BBC Gardeners' World, The Great Allotment Challenge, The Great British Bake Off, The Great British Garden Revival
There is much talk at the moment about the future of gardening. There seems to be a collective panic amongst many within the gardening industry be it growers, writers or the gardening establishment of the RHS that gardening is in decline. The suggestion is younger people aren’t interested in plants, front gardens have been concreted over to give our cars a home for the night and where’s the room for plants in our back gardens when there’s hot tubs, trampolines and barbecues the size of some people’s kitchens taking up all the space.
Two new garden programmes will be on the BBC soon – The Great British Garden Revival and The Great Allotment Challenge – which it hopes will reignite the nation’s passion for plants. But is there a crisis in the first place? Certainly in my experience I know few people who garden and by garden I mean actively grow plants, mowing a lawn once a week doesn’t count. But if I think back to when I was growing up in the eighties I don’t remember gardening featuring highly as a hobby for the parents of my friends. So has much changed?
There’s certainly more opportunities to spend money on gardening products than ever before. But garden centres and even the large flower shows, where there is a huge focus on non-plant related garden paraphenalia, have changed our ideas about what constitutes gardening. The phrase ‘outdoor room’ makes me shudder but that has been the trend of recent years and means many gardens are becoming a repository for everything BUT plants.
There’s much comparison between the seemingly insatiable appetite for food programmes and the distinct lack of gardening on TV. David Dimbleby recently suggested there should be fewer food and garden programmes. He has a point regarding cookery, some nights it’s wall to wall nosh, but gardening? The half an hour a week of Gardeners’ World hardly counts as a surfeit of plant related telly. It has been suggested that gardening needs to be made cool and instead of people being obsessed by cake decorating and soggy bottoms it’ll be home-grown carrots and gardening gloves that we’ll all want. But food programmes do have one big advantage at capturing our attention and that’s all the sugar and fat? A soil encrusted parsnip isn’t going to get the saliva glands going in quite the same way as butter, cream and oodles of chocolate.
There’s a much quicker result from food. You see the ingredients being combined and then, ‘hey presto!’, a cake appears. It’s much harder to convey the satisfaction that gardening can give in a half hour programme. Sow some carrot seeds and then it’s three months before the result can be shown. Getting hung up on comparisons with the interest in food is distracting. Sales of juicers maybe up 210% but anyone who has ever owned a juicer knows the reality. You use them once or twice then you realise they are a nightmare to clean, they spend a year in the cupboard before you give it away to some unsuspecting relative. Viewing, purchasing and actually doing should not be confused.
Gardening does have a bit of an image problem. I recently received a birthday card from a friend. In the note inside she wrote about how she loved walking around it in spring and seeing the plants poking through. She finished this with ‘I must be getting old’. Admittedly we are both approaching forty so she isn’t wrong but the connection between gardening and age is interesting. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this either. Throughout my twenties and into my thirties I was made to feel as if my love of gardening meant I had progressed all too rapidly towards the world of pipe and slippers. Gardening presenters are, with a few exceptions middle-aged or over, and content often focusses on gardens that many of us unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of the property boom will never in our wildest dreams be able to afford. These two factors do create a general perception that gardening is not for younger people. But hasn’t this always been the case and does that mean there should be a drive to make gardening trendy and appealing to a younger audience? The first problem is defining what is young. When I stand up after planting bulbs my knees remind me I’m getting older but in terms of the typical age group that watches Gardeners’ World, which is apparently over 60, I would imagine the production team consider me a youngster. The danger is trying to make something trendy can be like watching someone recapturing their youth on the dancefloor – painful. And what works for one programme won’t necessarily translate to another. Just because the format of Top Gear has worked so well, (this is completely unfathomable to me) that doesn’t mean you can shoehorn it into other subjects. Gardening should be seen as open to all, a rewarding and fun hobby but perhaps we need just need to accept that gardening is something that comes to many for the first time in their thirties, forties and even fifties and that in many cases circumstances drive this.
Perhaps a fundamental reason for the success of food programmes is that we all have a kitchen. When it comes to gardening not everyone has the space to grow. A straw poll of people I know includes those who house-share even in their thirties because to buy is too expensive and those who live in flats, again driven by financial circumstance. Then there’s time. Some spend several hours a day just getting to and from work, there’s young children to look after and childcare to arrange. Demanding jobs and increasing ways of spending our leisure time mean gardening is bound to be one of the hobbies that falls by the wayside. I can remember the days before Sunday trading was allowed. It’s hard to imagine now that Sunday was meant to be a day of rest, a day for pottering around the garden. I’m not looking back at the early eighties with rose-tinted glasses, I remember all too well the interminable boredom sometimes that drove us to watch programmes like Bullseye, but the way we use our free time has changed and gardening has suffered as a result. If anything the crisis in gardening is not about those who are choosing not to grow but those who would grow given the chance but a lack of space and time make it impossible. The problems affecting the future of gardening go much deeper.
