Award-winning tree grower Eliot Barden on peat, biosecurity and horticulture careers

Eliot Barden and Matthew Appleby

Eliot Barden headed a field of 15 to win AIPH young international grower of the year at IPM Essen in January.

But at the start of his career, which began at the age of 15 with an RHS evening class, some teachers were not encouraging about his prospects, a not uncommon experience for many in the sector, and one which informed his current role as aftercare, apprenticeship and training manager for mature tree supplier Majestic Trees.

"Not everybody is cut out for an office job. I think people that show interest in [the outside world and the environment] need to be encouraged into it and I think that's through careers advisors, teachers developing people, maybe even including horticulture on the curriculum."

He calls for more Government support for apprenticeships and support sector training and recruitment.

Eliot is frank about the impact of the forthcoming peat ban for which horticulture has suffered a lack of support and "joined up thinking":

"At Majestic we've done regular [peat-free growing] trials for the past 10 years now...and we still don't have answers" adding "we're certainly going to have to reduce the number of plant species we can grow". There are also particular challenges affecting tree-growing and transport that he outlines.

Majestic Trees has had its own, widely-publicised issues with biosecurity and Defra's handling of it, and Eliot gives his take on the situation:

"There's no two ways about it, the nursery trade does spread the diseases, but at the same time we've got to be really pragmatic about the threat, the diseases that are being transmitted, and how they're dealt with".

Not all nurseries are equal in how they source, inspect and treat diseases and and "some form of accreditation" should be given "to the good guys" and irresponsible nurseries "stopped somehow", he argues. Plant Healthy is "a step in the right direction" but is paper-work heavy and "could do with some reevaluation".

Presenter: HortWeek editor Matthew Appleby
Producer: HortWeek digital content manager Christina Taylor

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