January 1, 2019
Michael Pascoe
Michael Pascoe

Building on passion

Michael Pascoe is dedicated to nurturing budding talent as Professor and Academic Program Coordinator for the Horticulture Technician and Apprenticeship Horticulture Programs at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.


Do students coming into horticulture grasp how much opportunity there is?

No, they don’t. They enter because they got a start at a landscape company or have a passion for growing plants. During their first year, they are overwhelmed. But I see them get an epiphany at their second Congress. They build a garden, meet people, get treated as professionals — that is when they understand the scope of opportunity.

Do you see students recruiting others into horticulture?

Yes, I have taught a father, son and daughter from the same family. I have seen cousins encourage each other, and a son of a Niagara Parks graduate entered my program. Word of mouth is powerful. 

Do you know employers that are doing mentoring right?

Absolutely, both small and big companies are doing it right. I can name several right away: Clintar London, TLC Landscaping, Hillen Nursery, and Gelderman Landscape’s internship program. These companies are letting young people explore opportunities within and see where they fit. At Hillen, one young man worked in all facets of the business and developed an interest in propagation. Now he is their propagator. At Clintar London, the entire top management team is Fanshawe grads; now looking at partnership opportunities.

It seems young people universally lack confidence. How can landscape professionals help boost their confidence?

Pros can really help build confidence if they take time to talk with young people, one-on-one. This is why I believe trade shows and field trips are so important; students are blown away by the passion and enthusiasm of pros. Years ago, I took my students to Hillen Nursery, and asked Ben Hillen, son of owner Peter Hillen, to please lead the tour. “No,” Ben said, “Dad will.” What happened was, Peter Hillen stepped back, and let Ben actually lead the tour without knowing it.

What strategy is most effective in motivating young people?

Fear. And sarcasm — sometimes students have to ask whether I am serious. I am tough, I have high expectations, I am fair, consistent, and I will help out to the end of the Earth. I find my passion for horticulture is contagious. Actually, teaching is entertainment. If students retain only a portion of the material presented, I find they can remember it better if they are entertained.

How can business owners help expand training opportunities?

Twenty years ago, we simply put a posting flyer on a job board and stood back. Now, with the number of openings, employers must recruit. Employers must sell their companies, their opportunities and themselves. Prospects are seeking out employers who are loyal, credible, professional and environmentally responsible.

Do you recruit students into your program? How do you find them?

Yes, I absolutely recruit. If an employer calls me about a promising prospect, I come to visit. Several years ago, I judged a high school skills competition at Canada Blooms. Afterwards, I went up to the two gold medallists and asked them, “What would it take for you to come to Fanshawe?” We got them both.

Who were your own mentors?

Tom Laviolette of the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture, my alma mater, impressed me with his passion for learning. Mac Cuddy, my second employer, was so supportive; he never said no to anything, ever — even after I left his employment. The third is actually a team, Tony DiGiovanni and Sally Harvey of Landscape Ontario. Tony helped me become a passionate member of the profession, and Sally is always there. My most important personal mentor was my late father. Growing up in England, he built my first greenhouse when I was six. I sold tomatoes and lettuce to teachers at school and at the farm gate. It was the foundation to my career.

At the beginning of a term, do you know which students will succeed?

I generally do. Most students are quiet during the first three weeks. Then you can put them in one of two groups: those that do well both academically and practically, and those that have academic challenges, but great practical skills. Since the first year is heavy on academics, we can help coach them through.
I am most proud of my students. Ben Hillen, Adam Tyman and so many others. Now, they are supporting the Fanshawe program without even being asked; we just got a tree donation. They know where their roots are.