Monday, 23 December 2013

A Positive Revolution?

There has been much talk recently of the gardening world becoming stagnant, dreary and dull. Of the need for a call to arms, a messiah, as discussed by Lucy Masters in her thinkinGardens piece There is fear that garden writing in book form is struggling with Mr Hessayon announcing his probable retirement at the Garden Media Guild Awards, claiming that the internet would be the end of the garden D.I.Y book, and there is the constant fear that with so few young people coming into the horticultural industry as a serious career choice, that soon we will have no trained plantsmen or scientists to carry on the tradition that is horticulture in the U.K.
All this got me thinking. Thinking very seriously about the world that I am immensely proud to be a part of. An industry that is full of people who work ridiculously hard, in all weathers, to keep the British tradition of horticulture alive. These people are all full of passion and excitement for what they do, excited by new plants they have bred, new nutrient sources they are working on or new gardens they are designing and creating, and it is that passion that keeps them forging forwards in times of hardship.
It is very interesting when talking to people about gardening, just what an emotive subject it is, and why it is that emotive. For many, professional or amateur(and I use amateur very loosely as there are some incredible gardens out there that are not made by professionals but are just as great, if not better than a garden designed by a professional)gardening is their reason for being. Watching the progression of the seasons, planting a seed and watching it grow, creating a wonderful space grow, bloom and die back again in readiness for the following season, brings an awareness of time and seasonality that many struggle to see in their busy 21st century lives. Growing food, allotments and the whole Growing Your Own movement, pulls people back and slows them down. Planting a seed in February and waiting until Christmas for a harvest, as with sprouts, is a real shock for an new allotment holder who is used to just going out and buying what he wants, but it is also a huge learning experience that can be quite humbling. People garden, work with plants, grow or whatever term you want to use, because it is a basic need for them, rather than a choice, and we in the industry are just lucky enough to call our passion our job!
So is there a crisis in gardening? Yes of course there is. D.I.Y stores bringing stock in cheaply from abroad are forcing our nurserymen and women to really struggle and there is a lack of horticultural training available to younsters entering the industry. There is not a single straight botany course left in a U.K university and Garden History courses have all gone too, despite the huge wealth that British planthunters have brought to the table since the 18th century. Our industry has no subsidies unlike some European countries and the Garden Centre chains are all about profit rather than about plants.
But, instead of looking for the negative, let's concentrate on the positive. The age of the D.I.Y gardening book may be over but embrace the knowledge that is available on the internet. There are inspirational blogs out there as well as great videos and films on You Tube and gardening apps that mean with a smart phone you have a huge wealth of knowledge in your pocket, for whenever you need it. There is an amazing Twitter community of gardeners, constantly talking about what is going right and wrong for them and learning from each other, as well as some incredible Facebook groups where people are constantly posting about their achievements as well as the occassional failure.
But also, people are out there, doing it, every day, come rain or shine. Community gardens are popping up all over our cities driven by their community's need to garden, guerilla gardening is seen as a real positive and groups such as Incredible Edible Todmorden are spreading and reaching a neighbourhood near you! Schools are starting to see the need for gardening and it will soon, if it isn't already, be a part of the national curriculum. The RHS Britain in Bloom and similar campaigns, continue to inspire people to look after and care for the green spaces in their areas and although they are scorned by some, they give people the power to garden and grow. Gardening professionals continue to be busy and the small nurseries continue with their struggle to survive by creating mail order options and ensuring their plants are of such great quality who could refuse them garden space?
So here's a thought. If there is to be a call to arms, let it be from all of us, from anyone who gardens and for whatever reason, to be positive, upbeat and excited about what we do. Let's offer true inspiration, share knowledge, give advice but  most of all get out there and do it and shout out loud about it. Let's make 2014 the year the Gardening Community shouted with one voice and made itself be heard.

Winter colour at RHS Wisley