IGPS Munster’s Bruno Nicolai Interviews Young Horts Ambassador Paul Smyth
Tell me a little bit about yourself?
Well, I’m 21 years old and live in Nurney, Co Carlow. I have studied in Waterford Institute of Technology for my Level 7 degree in horticulture and currently I’m completing the final year which will give me Level 8 in Land Management (Horticulture). For my work placement in 2013 I worked in for Angela Jupe in Bellefield house and gardens in Co Offaly. I have also worked for Altamont plants sales. I’m currently involved in a group called YoungHort, which was set up last year and aims to encourage younger people into horticulture and show people the diversity and the benefit of a career in horticulture.
Wildflower Wackos’ Mini Garden at Blarney in Bloom 2014
Paul And Bruno at Blarney in Bloom
Paul and fellow Wild Flower Wacko, Laura Quinn tell a Blarney in Bloom visitor about their garden.
I first met you at Blarney in Bloom 2014 where you and some of your fellow WIT Horticulture students had installed a garden for the event. How did your participation in the event come about, what was your aim in creating the garden, and were you happy with the result?
Well, like a lot of these things it sort of came out of a mad suggestion in the college canteen last year , when we all moaning about a business subject we had and how it would be great to do something like Bloom. We had a look at the Shows around and approached a few. Laura Quinn (who along with myself and Rory Newell were the brains behind the idea) had worked in Blarney and we approached Adam who was up for having us. We were just doing it to prove to ourselves de that we could do it. We christened ourselves the Wildflower Wackos. Our initial plan changed drastically, but the overall aim of the garden was to show people how simple it was to brighten up a dull area of your garden with a simple packet of seeds, minimal effort and how with a few simple ideas you could greatly increase the biodiversity of your garden while making it more attractive for you too. We were delighted with the result. We all live in different provinces so the whole project was organised and discussed via Viber and Skype after we left college and was done on a shoestring budget so we were delighted how it eventually came together. It was a fantastic experience and we met some great people too.
What drew you to horticulture?
Food initially. When I was in my teens I started watching Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and his adventures with becoming self-sufficient. This got me really interested in that area and growing my own food was my main interest then. I grew up on a farm and subconsciously have been gardening since I was big enough to hold a trowel. My grandparents were all great gardeners too though its only now that I appreciate how much they all knew. We always had a veg patch on the farm and when I was about 15 my parents basically gave me free reign of this. From there my insterest grew and I began to get interest in ornamentals and it has steadily grown into an obsession
In what way do you feel horticulture benefits you?
Well, personally it’s like a therapy. It keeps me fit and constantly busy. It’s a complete relaxation. I don’t ever consider gardening work, especially not at home. I’m the type of person who gets itchy feet if I’m not at something, particularly in summer when the days are so long. I despise being inside when it’s bright, so gardening is a good excuse to keep me busy all throughout the year. It also has helped me form a lot of great friendships. I love when a plant has a story behind it and so many plants I have at have come from people who mean a lot to me. Obviously it’s important to support our nurseries, but there’s something special about having plants you can relate to the people who gave them. Horticulture keeps you fit, active and keeps your mind fresh. Personally I can’t fathom why more people don’t garden, though it is easy preaching to the converted!
Some of Paul’s Dahlia hybrids
Primula capitata in Paul’s garden.
Do you have any favourite plants?
That’s like asking a parent do they have a favourite child. Like the parent, it depends on the time of year and what is behaving best on the particular day you ask!! There are definitely a few plants that I have soft spot for though. Snowdrops and Primulas are close to the top of that list. From working in Bellefield my interest in both these plants grew, but in particular Snowdrops. So much so, that I have completed my final year project for college on Twin-scaling Snowdrops. They are scarily addictive! I’m slowly building a collection of both of these plants. Herbaceous plants are my main passion. Irises and Dahlias are two other groups of plants that I think I may have too many of. I especially love experimenting with Dahlias, crossing different hybrids and growing on the seedlings in the hope of finding something interesting.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the Young Horts, and your role as ambassador?
