For quite sometime now there have been more rumblings in horticulture than Captain Bligh encountered during the mutiny of The Bounty or as Private Frazer of Dad’s Army fame might say “We’re Doomed”…… unless we can attract more young people to join the ranks of this particular land army.
Any profession needs new blood to keep it going and horticulture is no exception. We are a multifaceted business ranging from gardeners to scientists with a myriad of occupations in between. So how to attract newcomers, how do we say ‘join us’ for the greatest job in the world? If you believe some of those on social media we need to make horticulture sexy, because sex sells. They could be right hence the Diet Coke Sexy Gardener ad, every perfume and aftershave advert this Christmas. Even Durex is getting in on the sexy gardening theme with crashing lawnmowers in a field of roses this Valentines. So perhaps I’m in the minority because yes it seems these multi million pound campaigns are indeed using sex to sell, but what are they selling? Well not to put too fine a point on it, in those three cases; diet beverages, scent and sex!
What do we need to sell horticulture with all its wondrous paths? Horticulture is not a single branded product, it’s more complex than that with careers to suit many and varied individuals. Using sex to sell a career is tricky, one persons sexy is another’s sexism. Look how well it turned out for Tim Hunt, four years after winning the Nobel Prize he was forced to resign his university post, but he did get his own hashtag before he went, so that was nice.
How then do we make horticulture aspirational? Why do any of us get up at 6am or earlier and go to work, why do we put up with the knocks both physical and emotional. The vast majority of us, no matter what our career path, work because we have to. It’s a thing called life and unless you’ve decided to weave yogurt in an off grid yurt, life is an expensive business. Although, it has to be said, if the off grid yurt dweller studied horticulture they could do a lot more than just feed themselves with home grown veg.
Yes most of us working within horticulture are rich when it comes to our working day but what happens when we come home from work and open our bank statements, are we still rewarded? When we meet somebody for the first time and there’s the inevitable “what to you do for a living?” question, are we proud of what we do, and more importantly how do they react? Show a year 9 student, making their GCSE choices a variety of pay cheques from various well regarded professions and if horticulture is up with the rest I can almost guarantee a greater uptake
Now I’m sure most 13 and 14 year olds are definitely rife with hormones and to be honest the whiff of pheromones wafting around most secondary schools is hard to miss, and of course they’re interested in, and attracted to, others around them, but they’re also more savvy than you might imagine. They are starting to make their way in an adult world, they want respect from their peers and other adults and who amongst them is going to chose a career with few prospects, poor wages and little kudos? How others view them is absolutely paramount and so many times I hear that horticulture isn’t a career for clever kids or gardening isn’t a job for girls and it makes me believe it’s these attitudes we need to change, make horticulture a respected, well paid career throughout and we can hope for a brighter future.
That I believe is the heart of the crisis, but its not going to be easy to fix and sticking a sexy Elastoplast on it wont solve the problem, just mask it. I worry that making it cool is simply not enough. Most gardens are outside and any of us working in a garden will, by the nature of our job, also be outside with whatever the weather throws at us. The act of gardening isn’t cool or sexy its hard graft but what we achieve through that effort can be amazing, uplifting and inspirational. Until we make it a wholly rewarding career no parent, teacher, guardian or more importantly year 9 pupil is going to say “Hey Horticulture, it’s the Greatest Job in The World”