Victoria Summerley: Horticulture is not just a career for academic failures

 

Share
Related Topics

Picture the scene. It's somewhere near Ilkley, in West Yorkshire, and a young woman is carefully clearing rubbish from a piece of waste ground. Two teenage boys, dressed in hoodies and riding bikes, cruise past.

"What did you do, then?" shouts the first. The young woman looks at him blankly. "Whatcha doing community service for?" supplies his friend, helpfully. The young woman in question was Polly Throup, a recently qualified horticulturalist. The teenage boys were just a couple of local lads who happened to be passing while she was clearing the site before beginning a landscaping project.

But the attitude – that someone doing a menial task must by definition be a ne'er-do-well – is one that appears to be shared by many people in this country, including the Prime Minister.

Polly told this story at a conference held by the Royal Horticultural Society this week to address the looming skills gap in horticulture.

The British are famous worldwide as a nation of gardeners. American friends often remark on the high level of skill and creativity on view in our backyards and nurseries, while English horticulturalists hold the post of head gardener in some of the world's most famous estates.

At home, however, a career in this field is not so much despised as completely ignored. There are 11,000 vacancies in horticulture-related jobs at the moment – 1,000 of them at postgraduate level. How do we persuade the next generation to pick up their trowels and learn these skills?

It's not just horticulture that suffers from this sort of career snobbery, of course. And it's entirely natural for parents to want their children to go into a job that they perceive as being secure, and well-paid.

The trouble is, perceptions are not always up to date. When David Cameron grouped gardening with unskilled jobs such as litter-picking, there was fury among the gardening community – Alan Titchmarsh described the remarks as "not particularly useful". But no one else even blinked. No wonder that almost 70 per cent of 18-year-olds in a recent survey believe horticulture is only a career for academic failures.

Horticulture is not alone in being the victim of prejudice. Science (wild-haired boffins), hairdressing (you have to be gay), the police force (you have to be not gay), journalism (you have to be an alcoholic) – all suffer from stereotyping.

At a recent careers evening at my daughter's school, one boy said he wanted to be a foreign correspondent. Fantastic, I said. "But it's not a very stable career, is it?" said his mother. I wouldn't know, I said, I've never been out of work. Despite this, she didn't look convinced.

And what about job satisfaction? No one I know in the gardening world has got to the age of 40 or 50 and decided that they made the wrong career choice, or missed out on seeing their children grow up.

Our children can't all be doctors, or lawyers, or bankers – and nor should we want them to be. Someone has to be a soil scientist, or a plant pathologist, or a gold-medal winning garden designer, or a fruit grower, or a garden centre manager (minimum salary circa £40,000, by the way), or a household-name television presenter like Mr T.

These are all jobs that help make the world a better place. Now that's what I call community service.

Simon Kelner is away

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments