Seabrook on ... giving a helping hand to young people entering horticulture

There have been regular warnings about the dearth of young people entering the horticultural industry over recent years.

However, when I go out to nurseries, trade exhibitions and events, I meet a good cross-section of ages - including bright, energetic young people.

Visiting primary schools, comprehensives and even Oxbridge colleges recently, I have been pleased to find students interested in growing things and in gardening. The Growing Schools Conference at the University of Oxford's Botanic Garden and Magdalen College last month had more than 100 teachers from across the country attending workshops on growing vegetables by the RHS, among others.

Schools charity Eastfeast, another participant, even has students growing food, cooking it themselves and then having a formal lunch on cloth-clad tables, with real plates (not the normal school self-service plastic trays) and with school-grown flowers on the tables. For some youngsters, this is the first time they have sat around a table for a formal family-style meal.

My worry is the lack of good gardening skills in schools. Money seems to be available to build raised beds, buy tools and make a start on wildlife-friendly areas, but not much is done well or properly followed through.

One school with an excellent outdoor classroom had recently purchased hand tools, but they were caked with soil and already starting to rust. Only at Clare College, Cambridge, did I see undergraduate-dug soil improved by the addition of organic matter and ready for planting.

There is now plenty of activity on allotments - and a marked lack of skills using basic hand tools such as spades and hoes. But when newcomers to gardening are helped with soil preparation, shown how to autumn-dig then knock the clods down in spring, their subsequent vegetable-growing efforts are so much improved.

Young people are interested in our industry and what we do, but more of us with hands-on skills have to reach out and show them how plants are grown.

- Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.

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