Young horticulturists subscribe to networking for the future

YPHA - credit: Ginger Horticulture

The Young People in Horticulture Association set up in 2020 to address the lack of younger horticulturists in the UK. Their planned meetings have been put off by the pandemic but now they are up and running. Among their senior members are entrepreneurs who represent the future of gardening, from selling online and by subscription, using Instagram for inspiration and marketing and using new materials and methods to grow.

YHPA met at RHS Wisley this February, with 70 of its 200 members coming out of lockdown to talk face-to-face, rather than screen-to-screen, about opportunities in the industry.

More than 70 horticulturists under 35 took a private tour of RHS Wisley gardens, followed by talks from Matthew Pottage, Dr Suzanne Moss and Michael Perry, with fourth ambassador Jane Lawler announced at the event, adding to 'Plant Geek' Perry, and the HTA's Pippa Greenwood and Boyd Douglas-Davies. 

Founder members are Natalie Porter of Porters Fuchsias, Mollie Higginson of New Leaf Plants and YPHA co-founder, Liam Cleary of Old Railway Line Garden Centre. All are children of the business owners, but early surveys showed half of the membership don't have a family connection to the industry.

The under 35s working in horticulture aim to better facilitate collaboration, education and innovation, and to appeal to a younger demographic of employees and customers.

Porter says to attract 70 members to Wisley on a cold day in early February was "pretty good". She laughs that the group has achieved none of its aims (trips, meetings etc) since formation in 2020, but has done something it didn't set out to do, creating the "biggest support network we could have hoped for during lockdown" finally meeting in person, two years, two weeks and two days after formation. "This support system is the biggest asset the industry didn't know it needed." 

Lockdown brought anxieties as well as opportunities for young garden professionals. The group identifies with the three million newbies who took up gardening during lockdown, which Porter says are accurately characterised by the line "the new gardeners aren't gardeners, they're garden decorators". 

Jack White of Viridis Plants, part of Boningale, sells plants to landscapers and designers and is ex-Crocus and Wyevale. He had the blow of being made redundant after having his rose buying and horticulture development jobs at Wyevale, and moved on from Crocus a year ago when the pandemic put garden shows in doubt. However, Viridis is growing fast and has, in common with YPHA, plenty of "plant nuts" involved, which particularly appeals to White. He says it is difficult to meet with like-minded people within other industry bodies, which he diplomatically says have a "more mature" membership.

One big pull of the YPHA is its Whatsapp knowledge sharing group - White says when you ask a question you quickly receive at least 10 replies. From Christmas trees to pot plants, members offer each other a sounding board on everything plant-related within the group chats.

New Leaf Plants' Mollie Higginson says networking and the social side is the big appeal for many young horticulturists, who may live and work in remote areas.

Finding Roots' Lilidh Matthews is now YPHA treasurer. She has been awarded the Young Innovators Award 2021/22 by Innovate UK, KTN and The Prince's Trust. She's another ex-Wyevale buyer who was made redundant from the now defunct chain. Her fledgling business is a ‘micro-garden’ subscription service for those living in built up urban areas. While at Wyevale, she lived in a flat with a balcony garden so knows the struggles city dwellers have to grow plants and wants to make it as easy as possible. Themed containers are delivered every three months. This "removes the hassle fo shopping and choosing plants".

Another switched-on YHPA member, Lizzie Fox, does not have a hort background (she worked as a brand manager at Associated British Foods after taking a philosophy degree) but does have a good idea and an eye for marketing. She was at Chelsea 2021 with the then year-old Rose Press Garden, which offers flower seed and bulb subscriptions.  Her business had a "phenomenal" first year, with an "incredible" reaction at Chelsea, where she might return this May. "This year is about scaling up growth and having fun while I'm doing it - that's the main thing". She says YPHA is especially useful for the links to younger women in the industry, known for it's male-dominance in many areas - YHPA at Wisley was more than half women.

Jack Shilley of Muddy Trowel, who ran Young Hort, which was the YPHA of a few years ago, adds that the appeal of YHPA is "it's important to have a network of like-minded people of a similar age that love the industry and are so willing to share their knowledge and passion."

He says the lockdown ecommerce start-up's curated plant kit offering is its point of difference. Muddy Trowel formed thanks to a seed investment round (Evergreen Garden Care is among investors) and similarly YPHA has lots of financial support as a young organisation, from RHS, who paid for and hosted the event and might work with YPHA at Chelsea this May, Floramedia, ICL, Perennial, Westland, MorePeople, Syngenta, Woodlodge. Fargro, Growflo, Coolings, Primrose and The Greener Gardening Company. 

RHS director general Sue Biggs told delegates at the Wisley event they are "going to be the saviours" of horticulture. Several, including Shilley, were returning 'home' as former students at Wisley.

Chris Wiley and Daniel Myhill are already RHS judges. Plant trial business Sow Successful's Wiley is a judging hellebores and is growing Verbena 'Margaret's Memory' for Chelsea as part of a Peter Seabrook tribute display. He's running lots of seed trials ar his Suffolk base and has started giving garden club talks, with the first, this month, on snowdrops.He says the appeal of the YHPA is "no-one is in competition - it's all about helping people. It's great to hear different views. It's a happy place to be."

Myhill is treasurer of the Rose Society UK and only joined YPHA recently after chatting to Lilidh Matthews on Twitter. He's judging roses for the RHS but his day job is as a geotech engineer. He says it's great to meet like-minded young hort enthusiasts at the "other end of the age spectrum" from most rosarians. He's a self-confessed "collector-holic" and a Rosa persica fan and is building a national collection in his Norfolk back garden.

Also on the more techy side are Kyle Ross of Wyevale Nurseries, who has the responsibility of plant health to deal with, but had the joy of going round Wisley identifying plants he's grown on the YPHA big launch day.

Virginia Colquhoun Gonzalez, formerly of Hereford-based Allensmore, is now at Advanced Growers producing cut herbs grown hydroponically in rockwool under LED light systems for high-end restaurants and farmshops.

Holly Geipel of Vitacress is also in herbs and like Colquhoun Gonzalez and Wiley featured in a recent HortWeek podcast. Her focus this year is launching a consumer platform for the West Sussex grower.

So, from roses to herbs, subscriptions to support systems, YHPA - and the horticulture industry - looks to have a bright future.


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