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

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little