The Royal School enjoyed record numbers and sunshine at its fourth annual Grow For It event on 10 May, hosted by Alan Titchmarsh and supported by the RHS.
More than 500 children under 11 took part in activities including: Make a Hairy Caterpillar, Paint a Plant Pot, Plant a Strawberry Plant, Plant a Mixed Hedge, Bug Hunt, Make a Tree Spirit, Pond Dipping and a Nature Trail around the grounds.
This free event, founded and hosted by Titchmarsh, is about connecting children with nature and understanding how it works.
He said with the dominance technology has in our lives, people are getting "out of contact with the real world, the living world that is out there. And it is possible… to lead a totally insular life." He is concerned that society is losing its connection with the outdoors, commenting that in a recent survey the number of adults able to identify "beech, oak, ash, birch, various plants, bluebells… were in a scarily low percentage.
"There is great joy in going out there and knowing what you are looking at and how it works. And it’s only by knowing that we can be responsible and in charge of the planet and the way it goes on. Because ignorance breeds fear, and if children in part don’t know what they’re looking at…or how it works and how it grows, they get a bit wary of it and it gets a bit scary and they back off from it. And then they neglect it because they don’t have this kind of custodial feeling towards the planet. And it’s not an onerous feeling: it’s the most joyful, exhilarating, spiritually uplifting pastime, or in my case living, working with things that grow.
"And that’s what Grow For It does, you see kids go out there and they love it. If you let them get out there, they grab it with both hands – quite literally – and get stuck in and you can see their eyes light up and the parents also enjoy it. It’s a wonderful thing. And you just get people in contact with nature and then they pick it up and run with it."
The television presenter and gardener has been promoting horticulture as a career, trying to change the perception that it is only for those who are "too thick" to do anything else. He said: "The great thing about horticulture is that it caters for all levels of academic ability, but also practical skill." He is pleased that it is now being recognised that practical skills are as vital as university degrees to enable us to function as a society and that apprenticeships are essential to allow skilled craftsmen to take their place in society and to be valued. "In the old days you used to be different if you had a university degree because it was the cream on top. Now you’re just the norm and what people want is aptitude, application and experience, practical experience."
Titchmarsh will have a garden at The Chelsea Flower show next week called ‘From the Moors to the Sea - a celebration of RHS Britain in Bloom’. It celebrates 50 years of the RHS’s Britain in Bloom campaign and his 50 years in horticulture.
He said: "I thought the early 1960s for most small, domestic gardens was a bit dull, really. The posh lot were having smart landscape garden designs but the rest of us were just doing the veg patch, a lawn, a rose bed and a rockery. I thought I can’t really go from the early 60s up to a present day garden because the early bit would be a bit dull."
Titchmarsh’s daughters both went to The Royal School in Haslemere, Surrey and have both gone on to take up careers in teaching and education.