Opinion... Image update for horticulturists

Parks provide rest, relaxation and renewal. Increasing density of population in our urban areas makes these attributes ever more valuable.

These virtues were recognised by politicians in 1833 when a parliamentary select committee identified that "public walks" were "conducive for health, comfort and contentment in the humble classes".

Contentment was especially important for those politicians. Revolution griped Europe and Great Britain was riven with the politics of reform, aimed at widening the voting franchise. The Great Reform Act resulted in an influx of new MPs from emerging industrial towns. They understood the need for providing green space where factory workers and their families could gain relief from the daily grind.

Of course, the key question was, and still is, who pays? The perception was that donations and subscriptions should fund these assets. Public, tax-based funding emerged slowly and only grudgingly. Cynics might say not much has changed.

Maybe, however, drivers of change are emerging. Society is recognising that a raft of problems can be mitigated, not cured, by providing effective green space. City pollution diminishes in the proximity of trees and shrubs that filter out toxic airborne particles. There is a lower likelihood that children and young adults will develop psychological problems. Businesses and tourists are attracted into areas that are attractively planted. Crucially, plants and their cultivation have an essential role in reducing the rate of global warming.

What must change are attitudes towards those who provide and cultivate green space. Acceptance is required throughout society that designing, planting and cultivating landscapes are professional occupations. Increasing the social and financial valuation of the knowledge, expertise and skills required by horticulturists and gardeners is vital.

Great Britain is famous for the quality of its gardens and some of our parks. We lag way behind in valuing those implementing and cultivating them. That must change because the bright, enthusiastic young people needed will only take up these professions when they are fully valued.

Horticulturists should sell themselves as health and welfare professionals capable of providing powerful antidotes for some of society’s biggest problems. Those peddling images of horticulturists and gardeners with fork or trowel in their dirty hands should think again.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of Greengene International


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