Apart from a short break, I have been gardening professionally for twenty-six years, in both the commercial and amenity side of horticulture.
I was very lucky, in that I knew what I wanted to do long before I left school, I do appreciate that this is not the always the case for everyone.
A year before leaving school we had to put down two possible career choices … I put down horticulture and plumbing. We then, with help from the teachers looked at all the possibilities for these jobs ie further education, apprenticeships, jobs and of course then the YTS.
I remember very well that if it wasn’t for other factors in my life and doing my own research, I would say I received little or no help/information from the school on anything to do with horticulture. All the information I needed to proceed in horticulture after I left school, I had to find myself. I remember this very well because, I had also made it very clear that my second choice was only put in because … I had to put one in! I very easily could have said anything at the time even, Rain-dancing! In-fact, when it came down gardening, I would quite easily go as far to say … they were dismissive and tried to put me off.
Now, if I wanted to go into any building based job, become a car mechanic or join the army, back then I would have received all the help and advice needed. Or if I wanted to go into further education again the help, advice and the encouragement was there if I needed it.
Now, I am extremely passionate about horticulture, even though I was angry at the lack of help from the school, I sort of understood why … and still do!
1986 was the year I left school and I started my YTS training scheme in September of that year, at what was then Milton Farm College, Cambridge; the work placement was at a wholesale nursery nearby.
The first day at Milton, both the agricultural and horticultural students congregated in the same hall (there was well over fifty students) we then split up into our trades … there was only approximately twelve horticultural students and after six months, you could probably have halved that number. Twenty six years on I can only imagine that figure would be far fewer. For me this is very worrying, not just because I am a Head Gardener but for the trade in general … will gardening/horticulture become a dying trade?
Gardening to me, is the best job in the world … but there are factors that are putting off younger people coming into horticulture.
For a start … the money! There are only a few people who make serious money in horticulture. At the lower end of the scale in both commercial and amenity horticultural jobs the pay is abysmal. I had one employer try to justify this by saying its ‘a way of life’ my reply was full of expletives and cannot be published. Even when you go further up the scale either to Nursery Manager or Head Gardener, the pay for some, is still poor. In this day and age with the cost of living rocketing, it is becoming even harder to give the big sell to the younger generation that … horticulture is the right career path!
One myth that has always been connected with gardening is that it is a job for ‘thickies’ … total rubbish! For me that might have been the case, but that comment is so far from the truth, it is unreal.
One other myth that I find really annoying is, ‘that it is a man’s job’ again this is total rubbish! Unfortunately, I have worked with some, even within horticulture that have said; ‘women cannot do some of the really hard physical work!’ Isn’t that really down to the individual and not if you are male or female? I will say no more on this!
Technology! A lot of youngsters today, think the best way forward is some IT based job, especially if you are wanting to make a comfortable living. Admittedly in my position I rely on my computer, especially now the main form of communication is by email. Thankfully the “Idiot Phone” means that I can take some of the office work into the garden, but unfortunately a lot of the admin work still has to be done on the computer back in the office; but it is a bloody good excuse when it is raining!
The weather! Now this one is a tricky bugger. Firstly we have no control over it and also, in the last three or four years the weather has been even more challenging than usual. But, for me doesn’t this make the job more interesting to do … or am I just a glutton for punishment? Being outside in all weathers is definitely not to everyone’s liking, and I must admit there have been times when I thought that working solely indoors would be nice … but not often!
So if you were trying to encourage younger people or anyone else that maybe looking for a career change, admittedly certain things are slightly different; what would you say to persuade them that they are making the right choice?
For a start gardening is the best job in the world! If that is where your heart lies, go for it … life is not a dress rehearsal, there is no curtain call! I know money is an issue, but go for it! I have never had any regrets!
Ignore the small-minded idiots … “How people treat you is their Karma; How you react, is yours.” ~Wayne Dyer. As time has gone on, I have met fewer and fewer over the years, they are the minority and the one with the problem … not you!
Horticulture is such a diverse subject, there are several avenues you can take into both amenity and commercial horticulture. You could even become the new gardening celebrity … and kick Alan Titchmarsh of his perch. Or you could end up showing off your work at Chelsea, Hampton Court, Tatton etc.
The people … nurserymen, gardeners, garden designers, tree surgeons, allotmenteers the list is endless. I have had the pleasure in meeting some wonderful people from the world of horticulture both amateur’s and professional’s, the horticultural world is a great leveler.
And the best one of all … tending a garden. It doesn’t matter how big or small, but feeling the creaking in your back at the end of the day, the soil ground into skin; finding yet another bloody hole in your work-trousers (usually where you need it least). But in the end, the rewards are for all to see. Something that will put a smile on your face and others, the sense of achievement, satisfaction and sometimes that inner peace (bloody hippy).
These feelings never go away, in-fact they keep growing … just like your garden!
There is no other job like it, if you are looking at going into horticulture, the advantages out way the disadvantages; so go for it the because gardening is … the new Rock n Roll!
Now some of you may have thought with the title, I would have finished with a AC/DC video, but I would not want to become to predictable 😉
Superb and thoughtful post. No one with your amount of horticultural knowledge or with the ability to write as fluidly and interestingly as you do could ever be labelled thick!
Thanks Alison- I could of ranted for hours on this subject- this was the shortened version 🙂
As always an inspiring post. To my mind gardening has everything one could possibly want for job satisfaction, to be Head Gardener of an historic garden must be a great joy.
Thanks- being a Head Gardener is a wonderful job but also- very challenging!
A very interesting and thought provoking post, but I think you hit the nail on the head with main reason that people are reluctant. Money. Sad but true. I’ve spoken to people who garden professionally and they told me that whilst they love it, there’s no way they could raise a family doing it and they’ve been lucky to have a spouse/partner that could support them. It’s something I’d love to get into myself as I love doing it at an amateur level, but I suspect it’ll be a few years before I can justify the career change.
Thank you. It is very sad, and like I said in my blog, I understood why I got little support from the school back then. The financial climate is even tougher now, with the cost of living rising each week, so making that decision to go into horticulture, even harder.
It is hard to imagine that gardening in the UK (we yankees look up to all English Gardens) would be a difficult profession. Thanks for the insight!
The going can be tough for gardeners in this part of the world- but it’s nice too know- that others look up to what we do. 🙂
Really interesting post, and I agree completely. The emphasis is on the money, sadly. I’m two years into a gardening career and business, and I’m not expecting to earn a “living wage” for a little while yet – hopefully before my lower back gives up completely!
It is a wonderful job though, and such a shame it’s not valued more highly.
You raise many important issues and some that I can relate to directly. I recall a similar scenario when I told my career advisor I wanted a career in Horticulture. She just laughed and said I make a much better policeman! Today I still cannot fathom her response and would love to meet her on the street and inform of her of my undaunted career path as Head Gardener.
Thanks Stephen 28 years passionately Gardening and still growing strong!
Gardening is often a long term career path/hobby/passion – is being a policeman? Young people wanting to take the horticulural path should be encouraged not laughed at but sadly this is a problem that is and has been going on for many years!