I hate the image of gardeners that we are routinely presented with in the media. We are all middle aged, cheerful and smiley. If you are a woman you are inevitably as ‘lovely’ as your garden and had better be as sweet natured and lovable as Beth Chatto or Anna Pavord.
So, as Nick Turrell points out here – why would anyone want to be a gardener?
Anne Wareham, editor and Bad Tempered Gardener.
Would you be a gardener? by Nick Turrell:
Last week the RHS and HTA presented a report to the government stating that unless the skills shortage in the horticulture industry is tackled immediately the UK will face a “serious crisis” in years to come. What? A skills shortage during a time of high unemployment? That doesn’t sound right. Are jobs in horticulture really that unappealing?
Apparently yes and furthermore I know why. I’ve been employing people in the industry for 20 years. I can tell you in five words what the problem is, I don’t need an official report to tell me…gardening has an image problem. It’s nerdy – not sexy, un-cool. Oh and the money is crap too. So just to re-cap…rubbish money and a geeky image – and we’re all scratching our heads wondering why no-one wants to work in it.
Gardening has always had an image problem; when a company wants to diplomatically get rid of someone they send them on ‘gardening’ leave. When something is mundane it’s described as common or ‘garden’. These phrases don’t do the image much good. So what has the RHS been doing about it? Whatever it is, it isn’t working. They’ve had over 200 years to work on this. Maybe a change of plan is needed.
I’m not sure throwing government money at it is the answer either. If you want to “change the perceptions” of gardening it’s not government money you need, it’s new ambassadors. How is it that other industries seem to manage, even when the starting salaries are just as low? The art industry for example, there are struggling artists all over the place. But a struggling artist is seen as sexy. It’s not just about the low wages it’s the status that needs to be addressed too.
And what about those industries that used to be seen as un-cool but have now transformed their image without the help of government funding. How did they do it? They did it in the same way they got the nerdy image in the first place; through TV coverage. Before Keith Floyd, cookery programmes were pretty dull. Chris Kelly from Food and Drink and Delia Smith weren’t sexy and their programmes were aimed at cookery bores. Keith Floyd changed all that. The car industry is another image transforming success story. In the 1980’s and 90’s Top Gear was famously watched by bearded car bores and then one brave TV commissioning editor took a risk and let Jeremy Clarkson off the lead.
Gardening TV needs to take a few more risks with its presenters. If you only ever saw people like Rolf Harris rather than Tracey Emin representing the art industry on TV, would it have such a bohemian image? These are the people who change the public perception of an industry; its role models. Expecting the RHS to change the public perception of gardening is like asking the RAC to change the public perception of motoring.
Cookery had Keith Floyd, motoring has Clarkson who have we got?.…Alan Titchmarsh. I’ve got nothing against Mr T but anyone with that many grandmothers who fancy him is not going to sex up the image of gardening. He is to gardening what Cliff Richard is to rock and roll.
It’s not just Mr T either. None of the current TV garden presenters are flamboyant, sexy, mischievous or funny. And the industry is suffering because of it. Why do the TV executives with the power think the public only want to see stereotypical gardeners on TV?
They aren’t prepared to take the risk. They don’t want to upset the loyal viewers. But upset them we must. Look what it did for Top Gear; sure they may have lost a few viewers but they managed to get a few new ones too; the last count was 350 million.
Not enough time has been spent promoting the sexy side of gardening, the creative side. Perhaps the RHS has spent so much effort promoting the growing of plants that it has overlooked what is sexy about our industry.
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