‘Black kids say to me, what’s a garden designer?’ Why it’s time to solve horticulture’s diversity problem

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Danny Clarke (The Instant Gardener) by Neil Marshment Photography 

People from BAME backgrounds are still under-represented in horticulture. What do Britain’s black gardeners think needs to be done?

By Matthew Appleby

In 2016, Juliet Sargeant became the first black designer to create a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Her Modern Slavery Garden won gold.

Sargeant said at the time: “I don’t come across any other black garden designers when I’m out and about. But that doesn’t mean black people aren’t interested in gardening and design. I think they do not culturally feel part of the horticultural scene.”

Now, after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the US and subsequent Black Lives Matter anti-racism demonstrations in the US and UK, many industries are under the spotlight due to a perceived lack of diversity, from food to fashion. Gardening is among them, too.

Flo Headlam, who became the first black Gardeners’ World presenter in 2017, says: “It is the moment to be talking about diversity in all walks of life and industries.”

The RHS is keen to crack the diversity issue and in August a £45,000 a year diversity and inclusion manager will start work to create equality initiatives. An RHS spokesperson says: “We are under no illusions and realise there is much more for the RHS and the industry to do.”

The National Trust is also reviewing policies and works in partnership with Creative and Cultural Skills (ccskills.org.uk) to encourage a wider range of young people to consider the Trust as a possible future career.

On television, high-profile figures such as Flo Headlam and Arit Anderson (Gardeners’ World/Garden Rescue), and Danny Clarke (The Instant Gardener), and designers Juliet Sargeant and Cleve West at Chelsea, have started to give gardening a more diverse public profile.

On social media, too, young gardeners from a range of ethnic minorities are using innovative means to promote the mental and physical health benefits of growing plants.

Grow2Know is a new non-profit Community Interest Company created by people living near London’s Grenfell Tower, where 72 people were killed by fire in 2017. The project, backed by civil engineers Arcadis, is designed to empower young people through horticulture, while creating a more inclusive environment.

Tayshan Hayden-Smith, who has Jamaican, Italian, Egyptian and Kuwaiti heritage, is founder and director. In response to Grenfell, he says: “My natural feeling was to start gardening and doing up neglected spaces in the community and turning them into beautiful places.”

He says: “People of diverse backgrounds are a completely unrepresented space in the horticulture industry. Young people should feel encouraged to explore careers in horticulture for the physical and mental health benefits.

“You can’t see anyone in the [gardening] industry you can relate to. I’m a footballer – I see people from similar backgrounds playing and that inspired me.

“It’s all about relatability. Gardening becomes about certain people from a certain background or class and for people of an older generation and that is not really encouraging for the younger generation.

“There are many ways of reaching young people. The industry is not engaging young people online. For me [gardening] is not really being put in the right place.”

Hayden-Smith is in conversations with rapper Akala to put poetry/spoken word over animations linked to gardening and has a project connected to calisthenics and growing food for post-workout meals.

“If I go to young people and say ‘let’s go gardening’ they will say ‘no’. But there are more creative ways-for instance incorporating art or fitness. You have to be very subtle about it and almost complement it with other things and edge it in.”

Chayo Melara-Page, 17, has made a Youtube rap video as ‘Bicho Cezar’ for the Vegan Organic Network, filmed on his mum and stepdad’s Manchester allotment. During childhood visits to his father’s farm in El Salvador he developed his love of growing plants: “I’ve always loved plants and gardening and been interested in nature. As a kid, I didn’t play games inside, I climbed trees.

“But I don’t believe gardening is very white. In the UK, there’s an imbalance of attention in the media, so you probably only notice the white side of things. But in Rastafarian culture they use a lot of herbs and in Far Eastern culture, too.

“Working as a primary school teacher, my mum did Forest Schools, taking kids into nature. You could reach out more into community centres with projects [like that].

“Society views manual labour as not necessarily as valuable as jobs where you get more money for less work, but it’s important to realise the body has muscles and the body comes from nature and it’s good for the mind or body to work outside. Allotments can actually save you a lot of money so growing can have financial benefits. I’ve just left college and if a job was available I’d love to take it.”

In 2015, garden designer Danny Clarke, aka The Black Gardener, became the first black horticulturist to be given a TV series, The Instant Gardener. He is also a director at Grow2Know.

“I’m working on the community space around Grenfell… a man there who witnessed the fire turned to horticulture as a way of dealing with the trauma. When he first started doing it he felt out of place because of his ethnicity. He didn’t feel comfortable and he felt he shouldn’t be doing it and that he didn’t have any black role models.

