Weeding, writing and arithmetic… why green fingers are good for our children | Environment | The Guardian

Weeding, writing and arithmetic… why green fingers are good for our children | Environment | The Guardian post thumbnail image

From the water vole to the Scottish wildcat, the dwindling numbers of Britain’s most at-risk animals are well documented. But now the alarm bell is sounding over a rather more overlooked endangered species: green-fingered children.

Young people are so rarely spotted in gardens across Britain nowadays that the Royal Horticultural Society is warning that the country is facing a green skills crisis unless more learn to garden.

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The society’s director general, Sue Biggs, says that generations of children are growing up disconnected from nature because they are not being taught about gardening at school. “In a few years’ time, we won’t have enough gardeners to keep the 22 million gardens in this country going, and that will only make environmental issues worse,” she asserts.

Biggs believes that although a career in horticulture is a perfect fit for a young person passionate about fighting the climate crisis, few are encouraged to take up gardening. Many universities and colleges have stopped offering horticultural science and botany courses as a result, she adds. “The last five positions we filled at Wisbech, our flagship garden in Surrey, have all been given to people from overseas. We cannot find people who are British, trained at a British university.”

She adds: “If we can make young people see that, by growing plants, they are helping the quality of our air and environment, and that will reduce the impact of climate change, then I think an awful lot of them will be much happier and feel less scared about the future.”

She suggests that young climate change activists consider a “national day of garden protests” next. “To improve our environment, you can either stop doing things, like purchasing single-use plastic, or you can start doing things, like gardening – or, best of all, do both.”

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee publishes its report on garden design and tourism on Monday, laying out plans to support garden tourism and better promote local gardens across England.

Almost a third of all visits to the UK include a trip to a garden or park, and the horticulture industry, which supports approximately 570,000 jobs, is worth £24bn a year to the British economy. But Biggs says that teachers and parents in the UK do not value gardening as they should and young people don’t see it as “cool”.

Teachers need to be imaginative and visit gardens and use gardening to demonstrate things already on the curriculum

Recent research indicates that children often don’t know where their food comes from – with one survey finding that more than one in 10 of those aged 11 to 14 didn’t know that carrots and potatoes grew underground.

The cost of creating a school garden is not the issue, Biggs suggests. “Between sleeper beds, compost and seeds, you’ve got everything you need. I think it’s more pressure on teachers’ time, and the timetable.”

Gardening is now mainly being taught in extracurricular clubs, the RHS chief says, and that means “it needs a teacher who’s prepared to put extra effort in”. She would like to see more teachers using gardens to teach maths, geography, science, history and art, adding: “Teachers need to be imaginative and visit gardens and use gardening to demonstrate things already on the curriculum.”

At Springhallow School in Ealing, west London, where pupils recently won the RHS School Gardening Team of the Year award, the garden is ablaze with colour. Marigolds, poppies and sunflowers peep out from raised beds, along with sweet-smelling herbs, tasty vegetables and tactile plants such as lamb’s ear, bunny tail grass and phlomis. All the pupils at the school have autism, and the garden is used by teachers to encourage them to work together in a team, try new food they have grown and enjoy sensory experiences outdoors.

Cath Baynton, who teaches at Springhallow, says children who garden learn valuable life skills, particularly around communication: “It’s really good for their social interaction.”

She believes developing a relationship with nature is crucial for children and the future of the planet, and the curriculum for mainstream schools is too prescriptive. “A lot of children in London don’t have a garden or access to outside space, and have never dug soil and encountered worms and beetles,” she says.

Youngsters who garden learn about the environment they live in and the circle of life, she says. “They get the connection between a pest and predator – they make the connection between the wildlife we see and the plants we are growing.”

It also teaches them about problem-solving and resilience. “Sometimes, in a garden, things do not go according to plan.”

This content was originally published here.

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