Inspire a generation – of gardeners

As Olympic Fever takes hold in Team GB and throughout the land, there’s been a huge amount of talk around the London 2012 slogan ‘Inspire a Generation’.  Of course all that talk has been about whether the Games will actually do what they set out to do ie. get children away from their computers and TVs and out of the house to participate in sport.  But it got me thinking about how we could play a part to get kids out of the house and into the garden – or if they have no garden, out to the park or countryside.

So often when you read articles about well-known gardeners or garden designers they say that what got them interested in gardens in the first place was growing vegetables or flowers on the allotment or in their family garden from a young age.

The experiences they had when they were small stayed with them and meant so much to them that they carried that on through to their careers in adult life.  I was a late developer when it came to gardening, but it was the experience of taking on an allotment and growing fruit and veg. (and just as importantly being outside in the fresh air and peace and quiet) that led me to the decision to change my career and retrain as a garden designer.

So what can we do to inspire the next generation of gardeners?

Creating areas of the garden where children can have their own vegetable patch, or even just grow sunflowers is a great thing to do.  Once they start to learn and see the fruits of their labour they’ll be hooked.

sunflowers

Ponds are fantastic as they provide so much interest with tadpoles and frogs, fish, dragonflies, birds  …

Butterfly on Echinacea

Adding habitats for wildlife to discover is a great way to get children interested in the great outdoors – encouraging bees and butterflies, frogs and birds, insects and hedgehogs.  Patches of long grass and wildflowers, piles of wood left to rot, insect ‘hotels’, bird feeders – all simple things but they will help to improve the biodiversity and health of your garden and bring all sorts of wildlife in.

And then what?  The problem with gardening as a career is that it’s generally undervalued. Maybe that’s because a lot of people look on gardening as a form of ‘tidying’ – an extension of the housework.  It’s so sad to see the after effects of so-called ‘gardeners’ who basically haven’t a clue about pruning or feeding plants, but just like to hack things down or (weirdly) turn everything into a ball shape with hedge cutters.  What’s all that about?!

It takes years and years to build up the knowledge required to call yourself a gardener, and no matter how much you know you never stop learning.  So why aren’t real gardeners taken seriously and paid accordingly?

Gardens evolve over time.  Unless you’re going for the low-maintenance supermarket-carpark look, you need to invest time and effort in your garden to make it the beautiful interesting outdoor space you aspire to. Not every garden owner has the time (or the interest, or the back muscles) required to maintain their gardens, but if that’s the case they need to pay people who know what they are doing a decent wage to do it on their behalf.  And they need to be realistic and give them enough time to do what’s required for their garden. Because if that doesn’t happen all the good gardeners out there will be hanging up their secateurs and going to work in call centres.  And we’ll never inspire young people to take on gardening as a career.

So let’s make a start by encouraging children to get interested in gardening in the first place, and then maybe we can also start valuing those gardeners who have worked long and hard to gain their knowledge and experience.  That way our gardens will have a rosy future.

Picture credits : Janet Bligh / http://www.photoforsale.co.uk/nature-photos.htm

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