I look forward to new, and hopefully inspiring, gardening programmes but if we want to get more people growing it won’t be enough for gardening to pin its hopes on TV to be it’s saviour in the same way The Great British Bake Off has been for cake tins and baking trays. There is a huge focus on gardening in primary schools now so there is hope that this generation of young people will grow up with a love of plants. Whether they have anywhere to grow them may be a different story. Whether land for growing, be it allotments, back gardens or community spaces is available in the future for today’s children to carry on Britain’s great tradition of gardening is down to our politicians, architects, planners, house builders and ultimately us. If this generation don’t value the green spaces we have bought alongside our houses then why should the politicians. If we concrete them over to provide parking why should we expect planners and architects to see a value in gardens. Whether gardening is cool should be the least of our worries.
I’ll ask work colleagues who are less keen on gardening if they were exposed to gardens as children.
Andrew OBrien said:
What a great post! Probably the best I’ve seen on this topic, there’s an awful lot about making gardening ‘cool’ and it makes me cringe! As horticulture isn’t good enough in itself to be interesting to all. Gardening doesn’t have an image problem; it’s suffering from a communication problem, and gardeners are responsible for sorting that out. That means us!
Thank you Andrew. It makes me cringe too. It would be lovely to see a few ‘younger’ role models possibly on TV but I was inspired by Geoff Hamilton and Alan Titchmarsh. Ultimately it’s a passion that matters.
Allan Burns said:
I think gardening is a broad term and is more complicated than it used to be. It is dominated by the older and middle class but there are other types of gardening enthusiasts.
There are those that are interested in experimenting, challenging and shaking things up. There are those that grow their own food both the established growers who have done it forever and the younger ones who have gotten the bug and stuck with it.
An often massive yet forgotten area is hydroponics and yes they do use the equipment to grow fruit and veg, especially tomato’s.
There is so much information out there now that most traditional gardeners have no idea even exists and most likely wouldn’t be interested.
Who has heard of Green roofs, living walls, aquaponics, sunken greenhouses, hugelkultur, rain gardens, keyhole gardening, worm towers, sepp holzer and grass free lawns.
Gardening will always survive, after all we need plants, they relax us, filter our air, produce oxygen, gardening is good for you both physically and mentally. Gardening will always be a niche activity even in our great gardening nation.
I agree gardening or growing will always be a feature of of some of our lives. I do think the number of people gardening will decline over the coming years though and that will have an impact on the gardening industry. Hopefully the generation of primary school children growing up now will get the chance to garden as adults. Lots of interesting topics there. Will have to research some of them. 🙂
Excellent post. I agree, it’s not about being cool, its about having somewhere to grow things, having access to people who grow things, being enthused by passionate gardeners whatever their age – whatever your age. I grew up with parents who gardened, and although I hated weeding and the way my Dad cut the roses hard back every spring because I could never quite believe that they would grow back it is amazing, looking back, how much I learnt without realising it. Plus my grandparents and great grandparents gardened too, my Nan made raspberry jam from the fruit my Grandad grew. What about the kids growing up without any access to green space, whose grandparents have lost their allotment and whose parents can’t afford a house with a garden? The schools have a huge role to play, but so does government, they could mandate a minimum amount of green space within any new development, so that local residents can socialise and have some growing space whether they have gardens or not. And at least if there was a variety of different types of gardening programme on TV, much like there is a variety of property programmes and cooking/food programmes, then gardening would be seen as a normal part of life rather than a weird niche. There is so much more to this than critiquing Gardener’s World and media gardener’s use of social networking, though having a broader range of presenters, in terms of age and interests, would help shake things up a little. I’m going to stop now because otherwise I should be turning this in to a post – I hope lots of people engage with this, with you. Thanks for taking the time to post about it so thoughtfully.
Hi Janet, I definitely think whether you grow up seeing your family garden or not is quite key. I agree about government setting minimum limits on green space. There’s a new estate near us and there’s hardly a tree in sight and the gardens are teeny. Put a few wheelie bins in there, a bike and kids toys and there won’t be much space left for plants. I wish the RHS and the National Trust etc would lobby government to protect our gardens and allotments. We do need a wider range of gardening programmes. It does seem to feature quite a bit now in children’s TV which is brilliant. I’ve often thought it’s a pity that Hugh FW’s programmes aren’t a mix of food and growing info. He has that beautiful kitchen garden which would make a lovely setting for a foodie/growing combo. I don’t mind GW, I think it has its place but gardening, growing, horticulture and botany are such wide subjects I think there’s such huge untapped programme potential out there. Thanks for your comments. 🙂
Danielle G said:
Great article WW, and congratulations on your new book! I will definitely be getting a copy.
