I watched a thought-provoking debate unfold online recently in response to a post pronouncing that the media paints an unrealistic picture of the industry, in which only big name designers and white middle-aged gardening hobbyists are visible to the public, contributing to a lack of diversity and an unpleasant whiff of elitism within the sector. Furthermore, as anything relating to gardens and landscape tends to be portrayed as a leisure activity for the affluent, it was argued, it’s unsurprising that landscape professionals can also be seen as semi-hobbyists, with years of training and hard-won qualifications unappreciated.
Making a living out of something that people usually do for fun comes with a unique set of problems. Ask any performing musician (me, for instance). The instant fame factory of X-Factor, Pop Idol et al does nothing to portray how a musician’s craft is developed over years, or to show the realities of the music industry – and it certainly doesn’t represent all the other skilled specialists from other disciplines on whom the performer depends: the sound engineers, lighting technicians, stage crew and many others. Any parallels with the landscape and horticulture sectors here? TV gardening programmes are as likely to attract young people to areas like arboriculture and ecology as the X-Factor is to inspire someone to train as a sound technician. Interconnected specialisms and little-known but vital roles are ignored – because in the current celebrity-obsessed age, it’s all about the star.
The lack of diversity in media representations of the industry is an issue not only because it fails to reflect reality but also because the preponderance of ‘pale, male and stale’ garden celebrities makes sparking a connection with anyone outside that demographic much less likely. Given the recruitment difficulties the industry faces, it’s essential to look at ways of attracting young people, and positive media representation can be a game-changer.
According to garden designer Charlie Bloom (@bloomsblogs), who kicked off this
discussion: “Whole sections of a diverse industry are either wholly ignored and
therefore sidelined into obscurity, or portrayed in a manner that makes them undesirable
career propositions. When a career is perceived by the general public as either elitist
or a hobby, this filters down into perceptions of the professional’s worth.” Community schemes and urban greening initiatives – perhaps more engaging and relevant for younger people and those who don’t live in affluent suburbs – are similarly marginalised and invisible in the media. These kinds of projects could do much to showcase the worthwhile career options available and to highlight the value of green jobs, but they rarely get the exposure.
I like the adage that rather than asking children what they want to be when they grow
up, we should ask what problems they want to help solve. When children now have a greater understanding of environmental issues and threats than previous generations ever had, isn’t this sector’s potential to sustain and support the environment the greatest recruiting tool it has?
A version of this article appeared in the May 2016 edition of Pro Landscaper magazine.