Sunday, 30 September 2012

Money money money, definitely not funny...

Working in the horticultural industry brings many rewards while at the same time can bring misery and uncertainty for those who work in it's various areas. Working with an enormous range of plants and in the open air is fantastic, even in the depths of winter when it's freezing cold or p*ss*ing it down. Likewise you get to enjoy working with a wide range of people from different walks of life, and indulge your areas of interest, whether it be the most complicated end of natural sciences or just the simple day-to-day logistics of running a garden or nursery/garden centre. Each day brings it's own rewards.

Horticulture also has it's downside; wages are poor and everywhere you turn you are looked upon as someone who has gone into horticulture because you are too stupid to do anything else. Once you get into horticulture you realise that it is challenging and requires great skill, but try explaining that to someone on the outside who sees manual work as degrading....

The impression of horticulture must be changed, and to do that we must all make every effort to show off our skills- maybe then we will be taken seriously?

The issue of wages is a more difficult one. Much like the food in supermarkets people do feel that plants have no real value. A cutting from a plant hasn't cost anything, a big bag of compost costs just a few pounds, so why should plants be more than a few pounds to buy? This has bred a 'bargain basement' culture in horticulture, where products and services have to be offered and rock-bottom prices to grab the customer's attention. You can offer plants at low cost by cutting production costs and growing more solidly reliable plants (which are less likely to suffer losses during the production cycle). By cutting back on costs nurseries will offer a smaller and smaller range of plants at ever poorer quality until they go out of business. This would be a disaster to the consumer, who would lose out on the enormous range of quality plants available in UK nurseries.

One of the biggest costs in horticulture is the people looking after the plants. These people are needed to care for plants at every point from young 'liner' plant up to saleable size, to make sure that each plant is given sufficient water and feed, as well as suitable trimming and weeding to make each plant the best quality possible. Nonetheless skilled workers are finding horticulture less and less viable financially each year. If horticultural staff moved on and worked in other industries for the better wages the horticulture industry would collapse very quickly, putting hobby gardeners and anyone who values our nation's parks and public gardens at great disadvantage.

For anyone in horticulture who gets into serious financial trouble there is help from the charity Perennial. Perennial provides free and confidential help for gardeners to sort out their finances, avoid getting into debt and generally get into a better position so they can practice their vocation to the best of their abilities. All this work needs support, and it is with this in mind that one man is undertaking a rather unusual challenge.

Phil Voice, founder of the Landscape Juice Network, is driving from deepest France to John O'Groats... on a ride-on lawnmower! Phil is hoping that the 1,250 mile trip will raise £10,000 for Perennial, so that it can continue to do it's valued work, especially needed during these times of financial uncertainty. Please donate any money that you can spare- let's help Phil reach (or even exceed) his target! For more information:

Wages must improve. The Government recently released the results of a study that said that in order to have a reasonable quality of life each person should earn around £20,000 a year. In horticulture people who earn £15,000 a year consider themselves lucky. The cost of living is going up, horticultural wages will probably stay the same.

So what can you do to help? Buy plants! Visit gardens! I'm not saying that you need to set a spending target, or you must spend money you really don't have, but if you do have a space in the garden then please do buy a plant. At least if you buy a hardy tree, shrub or perennial you can be assured of two things; that you are buying a plant that will last, and you are investing in the future of a very worthwhile industry.