Seabrook On ... Our students must seize opportunities

We are told nine out of 10 new jobs are taken by migrant labour and eastern European workers are earning as much as £150 a day pulling and bunching radish.

Against this background I was somewhat surprised to learn that horticultural students today cannot be expected to get up in time to catch a coach before 9am.

The David Colegrave Foundation is making funds available to provide coaches to take students from our leading colleges to visit nurseries. The first from Capel Manor College in Enfield went to the Meadowcroft Pansy & Viola Festival last March and proved very successful.

Plans are now being made to arrange trips out from four colleges and to get to some of the best production units an early start would be required - yet the trustees were told this was impractical. I remember getting up before 5am as a Writtle student to join the coach and get to Covent Garden Market by 6am. When we got back at lunchtime, afternoon lectures went on as normal.

Gwen Couch, a former lecturer at Bicton and contemporary of mine at Writtle, is having a clear-out and sent me a 1956 postcard with an aerial shot of Pollards' 19-acre nursery at Cheshunt. Her notes on the back following our visit describe carnations in hydroponics with 2,000 gallons per minute being pumped from a 14,000-gallon tank and heating coming from six second-hand ship boilers.

Gwen asked whether I remember the trip and I certainly remember the Lady Sylvia roses at both Pollards and Stevens Nurseries, but hadn't remembered Pollards was getting 56 tonnes of tomatoes to the acre. That was a bit light compared with today's 200 tonnes plus. Those nursery trips were eye-openers for me, showing what could be done and the job opportunities they offered.

They are even more important today when students go straight from school to colleges with no hands-on commercial experience. Someone has to tell them, however, that the world doesn't owe them a living. In horticulture you need to get up in the morning and on occasions work well into the evening.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.


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