I’ll agree that we really don’t need as many cooking and ‘foodie’ shows – I may be biased as they annoy the hell out of me.
In Australia we have an entire evening devoted to food and cooking shows on Thursdays and also cooking and food shows outside of that as well. We only have 1 gardening program – Gardening Australia which is complete and utter rubbish (especially when compared to Gardener’s World).
I always watched Gardening Australia as a teen and in my 20’s but after the head presenter retired (Peter Cundall who is British and retired in his mid 80’s) they revamped the show to make it ‘more friendly’ (and presumably ‘cooler’) to younger viewers. The result is a nauseating foodie/grow your own edibles show with virtually nothing on ornamental gardening, gardening techniques or visiting established gardens (with the exception of community gardens growing produce). It tries to be ‘cool’ and ‘urbane’ and that is mostly the problem – not to mention the new host who resembles a yeti or to be kinder – a Woodstock reveller. As a result they have lost most of their traditional audience as well as younger fans.
I don’t think gardening has to be trendy, trends always come and go. But there should definitely be more gardening shows and less cookery shows.
As someone who has gardened since the age of around 4 (I’m now 38) I do agree that it is seen as an ‘old’ person’s thing – I’ve had many patronising comments when at gardening fairs or tours. However I don’t think that it such a bad thing.
On a positive note – my 3 and a half year daughter requested that Father Christmas bring her some proper gardening gloves and her own hand tools so I was more than happy to fulfill that request!
Hi Danielle, Thank you 🙂 I’m very pleased to get a sale down under. 😉 Apparently it’s available for pre order on http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Cut-Flower-Patch-Louise-Curley/9780711234758. You can order in Au dollars and it’s free delivery. Hope you like it.
The number of food programmes on UK TV at the moment is ridiculous. You sell Gardening Australia so well I almost want to see it. 😉 I’ve googled the programme and see what you mean, that is quite a beard. I grew up watching Gardeners’ World with Geoff Hamilton and Alan Titchmarsh and loved them.
It does seem like gardening is making a comeback in schools here in the UK but space is at a premium and I do wonder whether many of today’s youngsters will be able to afford a home with a garden when they are my age.
It’s so lovely that you’ve got a budding little gardener there.
I think the huge growth of food gardens in schools is a very positive development, giving children the skills and confidence to grow plants. Whether they put this into practice in adulthood is up to them, but at least now the children of non-gardening parents are learning to garden, which wasn’t the case before.
In some ways it is inevitable that most people will take up gardening as a hobby later in life rather than earlier, as they are more likely to have the space, the settled lifestyle and the time once they have retired from full-time work, or at least once the children are off their hands. I suspect the current generation will come to value gardening in their later years, too, when life slows down a little. And as we’re living longer, even if someone doesn’t start to garden until they’re 60, they should still have many happy years ahead.
Whether there will be spaces to garden in is another issue, and probably not as pressing here in Australia as it is in Britain. But don’t forget that concrete can always be torn up again, and green spaces brought back to cities. As far as gardening goes, it’s never really over. And cool? Of course gardening is cool, but only cool people can see it 🙂
I can’t think of anything cooler than gardening but there are some who think it needs some help. ;0 I think the problem in the UK is the need for land is huge and allotments are under significant threats from developers. This is the sort of land that won’t be replaced in the future. Hopefully it won’t be the case but there are already lots of people living in urban areas in particular who would like to grow and have limited access to green space. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. It’s good to hear thoughts from other countries. 🙂
Charles Warner said:
Good morning wellywoman. I both agreed and, to some extent, disagreed with this piece. You are right about the gardening industry. I think that it is suffering. I have a nursery in Wales that supplies garden centres with herbs and alpines. At the moment I sell as much as I can produce but I’m not making a living and its very tough. This year I have had one customer pack up, one put their place up for sale and one that will finish if they get the planning permission that they seek. Others struggle to pay for their plants. I dislike celebrity endorsements but you can’t deny that Alan Titchmarsh and his team brought a little boom to the garden industry when they were on television all the time. It’s true that the rewards that gardening offers are perhaps harder to win than those of the kitchen (Results come in months rather than hours ) but my hope is that they are all the greater for that and that there might be a growing number of younger adults ready to forgo the charms of the computer game for those of the soil. I would like to draw your attention to hiut denim and the do lectures. I have no connection to either but they use skilful marketing to convey a kind of hipster cool that I feel could be applied to horticulture. Ok so they are a clothing manufacturer which must make it far easier but I would be interested to hear your views on this. If you look at some of the online Hiut stuff you will spot Alice Holden modelling their jeans. She is a market gardener that runs a community garden in Daggenham. She has that kind of hipster look that you get with Hiut marketing but from seeing her videos she seems to have a real connection with the soil and is the sort of person that would bring that type of cool to horticulture. I don’t know if thiskind of marketing is an option for horticulture but would like to know what you think.
