YoungHort targets image issues

Co-founder claims group could change perception of horticulture as unskilled and uncool career.

YoungHort: first conference held
YoungHort: first conference held

YoungHort co-founder Jack Shilley has suggested that the fledgling organisation, which held its first conference at RHS Wisley on 7 March, could help to end the stigma surrounding horticulture as being an unskilled, low-paid, uncool career.

He explained that "changing perception" is a main aim of the group. Shilley, who works at Longacres garden centre, added: "We want to take away the stigma that horticulture is boring, low-paid and not skilled. It is cool and social. We're looking at the format to see how to go about it."

That might be through a blog, website or magazine, said Shilley. An education pack and horticulture days aimed at secondary schools and advice for careers advisers via the RHS are among plans. "The RHS targets primary schools but there's a gap at secondary level where school-leavers get lost."

He added: "Grow-to-eat got a lot of people engaged but the disappointing thing is the modern generation still thinks blackcurrants don't come from plants. The science of horticulture is sometimes overlooked. We need to engage on the science and botanical side. You can do cool things with plants like change colours."

Jamie Butterworth, a fellow YoungHort co-founder and an RHS Wisley trainee, said he was inspired by Monty Don. For him, gardening is "like real-life magic", he added.

Butterworth, who trained at Askham Bryan College, said being employed at Wisley "doesn't feel like I'm coming to work. It's like I'm going to play."

He cited the RHS 2012 Horticulture Matters report, which found that 70 per cent of 18-year-olds do not consider gardening a career to be proud of and think it is for unskilled people.

Butterworth said he finds that "baffling" because gardening is "fun, exciting, rewarding and profitable - in our industry money does literally grow on trees".

He added that you could talk about horticulture being "cool" but it is "already amazing". Butterworth said the solution to the poor image "starts with YoungHort, the Institute of Horticulture, Grow and the RHS".

He pointed out that gardening is good for physical and mental health and you could train for up to eight years - the same as a doctor.

Inspiration - Opportunities highlighted

Inspirational garden industry figures told 100 delegates at the YoungHort conference at RHS Wisley (7 March) that horticulture is a world of opportunity for the ambitious.

Keynote speaker and TV ethnobotanist James Wong said horticulture will have 60,000 "incredibly diverse opportunities" in the next few years, with "only social media in China" having more vacancies.

Designer Paul Hervey-Brookes recommended drawing and not just using computers to create designs. He said students should look at garden design and landscape architecture together.

Thompson & Morgan new product development manager Michael Perry said the company is now looking for "another me".

TV gardener Christine Walkden said gardeners must value themselves higher than £10 a hour. The industry must invest in people and learning, she added. "Make sure you become Olympians. I don't want to go to my grave thinking the industry is going to die."

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