Sowing seeds for a new generation of growers

Matty Wilkinson with the Jenneson Taylor Cup. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Matty Wilkinson with the Jenneson Taylor Cup. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Judging by the footfall at local flower shows, the general interest in gardening remains strong.

This reflects the scene at plant retail outlets and garden centres year-round, where seasonal plants prove so popular.

And it’s not just the so-called ‘golden oldies’ who fall under the spell of the diversity of potted living organisms displayed to catch our attention. I see interest across the age demographic, and that augurs well for the future.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) continues to lead the way nationwide in encouraging schoolchildren via a series of gardening initiatives, most notably Growing Together, which is run by regional In Bloom organisations. These are not just about growing a few plants, there are elements of environmental awareness relating to flora and fauna that may well lead to a greater understanding of conservation.

Horticulture figured in astronaut Tim Peake’s recent mission to the international space station. He took seeds of rocket (Eruca sativa) plant with him and they’ve now been distributed to thousands of schools. Imagine the excitement of sowing seeds that have spent six months in outer space. Rocket science indeed.

Each flower show I visit, judging or otherwise, the same subject crops up – how to encourage more younger people to become exhibitors or join the organisation. Children’s sections covering cooking, art, flowers, fruit and vegetables are generally well-supported, but the transition to mainstream ‘open’ classes is not so attractive it seems.

This is why it was so exciting to find an entry from a 10-year-old gardening enthusiast in the open vegetable collections class at Warkworth Show.

Young Matty Wilkinson had staged previously in the novice section and initial success encouraged him to take it a little more seriously. He has an allotment and sought the advice of experienced grower Tony Cuthbert as to the range of vegetables required.

The schedule asked for four different types, which he duly presented. Two onions, large and a good shape, but not fully ripened, six pods of peas, fresh and uniform, six tomatoes, ripe and sound, and six potatoes, clean and white, but not evenly matched. Overall, it was a good collection, but as you’d expect, not first prize because he was up against experienced growers.

However, as president of the show I’m invited to award the Jenneson Taylor Cup to my favourite exhibit, and before doing so I believe in researching the background of those that catch the eye. This entry was special on several counts – it marked a successful transition from novice to exhibiting in open classes, met the higher standard, and hopefully inspired a lifetime of interest in growing plants.

As the late Gertrude Jekyll put it: “The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies.”