Hi Charles. Thank you for your comments. I know there are parts of the gardening industry that are really struggling. I think one of the problems is that whilst people might spend money on garden related paraphernalia, I think people are buying less plants. Gardening is less about the growing to some extent and more about creating that outdoor room which is fine for the large DIY stores but not so good for small independent nurseries. And if the age at which people start to properly garden increases how will this impact on the industry. Expensive house prices will have a huge knock on effect in many ways over the coming years.
I had a look at the Huit site. I like what they do and the styling. Have you looked at the clothing company Toast, they worked with Alys Fowler recently? Whether it would work for gardening I’m not sure. Think the problem is that the age range of that highly stylised marketing would be quite narrow and they do tend to be the group who are least likely to have their own growing space or if they do it will possibly be very small. They would also be the ones I would expect to be most focussed on their career and travelling and possibly not have much spare time for gardening.
You might be interested in The Simple Things magazine. They have a really fresh take on things and although the gardening section is small I like what they are doing. I did a feature last month for them and one for next month about natural Christmas decorations.
It would be interesting to see if it was possible to use a fresh take on gardening and plants to gain the interest of more people.
Charles Warner said:
Thanks for the reply. Its reassuring to see so many people responding to your posts. there are clearly many passionate gardeners out there. This is bourne out by the huge demand for plants just as soon as the season breaks in the spring. The problem for growers like myself is that much of this demand is sucked up by the supermarkets and diy sheds and who can compete on convenience and price but not on ethics, service or quality. Much of what they sell is sourced abroad. For every passionate gardener out there, there are many people that want to just make their gardens nicer and as far as the industry is concerned it is these customers that are likely to decide whether or not we can make a living by producing plants in the UK.This is where TV shows come in. It’s not so much an age issue. I think that I am still young and funky though I am well into middle age. like many of my peers my concerns are about sustainability and quality. This is something that is almost never discussed on tv. Last week I heard radio 4’s “gardeners question time” extolling the virtues of mega cheap poinsettas. These are sold in supermarkets for less than Uk growers can produce them for and end up in the bin in January. it’s no wonder that garden centres survive by selling crystal gandalfs and fairy lights. Their season for plant sales is already short and getting shorter and every shopper in Tesco, Aldi or now waitrose is assailed during that season by trollies of plants in the car park and around the front doors. Once the proper garden centres and nurseries have gone we will be left with these outlets selling cheap foreign plants that have been on a trolley for a week. Covered in botrytis and gasping for water. Your followers know this already and you seem to be doing a great job in publicising it . It’s all the others that need to know. I do my own tiny bit in trying to promote well grown British plants but I still have to compete on price with those sourced in Africa and Israel and god knows where else. The garden centres tell me that no one cares about “grown in UK” or “grown in Wales or peat free or that the herb plants are sprayed with growth regulators but if people knew then I think that at least some would care.
Pingback: A response to Welly Woman – Is Gardening Cool Enough? | Creating my own garden of the Hesperides
I began writting a comment but it became so long I decided to post my response to you http://myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/a-response-to-welly-woman-is-gardening-cool-enough/
thanks for writing such a thought provoking post, Christina
Hi Christina, I’ll pop over and read with interest.
Southbourne Gardens said:
Yes I it is cool and there are plenty of cool things going on. Until organisations such as the RHS and BBC recognise it the image problem will remain. As far as green space to garden, it is very limited in certain parts of the country. I was heartened to be at a community centre in Hackney at the weekend where allotments are being planned alongside new housing and a gardening club is central to their weekly activities.
It’s good to hear that new developments are including allotments in their plans, although sadly that isn’t something I see locally to me. I think gardening is cool already but there are those who think it needs a revamp and that does fill me with dread. Thank you for your comment. 🙂
Yes it will be interesting to see the format on the proposed allotment programme. But good that it’s not simply a makeover achieved in one hour with dozens of contractors and expensive specimen plants wheeled in for the last five minutes. I hope it demonstrates the zen of gardening and how it’s a calming and satisfying activity. For me the joy is in the wait who wants immediate gratification. Clearing leaves yesterday I was thrilled to see the green shoots of crocus pushing through the soil and on the allotment garlic and onions are emerging too.
