To call gardening unskilled is ignorant

Full marks to the Institute of Horticulture for swiftly taking up the government's apparent ranking of gardening as an unskilled activity in its plans to tackle long term unemployment by introducing compulsory work placements.

The careless phraseology that has seemingly lumped gardening together with "litter picking" as an example of the community work suitable for people without relevant skills - and then been repeated countless times across the UK national media - will have done little to aid this industry's efforts to attract new blood to its ranks.

As Chris Beardshaw, the figurehead of cross-industry careers initiative Grow, has pointed out many times, his own early interest in horticulture was nearly destroyed by school careers advisers who failed to grasp the potential of horticulture to offer highly skilled, demanding and challenging careers. It would have been such a loss to the sector if Beardshaw, now a great advocate for horticultural industries, had paid attention to any of them.

The great irony of the implied ignorance of the skills required to succeed within our sector is, as the institute's president Sue Minter points out in her letter to prime minister David Cameron, that without those skills, many core Government objectives simply could not be achieved - food security, climate change mitigation, crime reduction and lower obesity rates, to name but a few.

The same apparent ignorance lay behind suggestions earlier this year from the then incoming head of the "think tank" IDeA, that the National Trust, with its army of volunteers, could be a good model for the future provision of parks services in austerity-hit Britain. While the trust's volunteers are, rightly, immensely valued, without the trust's professionally trained gardeners to provide mentorship, training and leadership, where would they be?

The industry too is not entirely blameless, as Beardshaw noted at the launch of the Grow initiative when he said it has not always been very good at celebrating what it does, even when it does it well. "We are fantastically modest. But I don't see any other industry sitting back and expecting the public to understand it." It is time we lost some of that modesty.


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