Dixon on ... improving standards of craftmanship

An effective horticultural craftsmanship system has never taken root in Britain.

Our national obsession with universal academic education for all and suspicion of things continental are probably among the causes. Industry leaders baulking at "training youngsters for the benefit of the competition" has not helped either. Opportunities for youngsters gaining expertise by working alongside established master craftspeople are few.

The Historic & Botanic Gardens Bursary Scheme placement system does address this problem to some extent. Successful applicants are employed in collaborating gardens for 12 months and gain experience and knowledge through hands-on work. An impressive list of sponsors support this scheme. Many are, however, public-sector organisations. Spending cuts by the coalition Government will bite deeply into their support for secondary tiers of activity, no matter how laudable.

Britain enjoys a very rich and precious fabric of public and private heritage gardens. Their conservation and development demands craftsmanship of the highest order. Their customers are - in the widest sense - garden tourists, those flocking for rest, relaxation and well-being. Few of these would disagree that ways and means must be found that allow the continuation and expansion of craftsmanship training.

Maybe we need some subtle and clever changes to the taxation system that encourage participation from the larger tourism industry. It is, after all, one of Britain's biggest sources of income from domestic and international visitors.

Heaven forbid "Stourhead by courtesy of McDonald's", but it is imperative that imaginative sources of income are found to provide for new generations of craftsmen and women. We cannot place our garden heritage in jeopardy. Nor can we rely on the welcome generosity of the few, as typified by the bursary at Great Dixter celebrating Chris Lloyd's achievements as a garden craftsman.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene International.

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