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Chelsea Show Garden highlights horticultural skills shortages
Chelsea Show Garden highlights horticultural skills shortages
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Chelsea Show Garden highlights horticultural skills shortages

After a trip to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year, visitors could be forgiven for thinking that UK horticulture has never been in better shape.  Yet the outstanding displays at the world’s finest flower show hide a worrying green skills shortage that threatens the future of horticulture in Britain’s parks and gardens.

Horticultural employers are facing up to a dwindling pool of skilled parks and garden managers.  Years of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT), the closure of in-house training schemes, an ageing workforce, negative perceptions of salaries, image and prospects and limited practical experience with formal training are some of the factors causing the skills crisis in parks across the UK. 

Leeds City Council, like many councils, has a workforce skewed towards the middle aged; 64% of its workforce of 631 is over 40, and only 6 people are under 20.  Leeds City Council is proactively tackling the problem via learning programmes with local high schools, flexible working, in-house training and rewarding and recognising skilled staff. 

The Council’s Show Garden at Chelsea this year is also designed to highlight current green skills shortages.  Leeds Park Service invited staff who volunteered for further training to take part in the whole process of designing, preparing and delivering a Show Garden. 

"The decline in standards and the loss of horticultural skills in parks across the country is finally being highlighted as a major issue for the future sustainability of our parks and gardens. We know that a large part of our workforce have only ever experienced the 'post CCT'1 way of working and therefore need to develop the right horticultural and managerial skills that are needed to take the development of our parks forward" said Denise Preston, Chief Recreation Officer for Leeds City Council.

“The Chelsea Flower Show gives us an opportunity to highlight these pressing issues and give our staff the opportunity to experience and understand the levels of horticultural excellence that can be achieved once their skills have been developed,” she continued.

The skills shortage is an issue that the Royal Horticultural Society is all too aware of and with Lantra, English Heritage and The Royal Parks is leading a cross-sector initiative to develop a consensus for action on skills problems.  This includes delivering the shared goals of providing clearer career paths, developing new talent and developing the skills of those already employed. The sector has agreed in principle that a national, collaborative, cross-sector campaign should be developed to promote horticulture as a career.

“Many people don’t appreciate that already many parks nationally have lost their herbaceous borders, bedding and rosebeds, because they are difficult to maintain and require more attention than grassed areas.  The irony is that this skills shortage is happening just when the Government is recognising again the value of green space for healthy and sustainable communities,” says Andrew Colquhoun, Director General of the RHS. “Fortunately the  RHS Chelsea Flower Show can help bring this issue to the nation’s attention and I’m delighted that Leeds City Council is using its Show Garden to communicate important messages about the importance and value of horticultural skills.”

Gardening charity the Royal Horticultural Society runs schools and events programmes, outreach projects, the RHS School of Horticulture, provides bursaries for working gardeners and a suite of horticultural qualifications which can be taken at colleges throughout the UK.

Entering its 42nd year as Europe’s largest horticultural campaign, Britain in Bloom involves hundreds of communities, from tiny rural villages to the largest cities, all bringing a great deal of horticultural skill and huge enthusiasm to one common aim: to regenerate local environments, both locally and nationally, by the imaginative planting of trees and shrubs, flowers and landscaping, and by dealing with local cleanliness issues such as litter, graffiti and vandalism.

The Britain in Bloom Neighbourhood Awards category is a unique initiative for small, resident-led communities just starting out on the ‘greening up’ of their local areas. The Britain in Bloom Neighbourhood Awards assist and reward communities making improvements in local streets and green spaces for the benefit of local people. The Awards are part of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Cleaner Safer Greener Communities campaign.