Capel Manor college recently organised a horticulture industry speakers’ day, with experts that work in the London Parks. The aim of the day was to offer advice, support, and inspiration to those newly studying in the industry, Capel’s Level 3 horticulture supervisor apprentices.
The apprentices shared with me some of the highlights of what they learnt from the day.
This year has certainly been a challenge for all of us, so how has horticulture faired in the current climate?
Ann noted “one of the positive outcomes of this year is that people have learnt to appreciate access to green space”, Joe added to this that “our parks, green spaces, nature reserves and trails have been invaluable for everyone looking for a safe space to exercise, take in fresh air and just move away from the stress of life. Whether that’s home schooling, working from home or being placed on furlough, we have all needed to get outside to improve our physical and mental health”.
But it has not always been plain sailing for those looking after these much-needed spaces, Andrea discovered that “lockdown, restrictions, depression and the anxiety caused by dealing with some unruly public and uncertain vulnerable working areas, has given some workers within the horticultural field, a sense of despair and despondency”.
And that while it was encouraging that many could still go to work, it was a challenge to be “labelled keyworkers, when we are not statutory workers”. Therefore, the need to remind everyone how supportive the industry is, really came through with speakers referring to “themselves as a support network”, for those already in the industry and those just joining.
So how can we support and help each other?
Alyce was interested to hear speakers “highlight the importance of having trade associations such as BALI and its benefits to its members”. Ann could also see the benefits of joining an association, as “student membership is often free or discounted. Associations provide fantastic networking opportunities, as well as creating a trusted environment where likeminded individuals can come together to share ideas, strengthen ties, collaborate, and make connections”.
Andrea saw personal value in days like this where, “these experienced specialists in their field give up their time, knowledge and support”, this along with “forums, associations, social media sites and links create an essential link to all, to provide a supportive infrastructure”.
What does the future of horticulture look like going forwards?
Karl was excited to hear how innovative the industry is, in not only having to work with reduced budgets, but also finding ways to be more biodiverse. Councils are creating “shrub beds and wildflower meadows to encourage biodiversity. They are starting to let plants like Yellow Rattle grow in their grass verges, which helps slow down the growth rate of grass by up to 60%, this means they only have to cut verges 3 times a year instead of every 10 days, which makes them a huge saving”. Andrea felt the speakers “promoted a brighter future in these bleak times, as the horticulture industry has the ‘key’ to promote wellbeing and happiness in future ‘greening’ projects, especially in urban areas, which all links into a positive which has come out of the pandemic”. Andrea made a career change to horticulture in her forties, but wished she had done it sooner, “I wish I had taken this learning journey sooner, I wish I had been the person who knew what they wanted to be and do in their 20s and built from there, so I would be a specialist by now. Yet, my life experience and skills have helped me get there anyway”.
There will still be challenges going forward, and the learners and speakers considered several issues in the future of horticulture.
Karl was surprised when “a local Council said its budget had been cut by 40%”. Andrea was concerned with “what the future holds for our status as park workers; our security, changing processes, PPE disposal, safe recycling, and structures for possible future lockdowns”.
Joe saw the potential positive impact horticulture could have, “all through the country and the industry, there are changes taking place, during our discussion, there was a larger emphasis on climate change reduction, conservation, biodiversity, protection of sites important to nature conservation and many more. Horticulture is at the forefront of all of it, who wouldn’t want to play a part in making a positive change in their environment for everyone?”
Ann was concerned with some of “the challenges parks face, one being the population density, we have, with more people living in cities, we are an overpopulated nation, which is having an impact on our open spaces”. Alyce felt there was “an interesting conversation to be had as to how much people value their time amongst nature, especially during this pandemic”. This means “the government has to become more aware of this crucial matter, which in turn can result in a positive outcome for the horticulture industry”.
There is still a lot of work to be done promoting the importance of “working together, to open up new avenues and paths for residents and the wider public, through collaboration, that aims to support people with health challenges get them out into the local parks”.
Everyone agreed that it was a great industry to join and this certainly came across from the speakers, Alyce said, “the meeting highlighted the many career opportunities (link) and sparked up further interest in the possibilities of what the horticultural industry has to offer”.
The day was really encouraging, promoting the value of being “part of an industry that accommodates a spectrum of ages and experience, that could place you in employment, different places and projects that will change the future”.