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