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Social media is fertile ground for new breed of gardeners

By Jane Merrick

Published 16/04/2015

Appealing: Monty Don
Appealing: Monty Don

Of all the inspirational remarks I've ever heard about gardening, one of the best was by John Carter - who with his wife, Galen, is a leading collector of water irises - on the BBC's Gardeners' World last week.

Referring to Van Gogh's masterpiece Irises as he surveyed swathes of the blue flowers in his garden in Tavistock, Mr Carter said: "There is that overrated picture costing millions of pounds … A gardener can have a much better thing by having the original for just a few quid."

I think it is fair to say that the Carters are at the veteran end of the gardening age spectrum.

But there is exciting news about the younger generation, too: a survey commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society has found that 90% of 16 to 24 year-olds have a garden, or an allotment, or grow something on a balcony, or indoors.

Crucially, this new generation of gardening enthusiasts has been helped along by Twitter, with young horticulturalists swapping notes and seeds through the social network.

Gardeners and allotmenteers love sharing anecdotes, experiences and tales of adversity, as well as actual produce, so it is easy to understand why social media is fertile ground for this new wave of gardening.

Yet this surge in interest has been in spite of the reluctance of the gardening establishment and the Government to encourage young gardening.

Four years ago, David Cameron compared gardening to unskilled work, such as litter-picking, when he was discussing community work for the unemployed.

Successive governments have not done enough to encourage horticulture as a career.

Gardening is not a compulsory part of the curriculum.

While the RHS has done a lot to encourage young people - through its campaign for school gardening and its lobbying of the Government to put horticulture on the national curriculum - it should do more to make Chelsea, the world's greatest flower show, which takes place every May, accessible to the young.

For a start, the RHS could lift the ban on the under-fives, because I see no sensible reason for this apart from a mistaken desire to keep it more design-focused and elitist rather than family- oriented.

The over-fives are charged full price, which this year is £69 for a day for members, or £59 for non-members. There is no discount for students and this price is too high for many young people.

There are other, cheaper flower shows run by the RHS, such as Hampton Court, which does have an emphasis on younger people and families, but it still saddens me that Chelsea is out of reach for many.

Then there is TV: the biggest gardening programme is still Gardeners' World, which I watch every week, but the format - Monty Don presenting most of the show from his own garden - may not be appealing to the under-25s, particularly after Alys Fowler, whose edgier, more urban approach drew in younger viewers, was dropped from the programme four years ago.

This new generation of gardeners may not care about Gardeners' World, or Chelsea. But their enthusiasm must be matched by an inter-generational enthusiasm on the part of older gardeners and the horticultural establishment.

There is actually no difference between the Carters and their water iris collection, a designer at Chelsea and a teenager who's just got their first allotment - they're all gardeners.

Belfast Telegraph

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