You may have come across an article in the past week featuring results from a survey about young people’s attitudes towards gardening. The enlightening data showed that the nation’s youth’s most loved gardening program was “Gardener’s World”, which stormed ahead of the timeless classic “Can’t Remember The Name” in second place. And, only 7% had been encouraged to seek a career in horticulture, even though 79% had experience growing a plant!
One respondent – Female, 14 (probably not her real name) – said “It’s kind of stereotypically for older people so I would like it to be more inviting to younger people.”
Alright then young people. Let’s do this thing.
Gardening as a career
The problem with the study is that, though it gets a good response from young people, it seems to be asking the wrong questions.
One of the main points focused on was that very few students were realistically considering a career in gardening. Reasons given were the poor pay and the “boring” work. Unfortunately when you look at the facts, the students have certainly got it right on the first count. The average wage for a gardener works out to around £20,000 per year, and that’s after 5 years of professional experience.
But that’s why the study is misplaced. Because to really get in to gardening, you can’t treat it like a job. Gardening at its best is a fascinating, creative process that stimulates each of the senses. It appeals to our primitive need to dig through the dirt and discover new wonders below the surface. As a job, it’s dirty work, outdoors in the cold British weather. Worse, there’s little to do at all in the winter months and below average financial reward at the end of it. And so young people shouldn’t begin looking at gardening as a career. They need to see it for the wonderful hobby that it can be.
Gardening as entertainment
Another question posed by the study touches on another reason for gardening’s poor reputation among the youth. A poll of gardening programmes put Gardener’s World in the top slot, with a dramatic drop in votes for other gardening shows. Despite comments of “Big up Monty Don”, there isn’t much in the offering that actually would appeal to younger audiences.
The BBC’s young gardener of the year, 20 year old Jamie Butterworth, said in an interview last year; “If you turn on Gardeners’ World on a Friday evening, you get Monty Don in his tweed jacket, cutting his beech hedge and doing this and that in terracotta pots. It’s very easy to think: ‘How boring. My grandad does gardening, I want to do something much cooler.’”
Monty makes a very strong point. Gardening programmes, for all their good advice, are stuck in an old man’s world. For gardening to appeal it has to grow. And, as usual, it’s young people themselves who have to be the ones getting the word out.
There’s an ever growing online subculture of gardening bloggers and social media horticulturists, particularly those growing fruits, vegetables and herbs. With developing trends for home-grown meals, recipes and advice being constantly shared through Instagram, Twitter and personal blogs, young gardeners are sure to begin experimenting in the garden. And the results are likely to be very different to traditional flowerbeds.
Gardening in the future
When looking through the posts of online gardeners, there is a clear trend for growing things with a “purpose”. Whether it’s food, homegrown beauty products or natural remedies, rather than simply planting something to look “pretty”. 27 year old blogger Dale Connelly – one half of popular social media team Skinny Jean Gardeners explains; “A lot of what [TV gardeners] do is about looking pretty. Young people want to use what they grow in their cooking, or even in other ways – did you know you can make shampoo out of lemon thyme? That’s what’s really exciting.”
Another young gardener, 28 year old Kitty Wilkins, agrees. “Terracotta pots are supposed to look like they come from 15th century Italy. Naff stuff that’s aimed at the fiftysomething market. But in the last five years there are a lot more companies creating things a bit cooler: cleaner lines, more modern and fashionable.”
As modern styles take over, the days of traditional lawns and flowerbeds are coming to an end. Urban gardeners are creating new ways to grow things in a smaller space, such as a kitchens and balconies. Nature is making its way indoors while living rooms spread to the garden. And practicality is overtaking appearance in plant choices.
It might be that a career digging up flowerbeds and spending leisure time reading Gardener’s World doesn’t interest young people. But that doesn’t mean that gardening as a hobby is going anywhere. It just might look a little different.
So if you really want to keep up with the youth, start by asking the right questions and maybe ditch the terracotta.