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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gardening IS like litter Collecting

I would have liked to go to the RHS Careers-in-Horticulture day. The programme looked brilliant but I'd used up my “family-wandering-around-in-the-locality-in-case-I-have-a-fit ticket” for the Garden Media Guild event in the autumn and, after an initial flurry of excitement, realised it wouldn’t be practical to go.

VP at Veg Plotting was there though - and she has written an interesting and informative and thought provoking post about it.

In it, she mentions how David Cameron said something which put gardening on a par with picking up litter. I’ve seen this commented on in other places too and it was already bothering me.* (This post is not a reply to VP’s post - more it was that I started spouting my opinions about this Cameron/gardening and litter issue in her comment box and got so long winded I thought I’d better write my thoughts here instead.)

I admit I didn't hear the tone in which David Cameron said what he said (and, maybe if I did, I’d change my mind) but the controversy about it seems over sensitive and odd. There's a difference between picking up litter and running a recycling plant just as there's a difference between growing cress on a window sill and being the Director of Kew Gardens. What they both have in common - work with litter and work with growing plants - and I think this is good - is that the entry level for both is at such a low level we can all enjoy and contribute to them.

There can be pleasure in all sorts of things - even in picking up litter. In Dorset, there are 'events' for gathering rubbish thrown up by the sea. Even in less scenic neighbourhoods, working to make the place nicer and safer can induce a sense of pride. If I understand it rightly, when offenders are set to collect litter as part of the ‘Community Payback’ scheme, it is not seen merely as a punishment but as a way of helping people make a contribution to the world around them. Seeing that you have turned a mess into a clean and pleasant place can be an inspiring and pride inducing experience.

My father finished school at fourteen and, after several years working in shops and factories, went into market gardening. He changed careers a couple of years before I was born but his experience - growing vegetables, driving tractors, working with horses for ploughing - had a profound impact on my life. In his heart, he never left it and we grew up with it in the air. I admire and respect people who grow things as a way of life - but I defend, also, the idea that you can start with something little. Not only that, it’s ok to stay with something little. And, more than that, if there's a choice of low-skilled or no-skilled work for unemployed people to move on to, then I think it's great that there should be opportunities to work with earth and plants. If gardening is seen as an easy thing to do, more people will feel they are able to do it. Gardening IS easy. That is not to say growing exotic plants or running a chain of garden centres is a cinch. Of course not. Dancing is easy. You move your feet in time with music and wave your arms around. Being a dancer in a National Ballet is incredibly hard work and demands tremendous skill. Where do you start? With nursery rhymes and pointing your toes when you can only just about walk. Ballerinas don’t feel unappreciated because toddlers are encouraged to go to ballet classes.

In an article for the Independent, (which is the one VP connects to - and it's a good choice) Jane Merrick mentions that the last single-degree course in botany is folding. She associates this with the meagre offerings of plant science in schools. That’s important. That there are not enough people going into horticulture to fill all the jobs is important too. But I doubt it’s because people have a low opinion of it. Surely it’s more that they don’t know enough about the variety of career paths available? (Something the day was set up to address.) And another reason is that there aren’t enough people going into science - of any kind. If we’d found better ways of showing how EASY science is at the lower levels, something not to be frightened of, maybe more people would make their way to the tougher stuff. Lack of respect has nothing to do with it. I know the RHS did a survey and, if I knew what the questions were, perhaps I’d have to eat my hat/spade and greenfly over this but, for the present, I’ll be leaving them where they are; on my head/leaning against the shed and . . . oh . . . metaphor breaks down. I’m trying not to let aphids get another hold on the honeysuckle this year.

Seems that the way the RHS is worrying about Cameron and litter is revealing a certain lack of confidence. What’s more. I’m happy for the Prime Minister to have a gardener to grow his vegetables for him. Making sure we don’t go to war (again) and helping run the economy are far more important tasks - FOR HIM. Politics is hard work but we can’t go round suggesting only people with degrees can do it. For democracy to function we need to see value in putting leaflets through letter boxes too. When you think about it, politics is harder than growing nasturtiums, even at leaflet level. You have to think deeply before you know which party to support. And your decision matters much more, much much more, than the colour of the flowers in your garden.

If David Cameron were to know I agree with him about anything, he’d probably resign in confusion. But I’m going to say, with him (if this really is what he said!) that GARDENING IS EASY! IT’S ON A PAR WITH LITTER COLLECTING. ANYONE CAN DO IT! You don’t have to be a scientist or an entrepreneur. (Though you can be . . . and it might be a good idea.)


