Tales from Titch­marsh

The best way to nur­ture the next gen­er­a­tion of gar­den­ers, says Alan, is sim­ply to en­cour­age their love of be­ing out­doors

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

I can­not be­gin to tell you how much joy it gives me see­ing my grand­chil­dren run around a gar­den shriek­ing with de­light

M any years ago – about four decades to be pre­cise – I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I con­sid­ered ap­ply­ing for a teacher-train­ing course, but life took a dif­fer­ent turn and I ended up at Kew Gar­dens cre­at­ing staff-train­ing cour­ses. This amounted to the same thing, I sup­pose, al­beit achieved via an al­ter­na­tive route. Shar­ing pas­sions and pass­ing on what I hope are use­ful skills have al­ways been the driv­ing force be­hind what I do. But after a cou­ple of years of ‘teach­ing’, I dis­cov­ered two things that in­di­cated I wasn’t re­ally cut out for the job. The first was that, of ne­ces­sity, I had to teach ex­actly the same things each year, ev­ery year, and the sec­ond was that it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that not ev­ery­one wanted to learn. Va­ri­ety, for me, is key. It’s the thing that keeps me fresh and alive, and do­ing the same job year in, year out would, I knew, lead to the great­est en­emy of my life – bore­dom. That’s not to say that I lack tenac­ity or that I’m in­ca­pable of do­ing the same thing more than once. How­ever, I need to find a way of stay­ing fresh – and print jour­nal­ism, tele­vi­sion and ra­dio have given me the chance to do ex­actly that, even if I do have to ex­plain au­tumn lawn care each year. There is suf­fi­cient va­ri­ety in be­tween to make the in­struc­tions for scar­i­fi­ca­tion and aer­a­tion tol­er­a­ble. But teach­ing peo­ple who re­ally don’t want to learn? Now that’s much harder. I don’t be­gin to sug­gest that there were more than one or two in that sit­u­a­tion at Kew, where the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are keen for knowl­edge and pro­vide ex­cel­lent com­pany and stim­u­la­tion. How­ever, you only need the odd pair of eyes to glaze over and to spot the odd yawn to re­alise that teach­ers need a dif­fer­ent kind of pa­tience to that re­quired for grow­ing plants. I am clearly less tol­er­ant of re­cal­ci­trant peo­ple than I am of tricky trees and shrubs. In this re­spect, I’m the odd one out in my fam­ily – for my wife and daugh­ters have all en­joyed the teach­ing pro­fes­sion. I know from their ex­pe­ri­ences just how much pa­tience, dili­gence and com­mit­ment is needed to be a good teacher, but per­haps I can al­low my­self a lit­tle pat on the back for at least not putting them off gar­den­ing. When my daugh­ters were small, I vowed that I wouldn’t push things. Each spring they would ask for a patch of ground in which to sow seeds, and a few weeks later they would have for­got­ten all about it. That’s the way it is with most tiny tots. I re­frained from mak­ing a fuss and say­ing, “Have you looked at your patch re­cently?” In­stead, I en­cour­aged them to sim­ply en­joy be­ing out there. Fresh air meant fun – tree houses, pic­nics and be­ing squirted with a hosepipe on sunny sum­mer days. I did en­cour­age them to look at and en­joy beau­ti­ful flow­ers, but if the prospect of go­ing into the gar­den meant hard work and te­dium, I rea­soned, then it wouldn’t be long be­fore they turned their back on the great out­doors and re­fused to have any­thing to do with it. My tech­nique paid off. While I can­not claim that my daugh­ters have mas­tered botan­i­cal Latin, they are now both in pos­ses­sion of a gar­den and have con­fessed that there is no way they could live “some­where that was not green”. Job done. Ex­cept that I am now re­liv­ing those ex­pe­ri­ences with grand­chil­dren who, mer­ci­fully, sim­ply love be­ing out­doors. I can­not be­gin to tell you how much joy it gives me see­ing them col­lect conkers, make dens and sim­ply run around a gar­den shriek­ing with de­light. If we are to leave our land­scape in safer hands than ours ap­pear to be, we need to fos­ter within our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren a sim­ple love of the great out­doors – a joy of be­ing out in the fresh air. This will ma­ture, in time, into an un­der­stand­ing that plants and flow­ers, trees and wildlife, hills and dales sus­tain us both phys­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally, and de­serve to be loved, cher­ished and pro­tected in re­turn. We must pass on that love in a joy­ful way, so that those who fol­low us re­gard it as a priv­i­lege, not a chore. Now, there’s a chal­lenge for all of us.


De­cem­ber 2018

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