The one qualification that guarantees employment is being well trained to grow plants. We will always need food and, as the old Chinese saying goes: "Man who has two loaves sells one to buy flowers." A green, well-tended environment is unquestionably good for our health.
Current experience with schools clearly demonstrates that youngsters love getting their hands dirty and growing vegetables to eat. Whose responsibility is it then to channel this enthusiasm into sound horticultural training? West Sussex Growers opened nurseries to the public last month. More than 200 visited the Frampton Brothers' state-of-the-art hi-tech cut chrysanthemum nursery. Such visits should have opened visitors' eyes to the opportunities for managers with engineering, IT, people management, marketing and growing skills.
Four Oaks staff exhibiting at the International Pack Trials in Holland last month reported good export opportunities. They are now selling young plants into Scandinavia and other northern European countries as a result of favourable exchange rates. A UK plant breeder at the trials was very optimistic about sales. These are clear indicators of opportunities to expand horticultural output.
Of course, training costs money, but there are scholarships and bursaries going begging for students with their wits about them. The David Colegrave Foundation, the Garden Centre Group (Wyevale), Floranova, the RHS, HTA and many others make grants to commercial students.
Horticultural colleges are facing and will have to face tough times and they are well advised to give more attention to commercial horticulture. There will always be a need for garden maintenance, but where are the courses to train professionals for this? If you don't think there is potential here, look at Green Thumb's lawn care franchises. Colleges with shrinking budgets should go back to basics and have students growing their own vegetables, fruits and flowers. At least they won't starve.