“I’ve had comments on Twitter saying that until they saw me they didn’t know black people gardened for a living. I work with Provender Nurseries and they say, out of their thousands of clients, they can count on one hand the amount that are black.

“Talking to black and Asian gardeners, they say it may be a hangover from the days of slavery where working the land was seen as servile. Parents now want children to get a respectable job like a lawyer or doctor.

“And you don’t really make much money being a professional gardener. That could be a big factor why [horticulture] doesn’t appeal and it’s not as diverse as it could be.

“I always feel when I see black gardeners on TV it’s almost a token gesture and it’s not very representative. It’s almost like a club you’re trying to get into. But I’ve never really seen any prejudice in horticulture. They’re a friendly lot and tend to be nice people because gardening brings out the compassionate and nurturing side and that gives people common ground.”

Garden designer Cleve West, who has won Best Show Garden at Chelsea three times, says: “I’ve been concerned with diversity in the horticultural world more or less since I started as a garden designer. I tried having a few conversations a long time ago but they fell on largely deaf and occasionally, patronising ears. It’s sad that it’s taken so long for people to take this seriously but better late than never.

“There is diversity in that people from all ethnic backgrounds garden in the UK but they are found in allotments and inner-city community gardens.

“I was lucky enough to have lived on Exmoor as a teenager and was later inspired by an aunt with a large garden in West London. Most BAME children won’t be so fortunate so making gardening part of the curriculum in schools would be a step in the right direction.

“The inner city school I’ve worked with in Battersea teaches gardening from the day children arrive aged four and uses the garden for outdoor learning in most subjects. Regardless of whether the children go into horticulture later or not they will have a basic understanding of how nature works. BAME students drawn to horticulture later in life might then have a head-start and be less intimidated.”

Flo Headlam worked for charities including Comic Relief before changing career to become a professional gardener in 2012. She says: “I work for an organisation called Urban Synergy, going into schools in role model mentoring workshops. The format is to present to young people at top end primary and years 10-12 secondary so they see people from different walks of life and a diverse spread of people and professions. I sit down and black kids particularly ask ‘garden designer-what’s that?’ I can see it in their faces ‘is that a job-you do that job?’ If you don’t see it, you can’t imagine it.

“When I was at Capel Manor College doing five years of studies, in that time I encountered two other black women and a Japanese and a Chinese woman-all female and no men. The thing about that college is you can go in at an affordable level but a lot of garden design colleges are much more expensive and feel prohibitive for people on an even half-decent wage.

“There were no barriers to me, but everyone’s story is personal. Maybe it’s the force of my personality which meant that because I wanted to do it, I found a way to do it. It’s not necessarily the same for everybody.

“We’ve all got to fight the cause. The demonstration of global uprising shows there’s a conversation for everyone to be engaged in.”

Veganic Growers Question Time Special

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The Story of the Veganic Circus Farm -an acrobatic approach to growing

How the traveling circus developed into a veganic farm, circus school and yoga centre on the stunning west coast of Cornwall.

Tune in live to hear Carmen Easterby talk with Brett and Anthony from Chyan Veganic Farm.

Tuesday 16th June 8pm – 8.45pm

Live on YouTube and Facebook

Please send veganic or circus questions to: events@veganorganic.net

Watch the vegan circus in action


‘The Future is Beautiful if we make to so’

Story so far:

In 1998 we bought Chyan Farm with its river, fields and woods in Cornwall

The Circus paid for the land and the start of growing – we planted 300 Cornish Apple trees and several other fruit and nut trees and fruit bushes.

We did our organic conversion with The Soil Association from 2003 – 2007.

We have worked to help others buy land to start organic growing across Cornwall but especially in West Cornwall and around Chyan.

Chyan now sells veganic Apple Juice, vinegar, salads and vegetables locally.

We have just finished plans for Veganic Farming Course and community training. Starting with community growing this month and the Level 2 courses to start in October and the pilot diploma planned for 2021

Camping info: There are 3 campsites for wild camping with solar showers spring water and a swimming pond.

Visitors are welcome, check out the website for courses and open days / events – we have an Apple Fair in October and a Well Being Fair at Easter and usually a yoga camp at the end of May.

Courses are on the website and though there has been an obvious disruption will start again in August.

Courses in organic growing and specific areas can be requested.