P.S. You can win a thousand pounds for growing a heavy pumpkin. You'd need to take it to Westminster in October for the London Harvest Festival Show (9th - 10th) (there's a challenge!) but if you'd like more info. and an application form, email the RHS Competitions Manager - . Entries by 24th September.

P.P.S. VP, in her post, gives a link to a site about Horticultural Careers - it's called 'Grow'. Here it is. (And it's worth a browse - even a hunt around.)

P.P.P.S. There's a big hole to fall in here. After all, you don't have to be a gardener to run the Eden Project. You can be a botanist without growing a daisy. You can be a plant photographer without writing an article. The connections can be pretty tenuous.

P.P.P.P.S. I've been thinking how difficult it must be to run a garden centre. Plants are such a pain. They die if you don't water them. They die if the wind blows too strongly. They die if you don't plant them out in time. Imagine having a stock which can expire that easily! What would you sell? It must be a great temptation to abandon the living in favour of garden ornaments and Christmas decorations.

P.P.P.P.P.S. No. It's alright. I've run out of ps. Oh bother. I've thought of one. Alan Titchmarsh was concerned that by comparing gardening with picking up litter, people might make too much of a connection between gardening and 'tidying'. That's another interesting . . . ok. I've gone. . . . See you in the autumn.

* Cameron/Gardening/Litter
- Heidi Dore in The Express
- Horticultural Channel
- David Millward in the Telegraph
- Groundwork Leicester and Leicestershire
- Jane Merrick in the Independent
and Tweets on Twitter too.

Alan Titchmarsh's original article

If you are interested in statistics about horticulturally related industries - this is a good link. Horticulture, Landscaping and Sportsturf Factsheet 2010 - 11


VP said...

Gosh lots of food for thought here Esther. Some of your points were also made on the day but my notebook is so stuffed full of notes, so much had to be edited out. And of course that then leaves plenty of room for posts like yours to have the space they need.

The problem with leading with a soundbite (as I have done) is that it leaves so much out and leaves lots of room for interpretation. The problem isn't so much a lack of confidence but that there's a deep rooted perception out there that horticulture is ONLY about unskilled work when much of it isn't.

However, there ARE also unfilled vacancies at the unskilled level - a 1,000 of them. I chose to show just those at the top end because it's the top end that many people forget about. That doesn't mean that the industry doesn't have anything to offer unskilled people, nor does it mean that unskilled people don't have anything to offer horticulture.

There was such a broad cross section of people there on the day. Many had started with no qualifications at all and had worked their way up. Only 4 people out of the 21 speakers owned up to having been educated to degree level.

Part of the problem is the horticultural sector is so diverse. It's what makes it such an inclusive career choice as there's something for pretty much everyone. Arts, science, social science, etc etc all have something to offer at all levels of qualifications and skills. It's also what makes it so hard to publicise and advise on. The careers teacher I met has just 3 minutes with each pupil. It makes it hard for her to advise on anything. That's why the Grow website is so important - it gives her an important tool and a resource she can refer her students to search for themselves using the technology they're familiar with.

One of the young people who spoke had to do litter picking on a site before they could get the machines in to mow the grass. A passer by asked her what crime she had committed. The young lady didn't understand the question, so the passer by asked why she was doing community service. Being the forthright Yorkshire women she is, she proudly told the passer by she was working hard at her job (self employed at the age of 22!). That's the kind of attitude she encounters every day.

Simon.S said...

I have just come back from a couple of hours "garden maintenance" which, much like the young lady from Yorkshire VP referred to, involved a combination of litter picking (broken glass, cig. butts & animal faeces) & true horticultural maintenance (grass cutting, planning summer planting, weeding).

This work is with a friend who is a self-employed "landscaper". As much as he would love to spend his time designing & building gardens the work is not always there & without these bread & butter contracts his job would be financially untenable.

One thought - an anecdote if you like. I asked a potential client (who I knew well) why they baulked at paying a not unreasonable £20 an hour for a qualified gardener yet were happy to pay double to an unqualified builder. Quite simply , they paid a gardener because although they loved gardening themselves they didn't have time to do it. Building work they had no interest in & was a necessity. Perversely, they were jealous of the gardener for doing something they enjoyed & this reflected in how much they were willing to pay.

Janet said...

In Orkney they do a tidy-up called "bag-the-bruck" (bruck means rubbish) and it's a community thing. Here in Angus they do something similar with less of the community spirit.
My professional gardening friends were badly paid and treated almost as badly and so they moved on. In spite of horticultural qualifications they weren't regarded in the same light as Monty Dom or a employee at Kew gardens.