On Wednesday, I was very privileged to attend an RHS Careers Day Conference focusing on ‘Horticulture : A Career to be Proud of’.
Here is the first of two blog posts about what was a truly inspirational event.
The seed for the conference was initially sown after a rather unfavourable comment from David Cameron, the Prime Minister, last year.
In a speech about the coalition government’s plans to allocate community work to the long-term unemployed, he grouped gardening as an unskilled activity along with litter-picking.
Added to this, the horticulture industry faces a looming skills crisis. Sue said: “It is quite staggering that whilst youth unemployment is at an all-time high, the horticultural industry has more skilled vacancies than it can fill in the UK despite the recession“.
For these reasons, the RHS decided to host Wednesday’s conference to which school careers advisors, students, colleges, MPs and gardeners were invited.
And following passionate and informative talks by key players in the industry, the aim was to come up with a blueprint of how to improve the perception of horticulture, engage young people and better share a wealth of opportunities.
Here are a few of the wonderful speakers from the day:
- Alex Denman, Show Manager at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
- Florist Simon Lycett
- Garden designers James Alexander-Sinclair and Cleve West
And here’s a summary of all the presentations which took place.
Next Generation Gardeners
There were inspirational talks from four young gardeners:
- Damian Jenkinson from Wigan Council who competed in BBC Young Gardener of the Year
- George Douglas of Heyswood House
- Polly Throup of Craven College and Northern Gardens
- Jack Shilley, 2011 Bracknell Young Gardener of the Year
They all captivated the audience with their stories of the paths they’d taken to enter the world of horticulture.
There was an obvious passion for their work and a love of seeing plants grow and gardens change as a result of their labour.
The audience collapsed with laughter when Polly recounted the story of when she was doing some gardening in the local community. A young guy wearing a hoodie walked past and asked her what crime she’d done!
She commented that her job don’t feel like it’s work as she loves it so much and Jack finds his job hugely rewarding.
Jekka McVicar from Jekka’s Herb Farm said: “I’m so proud to be a horticulturist. It has been an amazing career over the last thirty years. I would never have dreamt that it would have taken me around the world.”
Andy McIndoe has worked at Hillier Nurseries and Garden Centres for thirty-four years and now holds the position of Managing Director. He said that his role has given him the opportunity to travel, write and enter the world of broadcasting.
There were also great presentations by Tim Entwisle, Head of Conservation and Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Theresa Huxley who’s a technologist at Sainsburys, responsible for apples and pears.
I loved hearing about the path that Debs Goodenough took to become the current Head Gardener at Highgrove, via Ventnor Botanic Garden and Osborne House.
She talked about the huge variety in her role from planting the trees used in Westminster Abbey at Kate and William’s wedding to creating a new wildflower Transylvannian meadow for Prince Charles.
Roger Burnett from Britain in Bloom also talked about his passion for the industry.
James Alexander-Sinclair said: “There are so many different strands to this industry.” He started as a contractor, moved into gardening, then garden design, show gardens, journalism, lecturing, television and blogging.
But he said that one of the challenges is that “Everyone thinks that they can be a gardener“.
Cleve West said that he fell into gardening by accident. With money he had inherited from an aunt who was a keen gardener, he took a course at Kew. Then he designed his first show garden for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, which triggered interest from other sponsors. And last year, he won Best in Show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Andy Sturgeon also found the world of horticulture by chance….his brother was a landscape contractor. Originally, he’d thought of joining the army but after two weeks of working in the landscaping industry, Andy knew that it was what he wanted to do long term.
He said: “I’m so lucky because I do a job that I enjoy. I’m big on nature and I love the creativity of being a garden designer.” He commented that he’s found recently that some of his peers, who work in offices in the City, have started to remark on how envious they are of his career choice.
Paul Cowell of BALI talked about how skills in the horticultural industry can be transferable on a global level.
Adam Frost of Adam Frost Landscapes said: “It’s unbelievable how undervalued the horticulture industry is.” He found it very hard to think about any negatives regarding the industry and said the only one he could possibly think of is the salaries of certain roles.
Shows & floristry
When she was growing up, Alex Denman, Show Manager of the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show had grandparents who grew violets and anemones in Devon.
Originally, she was planning on studying Sports Science at university until at the very last minute, she was made aware that at Reading University you could study a BSc in Horticulture. She said: “My degree was the point of success for the rest of my career.”
Florist Simon Lycett knew from a very young age that he wanted to become a florist and couldn’t understand why anyone needed to seek careers advice.
At the age of fourteen, he wrote to flower arranger George Smith. George replied and they have kept in touch ever since.
Simon frequently works an eighteen hour day, seven days a week but loves his career which takes him all over the world.
As he aptly put it: “Flowers and florists make people smile.”
Education and training
Sandra Nicholson from Writtle College and Steve Dowbiggin from Capel Manor College talked about the different types of courses which are available to people who are interested in the horticulture industry.
Leigh Morris from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh talked about his role in the Grow Careers Initiative.
Grow is a portal where you can find horticulture careers advice. It’s for people looking to come into the horticulture profession, as well as those within it who are looking to diversify into a new sector.
From the left are George Douglas, Damian Jenkinson, Jekka McVicar, Andy McIndoe, Tim Entwisle and Theresa Huxley.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the inspirational people who took part in the conference.
On more than one occasion, I was overwhelmed by the passion of the speakers. They are all a true testament to the industry and proved how working in horticulture can be such a rewarding career.
It was a real pity that Mr Cameron couldn’t have been there….
Part 2 will be coming up today at midday.
(Images : Rona Wheeldon for Flowerona)