Can we inspire a new generation of gardeners?

New research that shows one in three people under the age of 20 in the UK never do any gardening proves horticulture still needs to be pushed to the younger generations.

It does seem that the majority of professional gardeners, including myself, are career-changers who have seen the horticulture sector as an attractive employer as they get older.

pexels-photo-296230One key issue is that gardening is rarely taught in school or promoted as something you can do as a profession. It is seen as a hobby, or a past-time, something to tinker at while at home rather than build a successful career in.

It is rarer for young people to have a huge passion for horticulture and you can see why it is definitely harder for gardening to get a look in among a younger generation more tempted by the immediacy of video games, the internet and social media.

New research from GfK shows that a quarter of the 23,000 people surveyed online globally do no gardening at all, however that figure is markedly higher among the younger generation.

The results show that 35 per cent of 15-19yr olds in the UK never garden, with the same figure saying they do gardening less than once a month. Some 22 per cent said they did gardening at least once a month, with only 7 per cent working in the garden at least once a week.

The figure for those aged between 20-29 show that one in four never do any gardening, while 30 per cent partake less than once a month. Just under a quarter said at least once a month, with 17 per cent saying they gardened once a week.

According to the research, those aged 60 years-plus are the most prevalent gardeners; however those in the 30-39 and 40-49 age brackets also showed a healthy propensity to gardening.

Of the 30-39 years some 8 per cent gardened every day or most days, while 22 per cent said they did gardening at least once a week. The figure for the 40-49 bracket showed, while only 2 per cent said every day or most days, one in four respondents gardened once a week.

Organisations like the RHS, National Trust and Kew Gardens have launched initiatives to promote horticulture as a career to young people. The RHS has a young designer competition, the Young Horticulturalist of the Year competition continues to grow year-on-year, and apprenticeships are being increasingly pushed as ways to get eager new young blood into the profession. These initiatives are on top of those dedicated to trying to get children interested in gardening, in the hope that getting them hooked on the hobby at a young age will see them be green-fingered for life.

dsc_0218.jpgHowever, the problem is that horticulture is far-too-often seen as boring and low-paying by young people, so it is dismissed when they are thinking about their career plans. But the scope for careers, development and progression is so wide-ranging that is seems crazy to class all horticulture under one bracket. It does make you wonder how often horticulture is mentioned by career guidance staff within secondary schools, and to what extent it is pushed as a viable trade going forward.

What is key is that younger people of all ages need to get out there and garden in order to truly understand the satisfaction and benefits that it can bring, both physically and mentally. The joys of growing your own food, working with plants and attracting wildlife to a garden is something that needs to be experienced. Whether they take that forward into a career isn’t really important, it is more that they reap the benefits that gardening offers. Only by them getting hands-on will we find those who want to be the next generations to look after our important historic gardens, or those who will bring the future trends to develop gardening across the UK.

I will admit it took me a long while to develop a love of gardening. As a child we didn’t visit gardens and I don’t remember myself or my older sisters showing much interest, and admittedly we probably would’ve complained at the prospect of spending the day at a garden. I didn’t really get involved much at home, I helped out mowing the lawn but it was only a postage stamp garden that could be completed quickly. It took me until my late 20s/early 30s and when I had a garden of my own to really start to get my hands dirty and develop the love, and it has changed me massively for the better. Looking back I wish I had seen horticulture as an exciting hobby and also a career option back when I was at school, but I just wanted to play football or play video games.

I understand the issue that there remains a group of inner city young people who just don’t have the access to gardens. That is where schools really need to play a part to promote horticulture and give them a chance to be hands-on or plant and grow something, even down to the smallest sensory experiences that can help the students in terms of their scientific learning and also open their eyes to the benefits of gardening. Horticulture needs to have a place in a child’s learning as it can offer such transformative benefits to the health and well-being of a person.

Whether as a hobby or a career horticulture needs an image change. Successful work has been done in recent years to transform the image of the sector and it has transformed hugely for the better, but there remains work to be done.  The younger generation need pushing to get away from their screens and the internet and get out there growing, planting and benefiting. There is a new generation in their 20s pushing horticulture on social media and that will be hitting the teenage market in the way Monty Don or Alan Titchmarsh probably struggle, while it is really good to see so many leading institutions trying to get the UK’s young children to enjoy gardening.

As a gardener I will strive to play any part I can in helping push horticulture to future generations. So far I helped plant trees with inner-city schoolkids in Birmingham and that was a rewarding, if tiring, experience to be honest. And I assisted at Hanbury Hall as young visitors were encouraged to help us plant runner beans. If one of those children were inspired to go home and help their parents in their garden after planting whips or beans with me, then I think that is a win.

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