Iam an active volunteer. Over the last three and a quarter years I have had the privilege and honor of writing this blog. It has brought me many amazing things. I have had the chance to voice my opinion on many different horticultural concerns I’ve had to ask questions that were hard to answer, and I’ve been given the privilege of being able to express my thoughts and feelings on the industry of gardening and conservation of plants in the public domain. I’ve done this voluntarily since the beginning I made that decision. I wanted to reach a larger public with my horticultural thoughts which is why Jane Perrone, my editor agreed to let me go.
The reactions of people who have found out that I am a volunteer have diverse from “What? I’m stunned that they’re not paying me!” to “Wow, what a commitment”. It’s true that I’m not alone. I am just one of many people in horticulture who give their energy, time, and sometimes even money to enjoy the work we do.
As someone who has worked with The RSPB I am fully aware of the value of volunteers. In any field that draws passionate people, you will have volunteers working on a vast number of jobs with a variety of reasons. The RSPB believes that any position in the organisation can be completed by volunteers from the chief executive to field instructor provided they are able.
The industry of horticulture is heavily dependent on volunteerism as a means to learn the skills as well as the time and energy it requires to operate.
The RHS’s Chelsea flower show could not happen without volunteers. There are the people who work the gate, the amazing staff comprised of Plant Heritage members that look at the cloakrooms, the gardeners who work 12 hour days of helping to establish the gardens for the show and a myriad of other tasks you’d never believe. They work in exchange for free tickets to the event, or perhaps an opportunity to attend press days and, for those who are employed in the industry they are doing it for the experience and that can be added to their resume. The sense of pride knowing you had just a tiny part in the development of a show-garden that was awarded gold is incredible and, despite the work and effort numerous return every year to do it repeatedly. Over 300 volunteers get involved in RHS floral shows each year, and they are very difficult, extremely hard.
RHS is the only one with 700 volunteer in its gardens. They who gave them 72,640 hours of assistance in the year 2015 alone (if you calculate this on the average wages for gardeners at PS10 per hour, it will save the charity nearly PS750,000 per year). In reality I am unaware of a single open-air garden anywhere in Britain which does not have the least amount of volunteers.
Volunteers can also benefit from other advantages aside from the obvious cash savings. They could be used as match-funding for grants. They are also incredibly adept at advertising, and they bring abilities and expertise that would be difficult or costly to locate.
However, it’s not all sunshine when it comes to gardening volunteers. There are some downsides to these veterans and the industries they promote. There’s a line between obtaining the assistance of volunteers and using their generosity beyond which is considered acceptable. They have been utilized often as a minor part of the teams with which they are employed, dogbodies and runarounds. I have heard tales of broken promises for free tickets to shows and I have seen the common belief that horticulturists take on any task to help plants. They are often not rewarded for their efforts and their support.
I’ve spent my entire life learning about my trade to date and have spent thousands for the education that has allowed me to use it. However, I am constantly required to provide technical advice on horticulture, talk and the time, and effort to no cost. “It will look good on your CV” or “you will enjoy the experience” are marketed in the form of “payment” options. I’m wondering if the growing acceptance of gardening of volunteers, has resulted in the decline of the profession of horticulture. Do these reliances on volunteers create a perception that highly skilled and trained individuals can do their work for no money?
It comes down to the personal preference of each individual. I am satisfied with the number of time and effort I choose to commit whether it’s writing this blog, chairing of the plant society, or helping in the restoration of my local meadows that are floodplain. The rewards I receive from however, while not financial are always precisely that, advantages. I am always able to tell you no.
In large organizations like the RHS and the RSPB There is a significant amount of time and energy is devoted to ensuring that the volunteers who do an enormous amount of time and effort for no reward, are taken care of in a proper manner. However, there are many volunteers in smaller groups and settings that go a long way in making horticulture work. I’m sure they’re receiving proper acknowledgement for it as well. In the end without them, where could the industry of gardening be?