Horticulture - A career to be proud of

By Andy McIndoe

Like many horticulturists (that is how you spell it) I am frustrated by the profile and perception of anything to do with “gardening” as a career. When I am asked what I do for a living I watch the facial expressions carefully. Do I see a hit of pity that I couldn’t get a proper job? “It must be lovely working with flowers”, often follows – the consolation bestowed upon an individual that perhaps didn’t quite measure up to fit into a grey suit, collar and tie.

Actually I love what I do and this is my career of choice. There are aspects of my work today that I could live without but overall my job is my hobby, interest, passion and lifestyle. I am first and foremost a

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horticulturist, a gardener and I have never considered doing anything else. My area of the world of gardening is not a solitary existence; it’s very much about people and plants. I have worked for one of the biggest and most prestigious companies in British gardening for 34 years, and am now Managing Director, at the head of the Hillier Company. I love what I do, but know that in the world of gardening there are so many choices from research to production, from ornamentals to fruit growing, from writing to photography, from commercial business to lifestyle nursery, from public parks to private gardens; the list is endless.

Earlier this year I was delighted to be part of the ‘Horticulture, a Career to be Proud’ of conference organised by The Royal Horticultural Society. This was chaired by Alan Titchmarsh, a horticulturist (he would prefer gardener) that I have known for over 30 years. The object of the conference was to raise the profile of Horticulture as a real career path, and to showcase the opportunities. It followed on the heels of some rather derogatory comments carelessly made by or Prime Minister, bracketing gardeners with litter collectors.

Gardening is not just an option for the academically challenged, it is a world of inclusivity offering options for all regardless of academic prowess. The industry needs graduates, scientists, business acumen, innovation, but it is also therapeutic and offers options for those that are better working with their hands than their brains. I remember reading a quotation at ‘The Writer in the Garden’ exhibition at The British Library’. I can’t quote it, but basically it said that gardening was without class; the same wind blows over the nobleman’s land as it does over that of the ordinary folk, and the same rain falls. Both have the same opportunities for success and failure.

Although I have been in the industry for over 40 years the Horticulture a Career to be proud of left me inspired, particularly by the young people involved who spoke passionately about plants and gardens. The spiritual rewards are great but there is a catch: the financial rewards are poor! Gardening, plants and garden services are undervalued.

18 Edging with spade

At a recent industry conference the British Horticultual Trades Association reported that the keen British gardener can spend £250 a year on his or her garden. Putting it in perspective that’s the price of a pair of shoes in a smart shoe shop. A standard priced shrub in a 3 litre (half gallon) container costs about the price of two coffees! Modest expenditure, low prices and low perceived value have a direct impact on the financial rewards of those involved in the industry.

And yet we all have some understanding of the power of plants, the importance of the garden in the environment, the therapeutic properties o gardens and gardening. At the same conference Andrew Simms, author of Tescopoly, advocated the idea of the four ay working week to allow more time for gardening: “we would all feel better for it”. He deduced that this would boost the Gardening industry and give it the fillip it needs. What a lovely idealistic idea: you can have a day off a week on gardening leave, of course you will earn 20% less. Get real!

This was never meant to be a rant about wages, but I know that will be the reaction of those readers that are lucky enough to work in the industry so at least I’ve mentioned it. I do hope we will all work together to promote gardening and horticulture as a real career possibility for anyone with a passion for plants. You’ll never be rich, but you will be happy. Personally I get a great deal of pleasure wearing a flowery shirt and smiling, on a commuter train filled with miserable grey suited people. For many of them it’s another dreary day like yesterday: for me it’s another Adventure in Gardening!

So what about you: Do you think like Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey? (a popular British TV Drama – well sort of) When she asked Edith, who had just been jilted at the altar what she was going to do:

Edith “I don’t know, maybe I’ll take up gardening......”

Maggie Smith: “ My Dear, you can’t be that desperate!”

Or do you agree that gardening is a career to be proud of?

Andy McIndoe

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