Inspirational garden industry figures told 100 delegates at last week’s Young Hort conference at RHS Wisley that horticulture is a world of opportunity for the ambitious.
Keynote speaker James Wong said the inaugural event was a tribute to the organisational skills of the Young Hort founders.
He added: "It’s a myth horticulture is a poorly paid, low skill, not particularly creative last option."
He dismissed the preconception horticulture is just about "making stuff look pretty" and "outdoor tidying up, sticking in trays of bedding".
TV star Wong said: "You are 21st century pioneers who can solve climate change, biodiversity and food problems."
He said horticulture would have 60,000 "incredibly diverse opportunities" in the next few years, with "only social media in China" having more vacancies.
Wong added that horticulture is a "meritocracy" with equal opportunities for all. He said the idea that a TV gardener needed to wear "19th century clothes, have a walled garden and a Labrador called Nigel" was false and "not like me".
Wong said he got his break by making 2,000 calls, which resulted in 10 TV executive meetings.
He added that he loves the RHS Chelsea Flower Show but it is a "bit samey" and middle aged and middle class, with too many aliums, and that he has broken the mould by winning five RHS medals.
TV gardener Christine Walkden said young horticultutrists were "not to be patronised". She wondered why computer students expect a reasonable salary but horticulturists charge £10 an hour.
She said: "That needs to change. How? By not doing it. Every time someone does it, it reinforces the culture that you can get away with it."
She said the industry must invest in people and learning, adding: "Make sure you become Olympians. I don't want to go to my grave thinking the industry is going to die."
Designer Paul Hervey-Brookes recommended drawing and not just using computers to create designs. He said students should look at garden design and landscape architecture together and said horticulturists were the happiest workers in industry.
Thompson & Morgan new product development manager Michael Perry said his job had taken him round the world planthunting, as well as onto TV.
T&M is now looking for "another me", he added.
See Horticulture Week magazine on 21st March for more reports.