I 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.
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