Helping to Grow the Next Generation

Gardening jounalist Mandy Bradshaw on encouraging the next generation of gardeners - 31 March 2017

It’s so easy to take your gardening knowledge for granted, to assume that everyone understands terms like perennial, knows what a mulch is or even how to sow seeds. It isn’t always the case.

Coming from generations of gardeners, I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where tending the garden was a natural part of everyday life. Without consciously learning, I picked up how to handle secateurs, what a cutting was, the names of plants. The realisation that not everybody was a part of this world dawned when one day a colleague commented: “It must be nice to be able to drop words like herbaceous into conversation.” I was, it seemed, speaking a language he didn’t understand.


Terms like 'herbaceous' and 'perennial' can be daunting to a novice

Does it matter? I believe it does. There’s a general angst in the horticultural world that not enough young people are taking up gardening either as a career or hobby. The gardening clubs I speak at have few members under 50 and gardening shows seem unable to attract families unless they lay on other entertainment in the form of food or cute animals. Plants alone just don’t seem to draw younger crowds.

Partly this is to do with the current housing crisis; it’s said no one gardens seriously until they have a plot of their own and with increasing numbers of young people still living with parents their gardening journey is starting later, if at all. Partly the time pressures and ‘instant entertainment’ of the modern world are a distraction from what is something that above all requires commitment, optimism and patience.

But I think fear also plays a part. How many of us would join a club for French speakers without knowing a word of the language and yet we expect non-gardeners to do just that. Learning from books or television programmes is all very well but often these are pitched above the true beginner level and don’t have that important element of gardening - the sense of belonging to a club; put me in a room anywhere with a gardener and I know we will have something to discuss.


Advice from nursery owners can help demystify gardening for the beginner

This is where the Rare Plant Fairs and independent nurseries are important. They are a chance for growers who are passionate about what they do to talk to the beginners, to demystify the terms and encourage them to start. Buying from someone who has raised the plant, knows exactly what it needs to thrive and can explain how to care for it is always going to be better than picking something off a garden centre shelf and hoping.


Why not encourage a non-gardener to visit a beautiful garden?

For those who already garden and are planning to visit one of the Rare Plant Fairs this year, do one thing. Take along a non-gardener, preferably someone young. Bribe them with the idea of a beautiful garden to wander in and the chance of tea and cake. Above all, immerse them in the language of gardening. Who knows, it may be the most important seed you sow.

Mandy Bradshaw is a Cotswold-based gardening journalist for newspapers and magazines, writing on everything from glorious open gardens to how to grow leeks. She also has her own blog and website which you can find at