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

CRM Developer (MS Dynamics 2011/2013, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: CRM MS Dynamic...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: ICT TeacherLeedsRandstad ...

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Ellen E Jones
Scientists have discovered the perfect cheese for pizzas (it's mozzarella)  

Life of pie: Hard cheese for academics

Simmy Richman
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution