.
  • for applicants whose first language is not English we require internationally recognised evidence that you have obtained proficiency in reading, writing, listening and spoken English, for example the IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
  • you must be eligible to work in the United Kingdom

Kew welcomes international students, as we firmly believe in this ethos. However Kew is unable to sponsor applicants to work in the United Kingdom for the Kew Diploma in Horticulture.

It is the applicant's responsibility to ensure eligibility to work in the United Kingdom for the duration of the appointment (for the latest regulations visit the website of the United Kingdom Home Office). All successful applicants called to interview will be required to provide documentary evidence of their right to work in the United Kingdom at interview.

Candidates with lower general education qualifications but with higher horticultural qualifications or more practical experience are encouraged to apply. The Kew Diploma is an independent non-accredited qualification backed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Application deadline and start dates 

Online applications should be received by 31 January in the year of admission (e.g. 31 January 2018 for September 2018 start).

Interviews are scheduled from February through to April, and successful applicants will begin the Kew Diploma in the September of the same year.


This is a three-year fixed term appointment (employment). Kew Diploma students receive 30 days annual leave which they are required to take outside of the lecture block trimesters. Students are not permitted to leave the course early to take up employment before graduation. 

A horticulturist waters plants in the Temperate House

School of Horticulture

Study for one of our world-renowned qualifications.