The zen part of gardening is possibly the hardest part to translate on TV I think. I was excited to see the first daffs pushing through the other day. Can’t wait for spring. 🙂
40 is getting old? Oh dear.
I do agree that gardening programmes tend to show huge gardens some of which they class as small! I used to enjoy programmes that went to ;ordinary sized’ gardens.
Satellite TV – Freeview has a whole channel devoted to food but there is no equivalent garden channel. We enjoy the Scottish programme Beechgrove gardens which us available in England if you have Sky.
Well my knees certainly feel old at times 😉 We did watch some of the Beechgrove programme as they started showing it on a Sunday morning on BBC2. The problem was firstly it wasn’t a particularly convenient time and I would forget it was on. Secondly,the cold spring didn’t help because they were so far behind in jobs compared to where we lived it was a little odd. I did like how they packed so much into the programmes. I’m looking forward to seeing the 2 new programmes and what they’ll offer.
it is possible to watch Beech grove on BBC iplayer, they kept them available for 7 days this year, for the first time I watched a few on iplayer as they cut the Beech grove radio programme I used to enjoy for an hour each Sunday, Frances
Thanks Frances. We did try watching it on Iplayer but our broadband isn’t great which makes watching a painful experience. 😉
I have no idea if gardening is “cool” or not, until moving to Devon, I just kept the garden tidy at each house we were living in. When we moved here, I saw so many beautiful, fantastic gardens everywhere and was inspired to try and create something similar, I was 47 at the time. My children are now in their middle 40s and now are starting to ask for advice for their gardens, I think it probably is an age thing, their children are now growing up and they have more time to spend on their outside space, which up till now has been used for football etc! Inspiration has to come from somewhere, but as long as it does, does it matter where the younger ones today get it from, I don’t think so.
I think demands on time are so much greater now and it is such a pity that gardens are becoming smaller. We’ve started looking at houses on rightmove and it brings it home about how little you can get for a lot of money.
A very enjoyable and well written post. I personally think it’s a bit of a hype like lots of other things and in the UK you should probably be least worried because nowhere on the planet is gardening so big. I wish in other countries they would teach kids at school also the importance of keeping in touch with soil, nature and our own roots which seem to get lost in cyberspace. There are a lot of young and stylish gardeners on UK TV so it’s not all that gloomy. Sadly, on the continent the trend is towards wellness and sports but I haven’t lost hope that one day people will think of what they’ve lost and will search for it again…hope it’s not too late for us and the planet then. One of the side effects of being a gardener is that hope is the last thing to die, I guess.
Thank you Annette. I think the worry is that gardening won’t be as big as it has been. I do think we’re lucky in the UK to have a varied garden media especially compared to what is available elsewhere.
A good thoughtful post WW. Gardening and allotment owning are hard work and, like you say, the results aren’t immediate. Gardening doesn’t fit into the current trend of instant gratification. But there will always be people who love growing things. I always have, since I was little, and it was never fashionable. Some people might be converted by a tv programme, but not many. I think people will just dabble, buy more things from garden centres and those that can’t stick with the hard work and hours needed will give up. But it will still be good to see more gardening on television. And personally I’d like to see less David Dimbleby and absolutely no Top Gear.
Thanks CJ. Definitely no Top Gear. :0
hello, though I’ve often seen your comments on other blogs this is the first time I’ve read one of your posts, I’ve come from Christina’s blog post,
I do not have a TV and have lived on an island for 14 years now so a lot of the things you talk of are like another planet to me now, I do not like it when ‘they’ whoever the ‘they’ may be try to make anything ‘trendy’!
I do agree with your point about coming to gardening later due to circumstances, I’d wanted a garden for years but finances, family and work made it impossible, and I still would not be able to afford a property with a garden if I was living in the southern mainland where I come from,
your point about gardening in schools struck a note with me as my youngest grandson has been gardening at school and became interested, this has encouraged my ddil to start gardening, only in pots on the patio but they have grown several salad plants, tomatoes and many herbs, my ddil loves cooking and is a very good cook and I’m not talking cakes but good meals, she now enjoys going out picking her own herbs fresh,
as I’ve wrote this it has come to me that my father didn’t do much gardening until he retired when he had time for the garden and needed a new direction in life as he no longer had the work routine,
I’m glad Christina brought me to your blog, Frances
Hi Frances, I do think the quest to capture the twenty and thirty somethings might be missing the point that they are the least likely to be able to garden and the least likely to want to garden. Thank you for your comment and so glad you popped over.
