“Gardening programmes tend to be very ‘traditional’ white middle-class in their attitude towards gardening”, Julia Sargeant said in an interview after she won gold at Chelsea Flower Show in 2016. She was the first black gardener to design a Chelsea display in its 103-year history. Her win blatantly highlights a significant lack of diversity within the horticultural industry.
It is interesting go back to the very beginning – the decision to specialise in horticulture in the first place as a young adult. The increase in Asian, Hispanic and Black students enrolling in horticultural studies isn’t in concordance with this lack of representation. Horticultural courses have seen a 61% increase in minority students opposed to a 5.6% increase in Caucasian students. Despite this increase, curriculums haven’t been adapted to accommodate the shift in ethnic majority that these courses are made up of. Studies have shown that as a direct consequence of this failure to acknowledge who is receiving the tuition from these courses, these students don’t feel included – which in turn makes them feel like a minority. This then creates an uncomfortable and hostile environment for these students, which in turn increases the probability that they will not see the course through.
When asked what influenced their decision to go into horticulture as a career, young professionals viewed the exposure to horticulture from a young age to be the main reason for their decision to pursue it as a career. Charities and courses, as well as campaigns to integrate gardening into schools to grab those children’s interest from the get-go are indeed helping. However, these efforts to scout the next generation of Gardeners could also fall to ‘colour-blind’ systematic inequalities. Schools in poorer areas, which generally include children from deprived backgrounds, are neglected, as schools have less funds and cannot financially prioritise these kinds of programs. Therefore, the systematic neglect of these children then fuels the issue of lack of diversity within our industry – which in turn discourages people belonging to an ethnic minority to change careers later on in life, due to not feeling included and represented in the community.
So, it isn’t a case of ethnic minorities not being interested in horticulture – they just don’t feel as if they have their place within it. It is a shame, as we are well aware that the integration of different cultures allows for the flourishing of new perspectives. If you only gather similar minds together, you will automatically end up with similar ideas.
Representation is also an issue when it comes to physically disabled people. Trying to come across a physically disabled TV presenter is incredibly rare. Mark Lane – a Gardener’s World presenter is the only disabled television presenter to appear on our televisions. Mark got into gardening after a series of illnesses and operations, followed by a car accident, which left him wheelchair bound. He consequently took up gardening to improve his mental health after such an impactful and uncontrollable life-style change. This is a common story for a number of people. It is a known fact that gardening improves mental health – as being outdoors and feeling direct contact with the earth, as well as seeing greenery and flowers, releases endorphins. However, these people who arguably benefit the most from the practice of horticulture are invisible.
Certain charities have been created to facilitate people with learning disabilities and mental health issues to use gardening as a kind of therapy, just like Mark did. It has been proven that the social interaction, as well as the physical interaction with nature is a proven method to improve mental health and learning disabilities. These charities are a direct way of making people with disabilities – be it physical or mental – feel cared for, encouraged in their hobbies, but mainly, they feel connected to people just like them, people who share a love for nature. This is exactly the reason diversity is so beneficial to our community.
We have a long way to go when it comes to representation within our industry – but ultimately – prioritisation of the younger generation by integrating programs at school that encourage children to engage with gardening will create the necessary pathways for their future. Not only this, there needs to be systematic change within the structure of education to encourage the people who are usually ignored, to ensure that their interest in horticulture is maintained by creating a comfortable and inclusive environment for them – to ultimately allow them to flourish. By being inclusive from the get-go, this will encourage others who are interested in joining the horticulture industry to take that leap – as the industry will be a safe and accommodating to diversity. Additionally, charities, programs and courses bring people together to focus on their common interests, by giving support and encouraging individuals to do what they love. It is important to remember that we are better together, and that includes everyone.