Conference rebuts criticism of attention on youngsters

Established garden designers are unjustifiably upset that so much attention is being given to young people in horticulture, said delegates at the YoungHort conference at RHS Wisley (7 March).

Coblands retail sales manager Lewis Normand said he received a direct message on business website LinkedIn from a garden designer who said there is too much emphasis on the young by the RHS. The designer complained that he had won two silver gilts at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show but cannot get into Chelsea.

The RHS has promoted Chelsea by stating: "The bright young stars of horticulture will be taking centre stage at the show." These include young designers such as the Rich brothers, Matthew Childs and Hugo Bugg.

But Chelsea show manager Saul Walker said: "There's a range of ages at Chelsea - a good mix. There's a few new guys doing their first Chelsea and a lot of publicity around young ones this year. But then there's Cleve West, Charlotte Rowe, Jo Thompson and even Matthew Childs has done Hampton Court successfully and moved up to Chelsea so there's probably only one or two who are brand new."

Normand, who would not name the designer, said the views are "small-minded" and show "resentment". He added: "The young guys at YoungHort doing it for themselves should be applauded. I agree with the RHS backing YoungHort. They can support everyone but probably not support them effectively."

He said several top names are not designing at Chelsea 2014 "because they don't think they're going to win". It is important that fresh design gets a showcase, he added.

YoungHort co-founder Jamie Butterworth said: "You can't spend too much time promoting YoungHort. There's a 10-20-year skills gap that needs to be plugged. It's great to see new ideas at Chelsea - you need them coming through the ranks.

TV ethnobotanist James Wong said: "I've heard plenty of people say what about 'old hort', but that's just 'hort' to me. If you're 30 then there's no problem working in horticulture. It is the most equal-opportunity industry I know for age, sex and ethnicity, but for younger people it's genuinely hard to get in and they need guidance."

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