Helen Johnstone said:
Good post, I wrote a post the other day which I never posted up as I wa a little ranty in it but I might revisit it. I also think the problem stems from the lack of anything plant related in senior schools so what happens to the children inspired by primary/junior school gardening clubs. I may just dust off that blog post
Thanks Helen. This made me laugh as my post was edited several times to try and make it less ranty. :0 I completely agree about secondary schools. There was a purpose built greenhouse and garden at my school and in the 7 years I was there neither were used. Says it all really. Look forward to reading your post.
Rachael Tapping said:
Oh wow, I couldn’t agree more, on so many points you’ve made! I have such fond memories of gardening, poking about in the ground and making mud pies while my Dad gardened often in his boiler suit. It was, and still is his passion, and as a result my parents garden looks fabulous.
Now I have children of my own and their time outside is so important to me, whether they’re digging or just playing with soil and water it doesn’t matter, but the fact that they understand how plants grow and that we can all grow veggies is fundamental to their upbringing and our future generation. It’s one of the reasons I can’t bring myself to shop online for food – no food doesn’t come from the man with the van!!
Bring on the gardening programs, so bored of food and chefs, and as for the British Institution that is men messing around with cars, move over Jeremy and lets celebrate the allotments and our patch of green.
Hi Rachael, Thank you. It’s great to hear your children love being in the garden and are getting an understanding of plants. Lets hope we finally get some more gardening TV. 🙂
I haven’t heard that gardening is in decline. I don’t know if it’s just because gardening is my hobby now that I notice so many more people with an interest in it too. I’m pleased to hear that an allotment programme is due to be broadcast, I shall look forward to that.
I think the fact that many nurseries are struggling and gardens are being concreted over worries many in the industry. Looking forward to the new gardening programmes too.
Heaven preserve us from programme makes who wish to appeal to the young. I don’t want the modern style of presentation which assumes that we all have the attention span of a gnat. If gardening is the passion of the middle aged let us celebrate it and encourage more people to discover its pleasures and benefit from the healthy exercise and fresh air.
:0 I love that – ‘attention span of a gnat’.
An interesting, and thought provoking, post which I agree with wholeheartedly. xx
A thoughtful post, and I think you are precisely right that circumstances drive the interest in and, to be more precise, the time spent gardening. Although I garden Stateside and cannot speak to the situation in the UK, I think conditions are similar. The persistent recession here means that those people who are fortunate enough to have jobs feel they have less energy and less leisure time. They are working longer hours and shouldering greater responsibility just to keep their heads above water (real wages for the middle class have stagnated since I was born), and when they come home they face household chores and children who need and deserve attention. Weekends are often spent trying to catch up or simply recover from exhaustion. Now that I think about it, most of my friends (and I’m in the same approximate age cohort as you are) don’t have hobbies. Their children are their hobbies. It is only when children leave the nest (assuming they can afford to) that people seem to have time and income enough to spend on themselves.
And, I suppose I should add, whether or not there is a decline in gardening and whether it matters is quite an upper-middle-class problem (at least in the US).
In the US, we don’t have a tradition of allotments, but here and there we do see small community gardens taking shape. I think the busyness of our lives and the isolation that technology paradoxically brings with it has people beginning to search out alternative means of connecting with others. Community gardens may be one means of achieving this connection.
And, of course, all things are cyclical. Twenty years ago I knew no one who knitted or crocheted except grannies. While the trendiness of that hobby has largely come and gone, many who have given it a try have grown attached to it and stick with it. So it may be with gardening. I suspect that concerns about health and the provenance and safety of one’s food may contribute to a resurgent interest in gardening, however long it may take.
Thank you for your comment. I recognise many of the points you make. Perhaps as the price of food rises we will have to grow our own. Maybe we’ll return to a similar time when our ancestors had to provide more for themselves and then it won’t matter whether gardening is cool.
jacqui brocklehurst said:
Some good points there wellywoman. I can’t find any statistics on the subject and it got me wondering, is the worry that gardening a pastime is in decline? or horticulture as a career choice ? If it’s gardening as a pastime you are spot on, not everyone has the space, time, money or inclination to garden especially in our weather! Perhaps tv
entertainment in the form of the great allotment challenge may inspire some to get gardening, but it is just entertainment .
Now gardening or more accurately horticulture as a career being in
decline ? It’s not up there as an option with history, english, media studies etc. If it’s not on the curriculum it’s never going to be an option, if its a hobby its going to be passed on
through family and friends. Either way people will always be digging in the dirt, growing, building, creating its the very essence of life.
levels/ btecs etcm still waitiwhiff of anuthing even remotely soil based
Thanks Jacqui. I think gardening and horticulture do get a little muddled. I suppose at some levels one does feed the other. I think they have tackled it in primary schools but it seems to disappear in secondary schools.
