Chelsea Flower Show: Getting youths into gardening

Left-right: David Rich, Hugo Bugg, Matthew Keightley, Harry Rich Four designers under 30 are vying for a prize at this year's Chelsea Flower Show

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The line-up of designers at this year's Chelsea Flower Show suggests a blossoming youth policy.

The hardy perennials are led by Alan Titchmarsh, 65, celebrating 50 years as a professional gardener with his From the Moors to the Sea.

But an unprecedented three show gardens have been created by designers aged under 30.

They include Vital Earth: The Night Sky Garden by Chelsea's youngest designer David Rich, 23, and his brother Harry, 26. Their garden, which will be moved to Beechwood Autistic College after the show, is inspired by star constellations.

Not everything in the garden is rosy, however.

Vital Earth: The Night Sky Garden Chelsea's youngest designer David Rich and his brother Harry are behind the Night Sky Garden

Organiser the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says gardening is facing a skills crisis because of an ageing workforce and a lack of young people coming through.

Hugo Bugg, 27, is competing against the Rich brothers with his RBC Waterscape Garden - Embrace The Rain, an illustration of global water issues which also shows practical solutions for dealing with storm water.

He says perceptions need to change.

"If you know it's a profession and you can get a good income or salary from it, and that people will respect you, then more people will get into it."

The main problem is that "there's not a huge amount of people going straight from schools to university to study garden design - it's not one of the highest-demand courses", he says.

Not all children can enjoy the same introduction to gardening as Bugg - "on a very wild garden where I spent my whole youth helping the family".

But "there are still parks, there are still backyards", he says.

"There's plenty of organisations that do community grow-your-own schemes. There are opportunities out there."

Time to Reflect garden The Time To Reflect garden aims to remind people of the power of memories
Crowds at Chelsea Flower Show Garden design is not the highest-demand course, says gardener Hugo Bugg
Chelsea Flower Show The Royal Horticultural Society says gardening is facing a skills crisis
Woman looks at flowers at Chelsea Flower Show There is an ageing workforce and a lack of young people coming through, it says
Chelsea Flower Show garden 80% of schoolteachers are unaware of the "vast career opportunities available", it says
Kate Savill Kate Savill says it is an "honour" to see a design going from paper to reality

Thirteen-year-old Core Stone, a pupil of Thistley Hough Academy, Stoke-on-Trent, agrees.

Core, who helped to create the Positively Stoke-on-Trent show garden - designed by a team from his city council - says he developed that love when he used to have a garden.

Now, he says, "I stick to basic gardening and just water plants if there are any there that need watering".

But in the future he anticipates keeping gardening as a hobby because he would prefer "a bigger career".

Fellow pupil Molly Bishop, 13, meanwhile, says: "I would say this garden was inspirational and I would take it further.

"From this I've seen what you can actually do by just gardening - like the flowers and stuff."

Twenty-six-year-old fine art graduate Kate Savill - an apprentice who works for the Homebase Garden Academy - has been helping top designer Adam Frost with his show garden.

She says seeing the designs "initially on paper and then to be stood in front of it is quite an honour - we've learnt so much".

The Time To Reflect garden, sponsored by Homebase in association with the Alzheimer's Society, is "an ornamental wildlife-friendly garden designed to remind families of the power that memories can evoke".

'Volunteering helped me'

Sean Laverick

Sean Laverick, 22, an apprentice in the Homebase Garden Academy, explains how volunteering helped him to become a horticulturalist:

"One of the reasons young people don't get into gardening is there's probably quite a lot of distractions.

"I personally grew up in the countryside in Northumberland so I've grown up with this, so it's very much my own ground. It was just looking out of the back door.

"I think probably the easiest way to get into gardening is every organisation looks for volunteers.

"I did a few weeks in [National Trust property] Cragside. After I left school, I worked at Howick Hall with various bits of estate management, general upkeep and tidying of Alpine gardens and herbaceous borders.

"Through volunteering, I learned all the basics."

"I think there's not enough steering of younger people in this direction and maybe not making them quite aware enough that there's so many different careers in horticulture," she says.

The RHS agrees, saying 80% of schoolteachers are unaware of the "vast career opportunities available".

And it is raising funds at this year's Chelsea Flower Show to create more jobs at its gardens in Wisley, Surrey; Harlow Carr, North Yorkshire; Hyde Hall, Essex; and Rosemoor in Devon.

Veteran gardener and TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh says that - and the inclusion of young designers at this year's shows - is an example of green shoots in the push to attract young people into horticulture.

"We're getting there - I hope we're getting the message through that it's a career," he says.

"And parents need to just make sure our children are in contact with the great outdoors.

"Take them out on spring and summer days. If you introduce them to the great outdoors, they'll run with it."

Matt Keightley, 29, another young contender for the show gardens prize with his creation Hope On The Horizon, agrees things are looking up.

His garden, inspired by his brother's experiences while serving in Afghanistan, symbolises the recovery of injured soldiers. It is the first show garden he has designed.

Gardener watering "I hope we're getting the message through that it's a career," says Alan Titchmarsh
Chelsea Flower Show "Take them out on spring and summer days. If you introduce them to the great outdoors, they'll run with it," says Titchmarsh
Playmobil figure at Chelsea Flower Show Gardener Matt Keightley agrees: Get young people off their playstations and outdoors, he says

"I think there's a stigma around the industry that it's for old ladies and boring old blokes," he says.

"But the future is looking 100% brighter."

He says many people think of Chelsea as "a bit of a clique".

"So the fact they've opened the doors to the likes of us guys can only be a positive."

And he says there's a simple way to get children and young people into gardening.

"Get them off the bloody PlayStations - get them outdoors."

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