Young Horts was formed in December 2014 in the UK by Jack Shilley. It was set up entirely in Twitter initially! Its aim is to encourage more young people into horticulture and to support young people who have already decided on a career in horticulture by hosting events to promote this talent and as a means of networking amongst young people and students in the industry. There are 12 ambassadors scattered over the UK and Ireland. Our role is to promote the YoungHort initiative in our different regions, be involved in new projects, and help organise and attend various events.
Are there any challenges you think young people face when they have an interest in horticulture, or when considering horticulture as a career?
Absolutely. Horticulture has this stigma attached it that it’s only for people of a certain age. It has such a poor public image, with the common perception being that it is a poorly paid, involving hours of hard work, physical labour and an industry with little opportunity. This could not be further from the truth! The opportunities that this industry allows you are vast. It is definitely a career for any young person with a love for the outdoors and nature to consider. Horticulture is considered a career for those who don’t do as well academically, however there are opportunities for all in the horticultural industry; it’s such a shame that this perception has been created. To overcome these we need first to educate kids and teenagers in particular about the importance and opportunities that horticulture allows. We also need to inform parents to allow them to encourage their children’s decisions to pursue a horticulture career. We also need to value the work of horticulturalists and view them as professionals.
Paul’s garden in Nurney, Co. Carlow
What could gardening clubs do to make them more attractive to younger gardeners?
I suppose the first thing they could do is be as welcoming as possible to any newer entrants to their clubs. It can be hard as a young person approaching these groups, and at first you do feel out of place. So maybe those involved in these groups that know any young people interested in gardening could approach them and invite them to tag along, maybe informally to a meeting at first and see what they think. Reduced membership rates are a must, perhaps even allow their first year of membership to be free to encourage them to join. This will hopefully mean that younger committee members will be encouraged, who will in turn give other younger people the confidence to join these cubs and societies, showing us that they are indeed open to everyone! Younger committee members will all have their own ideas as to how to encourage the next generation and I feel it is important that they are involved where possible. Another area that could be looked at is the use of social media. YoungHort was founded on social media and has led me to meet some amazing people and see some amazing places. The negative effects of social media are all too commonly highlighted. It can, if used correctly, be used for so much good and YoungHort is a prime example of this.
Have you any advice to young people who are interested in horticulture?
Try it. Whether you manage to coax a patch of land off your neighbour or like me was lucky to have loads of space to experiment with. You learn so much more from getting involved in horticulture. My advice when it comes to getting a professional education is to start off with a practical based course and work your way up. The most you will ever learn is when you are out in the industry. The worst you can do is kill a few plants or maybe drive your parents mad by filling every spare inch of the garden in plants and taking over ever sunny windowsill in the house! Meet others too. YoungHort, events, societies, and talks are all a great way to so this. That’s where you’ll learn from.
Paul gets ready to twin-scale some Snowdrops
I’ve no doubt your name will gradually become known to many in the gardening world. Do you currently offer any talks or workshops?
At the moment I’m preparing a talk on Irish snowdrops that I will be doing at Woodville walled garden at their snowdrop festival on Sunday the 8th of February. I’m always up for attending and doing talks and workshops and it’s another great way of meeting new people and seeing some amazing gardens
What hopes and goals do you have for the years to come?
I would love to travel and see more of the horticultural world. Plant Hunting is an ambition of mine at someone point but I have a lot to learn first. I would love to work in a botanical nursery long term, but equally would like to experience things such as help build displays at garden shows such as Hampton Court and CheIsea. I don’t like to be tied down too much to plans and will happily take up anything that interests me and helps me further my knowledge and career if it comes my way. It’s an industry that you will always feel you need to know more in and it’s endlessly diverse, which are more reasons to add to the never-ending list of why I love it!
Wishing you the best of luck for the future Paul. We look forward to attending your talks and seeing the results of all your hard work.
Chairman of IGPS Munster