Alan Titchmarsh speaks about the importance of horticulture

November 26th, 2012 by Richard Lord

Alan Titchmarsh visited Guernsey recently at the invitation of St Sampson’s High School and Le Murier School to spend time with the students and share his knowledge of horticulture and growing plants.

“In the summer of 2012 our students achieved fabulous results so we wanted to celebrate their achievement by getting in a high profile celebrity, and the celebrity we knew was Alan Titchmarsh because the school’s deputy head, Kathryn Clark is Alan’s sister,” Annabel Bolt, headteacher of St Sampson High School, said.

“Alan gave out the cups and made a speech at the presentation evening, and helped the school raise much needed funds by hosting two events. The students were excited to meet him,” she said.

The money he helped raise will be used by Home School Link for the benefit of the Baubigny schools.

Alan Titchmarsh at the Baubigny Schools on 23 November 2012 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

During Alan Titchmarsh’s visit to the schools he helped the students dig-in some plants on school property, and took time to speak with Sustainable Guernsey.

“You fly over Guernsey, and there it is, this jewel in the ocean, mild climate, wonderful land for growing things,” Alan Titchmarsh said.

“But it is sad that there are so many derelict greenhouses.”

One of Guernsey's many abandoned and overgrown greenhouses (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

“It seems to me absurd but it’s not Guernsey’s fault.”

“It is the fault of the bizarre economic system, which skews everything, which means that it is cheaper to buy in food from thousands of miles away than to grow them on your doorstep. Something must be wrong with a system like that,” he said.

“An island like this could so easily be self-sufficient in terms of much of its agriculture and horticulture.”

“It needs tremendous support from the locals who value it, but it needs to be done economically,” he said.

“You can’t expect people to pay twice as much for a local product when stuff is being imported at half the price. So that is the imbalance. But we do owe it to our local farming and growing community to support them – to buy their produce and encourage them to be sustainable in this day and age.”

And by buying locally produced food, “you’re getting food fresher, and it tastes better, and you know you are supporting a local grower. It is not a case of being xenophobic – it’s being tremendously supportive of your local growing industry.”

However, growers have to adapt too. “It’s no longer enough for them to follow a trend. They have to be proactive and create demand for their products,” he said.

Alan Titchmarsh helped with the planting of a new plant bed at St Sampson High School (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

“Gardening is for everybody. Without things that grow we wouldn’t be here; we would die. It’s important that everybody regardless of their academic skills – the high end of the academic spectrum and the lower end where I found myself at the beginning of my life – learns how to garden and grow plants. It is important and it is also incredibly fulfilling and therapeutic for everybody.”

“Anybody who gets involved with gardening realises its therapeutic properties. Even if you’re a high flying, high powered business man or woman, to get out in the garden and grow things – it’s like a safety valve.”

“You suddenly realise that this is real life, and people say ‘isn’t it wonderful escapism in the garden’.”

“Well, it is an escape to reality. This is the real world. What happens on the TV news every night is something we have imposed on the world. Outside, the trees come into leaf every year, they thrive, they drop their leaves, winter comes, that’s the yearly cycle, that’s reality, and we’re losing touch with it, and it pains me,” he said.

Alan Titchmarsh helped Baubigny school students plant Pennisetum setaceum (on the left) in a bed near one of the entrances to the Baubigny schools (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

“I am working with the Royal Horticultural Society to get gardening into primary schools. We have got 15,000 schools in the mainland on this scheme, but it still isn’t in secondary schools to any great degree.”

“Horticulture is a life skill that we all need regardless of our academic achievement. It is a crying shame when facilities such as glasshouses aren’t used and aren’t given to people to take the opportunity to learn how to grow things,” he said.

Alan Titchmarsh helps a student plant Teucrium chamaedrys in a bed at the entrance to Baubigny Schools (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Asked about climate change he said “there’s no denying that our climate is altering for various reasons.”

“We have to be careful about not being alarmist about it because our climate has always changed, but we must not exacerbate the change.”

“There is a danger that we exacerbate it. To what degree I am uncertain because we have always had problems in this country with our weather – too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold – that’s going to happen.”

“The important thing is that gardeners and growers are tenacious and patient, and stick at it.”

“A bad year will usually be followed by a better year. We have got to keep growing. We have not got to let one odd wet summer, and it’s been a very wet and dispiriting summer, put us off growing things.”

“It has always been tough to grow.”

“I have never known a farmer say ‘we had a great year last year’.”

“They’ll never admit to it so we have got to just keep at it and realise it is still important,” he said.

Alan Titchmarsh plants Teucrium chamaedrys with a student (click image to expand - ©RLLord)


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