Plenty of food for thought in your post WW. I think that you raise many valid points some of which have been around for quite a few years. I remember joining our local gardening club as one of a handful of 30 somethings now over almost as many years ago! My interest in plants came from parents who married just after World War 2. Their leisure time was so different to today – no tv, no computer, no car, no foreign holidays etc so gardening was something that did as a hobby and also to provide food for 4 growing children. I think that gardens were on the whole a more generous size than they are these days. Now sadly a lot of young people do not grow up with access to outdoor space on their doorsteps and even if they do the adults in their lives may not have the interest or time for gardening. I don’t think that tv programmes will engage them but schools have a big part to play as well as community groups and events that offer the ‘hands on’ participation. Any activities also need to have a sense of fun at their heart. We as a nation also need to retain those precious green spaces – that indeed is probably the bigger issue!
Thanks Anna. I think time or lack of it for some is a reason why some are choosing not to garden. We have so many more distractions now. There will always be a core of people who garden and then it will come in and out of fashion. What that means for people who earn their living in the industry though is another matter.
Thank you for taking the time to write such a thought-provoking post which amongst other things has made me think back to how gardening featured in my life. My parents were interested in plants and/or gardening (not always the same thing) and once I was in my teens and we had a garden I did have my own little plot and was even planning a horticultural career but encouraged to continue with A levels and other things then got in the way. I tinkered in my first two married life gardens but realise that it wasn’t till life was sorted and children grown up that I seemed to have the freedom for it to become a passion – so perhaps for many it is indeed an ‘older’ person’s interest, but circumstantially so…
Thanks Cathy. Perhaps the industry is worrying about something that it shouldn’t be. Maybe attempting to appeal to younger people is a waste of time and resources….
Weeding the Web said:
There’s so much to say about this, that I’m just going to fasten on one tiny point. Juicers – I love mine. Wouldn’t be without it. Agree the designers should be put in a kitchen and made to wash up a hundred all at once. That would concentrate their minds on a better design, but we have fresh juice every day for breakfast (carrot, apple, beetroot – straight from the garden).
My point is, Introduce people to juicers and perhaps the majority will find it’s not for them. But a small minority find they wouldn’t be without one.
Same with gardening. You’ll never get the response you want. But the response you get keeps it alive.
I got into gardening at university nearly 10 years ago and as I’m still in my twenties I might be the age group that is being targeted with the current desire to attract younger people. However, every time I see an attempt to attract younger viewers I, too, cringe. The recent Gardeners World efforts in Birmingham left me cold. I get frustrated when going younger means dumbing down. I agree with previous comments that horticulture is interesting enough without it needing to be rebranded but most importantly it is an interest that needs patience, time, and commitment to reap the rewards. That’s the reason ‘instant’ garden makeover shows came and went.
Thanks for your comments. it’s fascinating to hear your thoughts. I was inspired to garden by Alan Titchmarsh and Geoff Hamilton and neither of them could be classed as trendy. I liked elements of GW at Birmingham – I think the idea of using small spaces and Toby making things in a Geoff Hamilton style really worked for me and was much more relevant that GW at the moment. I really didn’t like the what’s hot bit though. And look at Marry Berry inspiring a new generation of bakers. Really enjoyed last night’s Great British Garden Revival. Hopefully it will open up more potential programmes.
I hope so too. More programmes would definitely be great – providing they’re quality. I like the current GW – it’s aspirational for me (and like Mary Berry on GBBO I think it benefits from a more experienced presenter). I wasn’t so keen on the milk float sketch last night but I think the concept they’ve adopted (front garden, wildflowers, lawns etc) is really accessible.
A very thoughtful article; When all those youngsters that you worry about reach 50 I will bet that at least half of them turn to gardening
Great post WW, really got us thinking. I am hopeful that today’s Primary School children will one day get chance to become gardeners, once they have found a deposit for their own patch and paid off their Student loan. And that is the thing, it can take time to get the gardening bug and for many, me included, it really starts once we have our own patch and that is generally not until we are older.
That said, my children love the garden, but have little interest in getting involved in the nitty gritty. I am an avid watcher of Gardeners World but there is an audible groan when it comes on. The derision is unrelenting and the phrase is usually ‘in a minute he’s going to tell us how to clean our spade again’. So what could be done? I think that the BBC is missing a trick and could use the likes of Dan Pearson or Alys Fowler to present alternative and additional programmes to audiences. Perhaps they need to find a gardening equivalent to Kirsty and Phil or Kevin McCleod?
There is surely scope to provide articles about some of the well known and highly respected gardens and their gardeners including the late Sir Christopher Lloyd or Beth Chatto and how about the plant hunters, and those influences from Holland, Germany, America etc. Then there is the street art type, Gorilla gardeners and Window dressers and florists. There are historic gardens which could be looked at in a less stuffy light and why stick to just Chelsea and Hampton Court, what about Chaumont-sur-Loire or other shows around the world.
