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Blog Post

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Sarah Owen-Hughes

A Career in Joy

Sarah Owen-Hughes at Tromso Botanic Garden

Gardening is a joyous activity. Whether inhaling the wet earth smell of promise when lifting the first potatoes to being passed a glimmer of optimism in a tissue-wrapped cutting, it is something that brings out the kindness and generosity of strangers, and a deeper closeness with friends who also share the love.

It is a love that changes every day, and one can never, ever learn enough. In a single week I can receive a text stating ‘My neighbour is cutting down their pear tree. Stop it.’; find a bag of golden quinces on my doorstep; visit a leading local horticultural research facility and arrange to travel to Spain with some students on an Erasmus Aquaponics project. It is a career or hobby that constantly enriches, even on the wettest and coldest days.

And yet horticulture is facing a recruitment crisis. The RHS Horticulture Matters report in 2014 found that 72% of surveyed businesses struggled to fill skilled vacancies (RHS, 2014). NFU Horticulture board chair Ali Capper recently identified a 29% shortage in the labour market, with fears that this will only increase as we negotiate the movement of labour post Brexit (HortWeek, 2018). I had a message from a former student recently about forestry work in Canada, where he told me that he could place up to 250 young people with arboriculture qualifications. This is an international issue.

I was also reading recently about the increase in mental health conditions in young adults, partially identified as being caused by societal pressures to succeed, and it struck me that horticulture could be part of a solution. Instead of directing them to financially ruinous degrees with the pressure of a high-income job at the end, why not teach youngsters to pursue a career in joy? I don’t want to say of my children “They work too hard” when they are older. I want to say, “They love their job”.

Creating Secret Gardens at the Deershed Festival.

Imagine leaving home every morning to visit different farms, nurseries and garden centres as a Plant Health Inspector; working with a team to grow and harvest microgreens or medicinal herbs in an LED facility; developing legislation with the government Pesticides authority; designing and building a garden for a local school, training to be a botanical artist or teaching students about the miracle of seeds breaking their dormancy? These are all jobs that former students have gone on to do, and nothing gives me greater joy than hearing where they are in the world and how much they love their lives. And let’s dismiss the idea that horticulture is only a low paid career for low skilled people – the Head of Gardens at the Eden Project is being advertised at £55k, which is hardly a job for someone who is “too thick to be an electrician” (former student, undated).

The next time you watch a cyclamen flowerhead spiral its way back down to the ground to deposit its seed, or you feel the crunch of dry leaves underfoot as you walk to the shed, please, please share the joy. Tell a child or a young adult about how that makes you feel, let them into the secret. It is a joy that will sustain them for the rest of their lives.

Installing a sedum roof at home

Sarah Owen-Hughes, MCIoH, Horticulture Lecturer, Askham Bryan College, York. Sarah is the External Examiner for the Horticulture degree programmes at the Eden Project, Cornwall & Kirkley Hall, Northumberland.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/Education-Learning/PDF/Training/1016-RHS-Hort-Careers-Brochure-V8.pdf

https://www.hortweek.com/labour-crisis-update-bad-shortage-season/fresh-produce/article/1497170

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