Inspire a new generation of gardeners – catch them young

Inspire a new generation of gardeners – catch them young


Jane PerroneI was not a typical teen. My room was full of houseplants, including a huge terrarium fashioned from an old fish tank, and I liked to help my dad mow the lawn and deadhead African marigolds (that smell still takes me right back to our garden, circa 1985).

I could probably spot a tree creeper or a nuthatch at 40 paces, but I wasn’t that familiar with the interior of the local nightclub. So perhaps I am completely the wrong person to blog about how to spark a gardening revolution among young people – I was an outlier or, to put it more bluntly, a square.

“I can’t wait to hear what our panellists tonight can tell us about getting youngsters into gardening”

Now that I have children of my own, this is an issue I often consider. And, as someone who is lucky enough to be able to talk and write about my hobby for my job, I have also learned a few things along the way about how young people relate (or otherwise) to gardens. I can’t wait to hear what our panellists tonight can tell us about getting youngsters into gardening, but in the meantime, here are a few thoughts of my own:

Catch them young
I think my two – who are both under the age of 10 – both know that I am plant mad, and some of that is rubbing off on them through a process of osmosis. My son loves to spot monkey puzzle trees and eat raspberries straight from the cane, and my daughter is fascinated by lamb’s ears and can tell you, if you give her the chance, that their native home is Turkey, where one of her friends at school comes from. That’s just the result of living with someone with a passionate interest in something; they can tell you the names of several players in the football team my husband supports, too.

“If you don’t get them started before the teenage years kick in, it’s a much harder job”

If you don’t get them started before the teenage years kick in, it’s a much harder job once they hit the teenage years. A staff member at a community garden told me that sessions she organised for pre-schoolers were always well attended – whereas teenagers often didn’t show up, even if they were offered the ‘carrot’ of high street shopping vouchers if they participated. Tough crowd indeed. But the secret, she found, was installing an outdoor pizza oven in the garden. This was the best lure for teenagers who’d come for the pizza, and learn a bit about growing the tomatoes they were eating as a topping while they were at it.

Role models rule
I always remember filling out page after page of multiple choice questions for a careers survey at school that was meant to predict what jobs you’d be suited to. One of the options that came top of my list was mortuarist. Seriously! I can’t think of many careers that are less appealing to a 16-year-old, but horticulturist is up there (along with journalist, maybe …). Role models are few and far between. But there are a few signs of change. Recent film The Martian had as its hero a botanist, and Jamie Butterworth is the new RHS ambassador shows that this organisation has pinpointed the problem with the ageing population of horticultural professionals.

“Role models are few and far between. But there are a few signs of change.”

What we need now is for the next YouTube star to be demonstrating not how to put on makeup so you look like Kim Kardashian or how to build stuff in Minecraft, but a young person who is doing something really funky with plants.

“gardens should be places…which children associate with FUN”

Kids in gardens
One of my favourite garden visits ever was the one which included my friend’s toddler crouching down and weeing in the middle of the lawn. My friend and I were mortified, but the garden owner was completely unperturbed by this development – having brought up children of her own in the garden, she’d seen it all before. The children spent ages playing in the Wendy house, running around and playing on the tyre swing. It was a gorgeous, well-executed garden, but there was still room for children to run and play. It was a welcome relief from the sometimes censorious attitudes of gardens to young people: yes, there may be carefully tailored workshops for them to go to, but try rolling down a hill or climbing a tree and fingers are sometimes wagged. I am not saying that gardens should be places where children should be allowed to run riot, but they should definitely places which children associate with FUN.


DON’T FORGET to tune in to the live stream at 19.00hrs GMT tonight where Jane and our panellists will debate “The future of gardening: How do we spark a growing revolution?”.  Find out more here.

Here’s the official disclaimer bit…The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of GardenTags. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this guest blog post are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. 


Add yours
  1. 1
    Katherine Crouch

    Good points Jane. If a parent rejoices in a garden and creates happy memories, the child may well take it up in adulthood. gardening is a great way to recreate a happy childhood. For the littlies, don’t grow radishes and lettuce – they hate them! Too many schools grow spring crops that mature only in the summer holidays – duh! Show them how amazing plants are – grow sunflowers! They will still be a sight to see at the beginning of the autumn term. And every school should have apples! Teenagers like to pretend to despise the adult world. They may engage if you make wine, cider or perfume…

  2. 2
    Trevor Gibbs

    Hi Jane
    Watched the panel debate and read your article and what’s clear is that there is no one answer to the problem of inspiring the next generation into horticulture – save to say, whatever does it must be inspiring! There are a number of professions that equally have similar issues attracting the young like science and engineering. But over the last few years inspirational figures like Brian Cox have been doing wonders to inspire younger generations to to the point they’ll sit casually discussing quantum mechanics at the dinner table. The Martian Movie you mentioned and Tim Peake on the ISS similarly are great opportunities to inspire the younger generation into the amazing world of plants. Let’s not forget photosynthesis is quite simply the most important process on earth. The biology of plants, fertility, and the fascinating world of micro-fauna and flora that exist in every handful of soil are the key to life on this planet and will be the key to living on Mars when we eventually get to go there. We know a lot about Space, a lot about the Oceans, but we still don’t fully understand the myriad interrelationships between soil dwelling microorganisms and plants. But now, the technology of fertility, the science of the soil-food-web and how it relates to the health of plants, and thus our own health, is starting to been seen as more mainstream. These are fascinating subjects that need promoting in schools because they are part of the future survival of the human race in a world beyond chemicals and pesticides. Young, enthusiastic hands-on role-models in the James Wong/Jamie Oliver mould are required to stimulate minds and the media has a big role to play in making it happen. Plenty of food for thought.

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