My post at the beginning of last week “Is there a future for gardening?” stimulated lively discussion and an outpouring of opinion. The conclusion: this is something we feel passionate about; for me this means hope and a determination to nurture and grow. I am still undecided whether the real issue is attracting young people and enthusing them, or whether it is about reviving the interest and passion for gardening with those marginal gardeners that have their own plots right now. If we don’t do the latter, what will be the state of the horticulture industry we are attracting the youngsters to?
Some feel that the interest in growing is still there, but that gardening is seen as rather a turn off. Personally I feel that we are ignoring the creative aspect of gardening; working with colour and texture, creating beauty. Gardening is another art form like painting or sculpture. There doesn’t seem a lack of interest in fashion or presenting beautiful food; so what about creating wonderful planting combinations? Maybe that’s a topic for another time.
I wanted to share with you some thoughts from someone who’s chosen to make his career in horticulture. Rob Stacewicz is a young horticulturist that is nuts about plants and gardens. I’ve met Rob on several occasions t RHS Chelsea Flower Show and at many other events in the calendar of the horticultural industry year. We were both recently at an industry conference together. Rob has a successful London based garden company:
“A few weeks ago I was very fortunate to attend the annual Garden Futures Conference, organised by the Horticultural Trade Association in London. A talk by James Wong proved of particular interest, and set some ground rules for getting young people involved in growing. James pointed out that pretty much every child under the age of 12 will be thrilled with any aspect of horticulture and growing. That's the straightforward bit. Indeed there are an infinite number of books directed at getting children interested in gardening. It is a shame that there aren't any directed at young adults, but I digress..
What the horticulture industry needs to focus on is attracting the teens and young adults into the game. One point from the talk that I will repeat here, is the replacement of the word 'gardening', with 'growing' being an altogether more relaxed and inspiring word.
I was a late bloomer, if you'll excuse the pun, compared to some of my peers. Whilst they took interest as children, I only became interested in growing at around 15 years of age. This spark of interest was developed by several factors, and was certainly helped by my upbringing in leafy South West London.
Now, fifteen years later, I run my own garden company and garden shop. My interest in growing left me studying my garden books almost every night. I gained a huge amount of work experience in the industry before heading to University and completing my degree in horticulture at Hadlow College.
I remember this time as the high profile era of gardening. The ‘Ground Force’ presenters became household names, and the makeover programmes flooded the TV listings. Simultaneously, the internet became available, and for a plantsman such as myself it meant I had the entire grower, garden and plant universe right at my fingertips.
As if a complete bypass had been performed on the horticulture industry, all too soon the garden programmes slowed to a trickle. Trade cooled off in the garden centres. What happened to the buzz surrounding the industry?
Even as a hardened, plant-obsessed gardener, I'm not sure how much more of the makeover programmes I could have taken. That's it, it was a fad. However what it achieved was to make horticulture fun! This needs to happen again to change the flagging fortunes of the garden the industry. For example my initial interest in gardening (read obsession) was growing hardy exotic plants. I was thrilled to get the chance to do something cutting edge and completely different. I am convinced that offering something new or different, in a fun and interesting way will capture the imaginations of the young general public.
The internet is a powerful tool, and should be utilised as much as possible by the industry. What talks to young people these days, is a chatty and friendly approach. We are surrounded by social media with blogs providing the best source of information, in a clear, jargon-free and easily digestible manner.
Walk into a garden centre, and the chances of finding young people as customers are slim to none. Garden centres have all the resources to make their sales areas fun and interesting, helping engage people of all ages. The mood in your typical garden centre is often quite sombre, though as a type, the people I have met in the industry have collectively the best sense of humour I have ever met!
As two readily available sources of information go, the internet and garden centres are great places to start to revolutionising the way the younger generation perceives the gardening world. Remember, gardening cannot be made 'cool', but growing can be awesome fun!”
Follow Rob on twitter @robstacwicz
If any other readers would like to share their thoughts on growing, gardening and the future of horticulture, do post your comments below; particularly gardeners from other parts of the world. I am sure the challenges we face in the UK are not unique so we would love you to share your views.