This is a guest blog by Alexandra Campbell, The Middlesized Garden blog.
We need to get more young people into gardening – or do we?
Germaine Greer, Jamie Oliver, Monty Don, Prince Charles, Sarah Raven, Sir Roy Strong…
What do they all have in common? They have all achieved a name or a role in gardening, having done something else first.
Greer was first a famous feminist writer, Oliver expanded his reach as a chef into gardening and farming, Monty Don was a jeweller, Sarah Raven a doctor, and Sir Roy Strong a museum director.
And Prince Charles was…well, he’s always been Prince Charles, but he didn’t emerge as a voice in gardening until he moved into Highgrove after his marriage.
Or what about ‘Chelsea’ Gold Medal winners? For every Hugo Bugg, who wins at 27, you can find Chelsea Golds being won by second-career gardeners such as a Cleve West, a sports scientist who trained to be an athlete, or Charlotte Rowe, who was a successful PR.
And at a time when people are worried about engaging the young with gardening, it’s worth asking ourselves why gardening is so powerful in engaging the…er… less young.
I think the answer is probably around 12,500 years old…when the cultivation of plants first emerged.
Nobody knows exactly how or when plants were first cultivated, although it developed in several places at once. There are many theories, but it would logical to assume that once you were too old or injured to hunt well, you needed to find other ways of contributing to your society.
And if you were that bit older, you’d be more likely to have observed how seeds grew into plants over the years. You’d start to think how you could make that work for you.
But the twist is that ‘old’ in those days was probably around 25.
And those twenty and thirty-something ‘oldies’ would have had children and grandchildren to care for. If they were cultivating plants, any children that weren’t old enough to go out hunting or gathering would undoubtedly have been with them, helping at whatever level they could manage.
If my theory is correct, we need to focus on young children and gardening rather than worrying about making gardening ‘hip’. Gardening has probably never been hip, even in the Stone Age.
And we need to recognise that a ‘second career’ may start as early as 22 or 23. Any support for gardening as a career should be accessible to people of any age.
Personally, I am horrified that one of our local schools has recently discontinued its very well attended horticulture classes for teenagers. The classes were popular, but their funding has been cut.
‘Engaging with the young’ will make no difference to whether the pupils at that school have careers in gardening. It’s not teenagers making those funding decisions.
It’s probably some bureaucrat somewhere who thinks ‘the young aren’t interested in gardening’ or who fails to understand the economic contribution horticulture makes to Britain.
I believe that the gardening world should stop worrying about directly engaging with ‘youth’ and should focus its efforts on the decision-makers and educationalists. Let’s get very young children understanding what growing means (although let’s also try to stop governments cutting horticulture classes for teenagers).
And if all else fails, one thing we do know for sure: the young get older. Fairly quickly.
And then they turn to gardening.
What do you think? Put your thoughts down in the comments below.
Alexandra Campbell was a journalist and novelist before she started a gardening blog, The Middlesized Garden.
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