Times have dramatically changed for The Royal Horticultural Society’s Great Spring Show, now somewhat more catchily named the Chelsea Flower Show, from when it was first opened in 1862, and held in a single tent.
Now known for being a quintessentially English institution, the show attracted 161,000 visitors in 2014, who drank 6,400 glasses of Pimms and ate 10,000 potions of fish and chips over the course of it’s five day run. What could be more English?
But what comes to your mind when you think of the Chelsea Flower Show? The Queen strolling through the displays? The red uniform of the Royal Chelsea Hospital Veterans? The beautiful and strange flowers made into ever stranger shapes, hats, dresses and gardens? The illusive Gold Award? The large crowds? The Pavilion that stretches the size of two football fields..? I think of the institution, the legend, the name; The Chelsea Flower Show.
The one thing I would never think of is youth, and indeed it does seem that the show trends too far towards tradition than innovation. In 2013 they had the largest number of contestants under 30 in their history…4…hardly a heart stopping number. The Royal Horticultural Society acknowlages this as a concern, stating that gardening is facing a skills crisis, not only because of an ageing workforce (can you believe Allan Titchmarsh is 65!) but the lack of young people coming through. 70% of business say that they struggle to find the skill level they require in their workers, and 83% put this down to the poor perception of horticulture. Put simply, horticulture has an image probolem.
Since 2013 there has been a concerted effort to encourage the younger generations to get involved with both horticulture and gardening through the RHS ‘Horticulture Matters’ campaign. However it is debatable whether this will be enough in an industry where aclaim is based on the slow acquisition of hard won knowledge developed through many years of experience.
Of course I am not a hortercultirist, I am a florist who gardens and loves to use her own cut flowers in her arrangments. However, the problems are the same. Floristy and gardening have become detached when once the were one in the same, and the younger generation entering floristy appear to have little idea of the provanence or seasonality of their blooms what so ever, let alone how to cultivate them.
YoungHort are a foundation trying to change the attitude of the young towards the horticulture industry. Founded by Jack Shilley in 2013 they aim to bring like minded people together, offering social events to meet other young horticulturists, mostly aged between 16 and 25, as well as potential employers.
I have only recently discovered this organisation, but think it is the most fantastic cause to get behind, as it will not only support horticulture, but the gardening and British floral industries at the same time.
I would love to see more young people finding joy and self expression through this life affirming medium. It is after all through flowers, gardening and nature that I have found my peace, and I would love to see it renter the consciousness of other people my age.
Is this however, simply an unrealistic expectation in a world that moves at such a brake neck speed? A world where we want everything right here, right now, because that certenly does not happen in real-life gardening. Will the RHS succeed in their task? Will the Chelsea Flower Show inspire passion about plants in a younger generation this coming month? Sadly that remains to be seen. But I for one, do hope so.
(Image – By Bethany Team)