For info on camping, courses, volunteering and more visit chyan cultural centre for circus information go to: http://www.circokernow.co.uk or http://www.swampcircus.co.uk   

Brett Jackson

Fruit farmer, acrobat, social clown, and vegan since 1981.

First class degree in plant and animal biology. Travelled UK and Europe with Swamp Circus since 1986. 

Living close to the earth as a vegan showed the need for good soil, respect for nature and growing vegan food.

Anthony Eldridge Rogers

Film-maker, author, education activist, health/wellness coach, and vegan. Anthony is a trustee of Swamp Circus Trust charity and his daughters work with the circus as acrobats.

Lives in a shared community in Devon. 

We lived in South Africa and bought a fruit farm and raised our babies on it, until the girls were about three and our son 8 months old. We sold the farm and bought a house in the local village and moved into it. We ran a restaurant/café/shop. We left after about four years of being in Montagu and went to the UK. After about a year and a half, we moved to Italy for four years. Anthony works closely with his amazing wife Leyla. https://www.jumpfallfly.com/


Veganic Gardeners Question Time

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Dan Graham is joined by Jenny Hall, Mathew Appleby and Piers Warren from the comfort of their own homes, answering gardening questions sent in by the audience.

Get tips, ideas and inspiration on growing your own.

Veganic Gardeners’ Question Time hopes to inspire and bring new ideas to foragers, growers and gardeners alike.

Tuesday 26th May 7pm UK Time Zone 45 minutes

Join the event live on Facebook or YouTube where you can ask questions:

https://www.youtube.com/ GrowingGreenVideos/videos


Please send your questions to:


Our panel will include:

Jenny Hall: Co-author of Growing Green and many other books. She set up Fir Tree Community Growers which is the small holding she now runs as Climate Friendly Food CIC. She has twenty years of experience providing therapeutic horticultural experience. Her current part time job is about getting new audiences out into green spaces.

Matthew Appleby: Author and three time winner of the Garden Media Guild best journalist award, his latest book is The Super Organic Gardener – Everything You Need to Know About a Vegan Garden.

Piers Warren: Conservationist, author and keen grower of organic fruit and vegetables. He is the founder and Principal of Wildeye – The International School of Wildlife Film-making . Writer of several books and co author of The Vegan Cook and gardener.

Now more than ever it is vital that we engage with how our food is grown.

Tune into our show and become part of the growing revolution which can not only transform your garden plot but also change the way the world grows its food.

Join us for an entertaining evening and some twenty-four carrot advice.

Grow veganic for a cruelty free world with clean rivers and oceans, wild life, trees and safe food that doesn’t cause deadly viruses which come from the trade in dead animals.

Vegan Organic Network:

Working for a Green, Clean and Cruelty Free World

Producer: Dan Graham

Assistant Producer: IzaaK Chung-Graham

A Vegan Organic Network Production

Win The Garden of Vegan

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We’ve TWO exclusive signed copies of new book Garden of Vegan to give away!

For your chance to win, simply follow our page, like this post and you could win a copy of this brilliant book!

You can also enter our draw via facebook and our website by emailing us at  events@veganorganic.net with ‘WIN.

Tag a friend who needs to see this.

Can’t wait?

Draw on 26th May 7pm Veganic Gardeners Question Time (WINNER ANNOUNCE IN NEXT NEWSLETTER)

Sustainability First Art prize!

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Sustainability First Essay and Art Prizes: Building from the corona crisis towards a sustainable future

Sustainability First is launching two competitions – the Sustainability First Essay Prize and the Sustainability First Art Prize – for which they invite original, radical ideas and visions in response to the question, ‘How do we build from the current corona crisis towards a more sustainable future?’ The winning artist / writer of the winning essay will each receive a prize of £1,000.

Their website has the full competition adverts, outlining their scope, high-profile judging panels (including Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, and Professor Jeremy Till, Head of Central St Martins and Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Arts London), details on how to enter and rules for entry).

The essay prize is aimed at students and early-career researchers and art competition at practising artists based in the UK.

See: https://www.sustainabilityfirst.org.uk/bridging-corona/essay-art-prizes

An online application form should be completed before the deadline: 1 June 2020 at 5pm  

They are also conducting a survey to gather wider views on ‘How do we build from the current corona crisis towards a more sustainable future?’  Students/researchers/policy makers and groups can fill in the survey by clicking on this link – and share it with friends and contacts.

Vegan Organic Network would love to see your art creations too! Please email them to: events@veganorganic.net and copy in info @madideas.com