So come BBC it’s a big world out there, we don’t want dumbing down, we have more than the attention span of a gnat. Inspire us. Fire our imaginations. Stimulate us. By all means keep our old favourite Gardeners World but give us more, and in a new format.
Phew. See what you have done, I didn’t know how strongly I felt about that!
Thanks for your comments. I agree with everything you said. I’d love to see Dan Pearson on TV again too. I’m doing a bit of a survey which I’ll hopefully be able to post about soon. I’m trying to find out what barriers there are to gardening. Some interesting comments already.
Nigel Boldero said:
Hello- I’ve just discovered your blog and enjoyed reading this post.
I believe that we should beware trying to promote gardening as ‘trendy’ or ‘cool’. The garden makeover series of the past (including recent past) did great damage to the essence of growing things, pandering as they did to the ‘quick fix’ attitude to life we see so much today. Likewise the growing ‘brandisation’ of gardening is another trend which misses the fundamentals of what growing things is all about and why we enjoy the activity and its results.
As someone who’s involved in various aspects of community gardening, teaching gardening at my local primary school and to adults, I see the importance of promoting it almost as an antidote to modern life:- helping to achieve a more sustainable planet, food security, physical and mental health etc.
Unfortunately these things aren’t what make good TV, though I must say that watching ‘Beechgrove Garden’ for the first time this year i was impressed with their coverage of various community garden projects (even though the presentation was alittle tired and predictable on some occasions).
I think the greatest good can be done by action at local, community level and spreading the word (evangelically even!) through these ‘channels’ rather than through those of the electronic kind!
I’m now following your blog. If you’d like to find out more about my gardening activities my blog ‘Old School Garden’ can be found at http://www.audaxdesign.co.uk. i look forward to reading more from you 🙂
Don’t know if you got the chance to catch the new gardening programme last night. I really enjoyed it. Much better to give a topic the time to cover it. Really hope the programme makes some impact.
Nigel Boldero said:
Hi – thanks for the reply. Yes, I watched the programme and agree with you about the ‘doing things in depth’. I thought that they couldn’t resist adding in some corny touches, though (Joe’s ‘milk round’), or maybe that’s me being an old fart!
Interesting seeing the twitter traffic on the programme, especially the stuff about wild flowers and the reference (though apparently not fully accurate) to guerilla gardening.
As you’ll have gathered, I’m not convinced of the need to ‘sex up’ gardening’s image, though. Or perhaps rather we should make it ‘cool’ in a sustainability/ecological/reducing the impact of climate change/lets get guerilla gardening to green up our tatty patches angle? 😉 Views?
Yes the milk round was a bit cheesy but I didn’t mind it. Maybe I’m easily pleased as I’m so happy to see another gardening programme at last 😉
I don’t think gardening needs ‘sexing up’ but I do think coverage needs fresh approaches. It’s such a wide subject, there are plenty of topics to cover which will appeal to lots of different levels and interests. I don’t think content needs to be dumbed down but it should be remembered not everyone is starting from the same knowledge base. There will always be those new to growing who will benefit from a GW style programme. And I like to see the guerilla gardening, foraging, wild flowers. It shows the diversity of gardening. Not everyone wants or is in a position to garden in perhaps a more traditional way. I think the best way to engage more people is to show them all the different ways they can grow and be involved. If we could have more programmes throughout the year covering all sorts of aspects of horticulture I think that in itself would garner more interest. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. 🙂
Nigel Boldero said:
Thanks- good points. I think you’re right about different angles (and levels) for different people. I’m available (at a very reasonable rate) to front new content 😉
Diana Studer said:
We are in the throes of selling our garden, with a house included. Looking for that person, or couple who understands our garden and will continue to care for our wildlife. Not young, not cool, but my garden is!
Lots of interesting points here as usual. One reason for many younger people not being interested in gardening is probably, as you write, that there are so many other things to do these days, but I don’t think that’s the only reason, and I wonder if young people in general are less interested today than they used to be. I loved pottering with my dad when I was small, then I went to school, got into horses, eventually went to university, studied and travelled abroad, all these things one does when one is young. As much as I love gardening now it simply wasn’t important in those years. It has only been during the last 10-15 years that I have started gardening for real, also because we only have house with a garden now, but I think many might start once they have done other things. And couldn’t the reason for so many nurseries having trouble surviving have more, or at least a lot to do, with the supermarkets and large garden centres being able to sell things so much cheaper these days? That supermarkets seem to be “muscling” in on these areas as well. A bit like butchers and bakers disappearing.