Horticulture Explained: Interpretation of horticultural practice in UK public gardens

By Sophie Walwin, Kew-trained horticulturist currently Head Gardener of Somerville College, University of Oxford

I recently graduated from the Kew Diploma in Horticulture and for my main research project and dissertation topic I chose to investigate the use of interpretation in public gardens in the U.K. My research focus was on interpretation of horticultural practice specifically, what’s being carried out currently and possible developments in this field. Interpretation has been an area of interest for me for a number of years, possibly thanks to my arts background and work in botanic gardens.

From my research, the varied responses about interpretation suggested that there is a mixed understanding of discipline in horticulture. Also, horticultural practice seems to be a subject that is not well-covered by interpretation in public gardens, but there is a case for doing some ‘interpreting’ that could benefit our gardens and industry in a number of ways.

The RHS conducted a report in 2014 called ‘Horticulture Matters’ which assessed the perception of horticulture as an industry and its current skills crisis. The report raised concerns that younger generations undervalue horticulture as a field worth considering for career pathways. A survey conducted for the report revealed that 70% of under-25- year-olds view horticultural careers as unskilled. My point of view is that by explaining more about what we do in gardens, through interpretation, our audiences (included young people) may gain a greater understanding of horticulture and its value as a professional line of work.

Read Sophie’s full article below (edited in 2021).