Every spring sees hundreds of horticulturists under the age of 30 entering Young Horticulturist of the Year (YHoY). From the budding gardeners of tomorrow still studying at college to horticultural retail staff, professional gardeners and landscapers alike, the competition run by the Chartered Institute of Horticulture is open to one and all.
The competition is run over three rounds. The first of which are regional heats that are held up and down the country in colleges, garden and gardens centres. Winners of the regional heats amass at regional finals held at similar venues before the winners of each of the finals move on to the Grand Final. The Grand Final is held at a garden or horticultural institution and gives entrants the chance of snapping up the winning prize of a £2500 travel bursary to study plants anywhere in the world.
The first round is a quiz of 40 multiple choice questions which covers topics such as plant science, horticultural practice, production horticulture and plantsmanship. Sample questions include: name the plant, types of brickwork or ‘what is spaghetti tubing?’ – of all things! The regional finals are a mix of plant and pest and disease identification rounds, directed question rounds and the famous buzzer rounds (think BBC’s University Challenge but with plant geeks rather than physicists) covering the above topics.
The Grand Final follows the same format albeit the questions are a lot harder. Thankfully the competition is not based under the spotlight a la BBC’s Mastermind, but instead the band of willing hopefuls sit amassed in front of an audience of enthusiastic spectators on some sort of horticultural alter. To be honest I’m not sure what would be a more pressured situation – under the bright light in the famous black chair or in front of gaggle of onlookers each sniggering as you get the easy questions wrong.
My first foray into the contest was in 2013 while studying my Level 3 diploma at Brooksby Melton College near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. I won the Brooksby College heat, and went onto the Eastern Regional final held at Blooms of Bressingham in Norfolk where I came a respectable 3rd. Not bad for my first time.
In 2014, while working at Chatsworth, Derbyshire as a HBGBS trainee I won the heat held in the garden before moving to the North West and North Wales Regional final held at Bridgemere Garden Centre in Cheshire. Having seen how the final ran the year before I was quietly confident and luckily won. The Grand Final loomed – the fear of the unknown was great. Was the contest to continue in the same manner, or would a new challenge present itself, juggling secateurs perhaps. Thank goodness the format remained the same. Although the questions; not so much – damn they get hard. In 2014 it was held at the John Innes Research Institute near Norwich, Norfolk. I came 5th, this was good – I was improving.
What are the questions like I hear you ask? Well, have a go at these questions that I have been asked and see how you get on.
- What is meant by epigeal germination?
- Name two incidences when you would use a clinometer in the garden ?
- What’s the odd one out? ‘Golden Delicious’, ‘Discovery’, ‘John Downie’ or ‘James Grieve’
- Meconopsis belongs to which plant family?
And my personal favourite…
- How long is a cricket wicket?
So that brings us up to 2016, after a year out, it was time to make a return. Now as a trainee at RHS Wisley I won the heat held in the garden and then the South East Regional final also held at RHS Wisley which means that once again I am heading off to the Grand Final this year hosted by Glasnevin Botanic Garden, Dublin, Ireland on 7 May 2016. The competition in the South East Region was fierce with entrants coming from RBG Kew, Hadlow College, Merrist Wood College and I’m sure that the calibre of Young Horticulturists in Dublin will once again be excellent. In 2016 I’m hoping to improve on my current personal best of 5th and who knows, maybe win. But if not, there’s always next year. I’ve already entered from three of the regions already; why not chance my luck in a fourth.
- During germination the cotyledons rise above the surface of the growing media.
- To measure the height of something i.e. a tree and to determine the angle of a slope.
- ‘John Downie’ – Although all Malus, the other three are all eating apples. ‘John Downie’ is a crab apple.
- 22 yards