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

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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...