Every spring sees hundreds of horticulturists under the age of 30 entering Young Horticulturist of the Year (YHoY) – from the budding gardeners still studying at college to horticultural retail staff, professional gardeners and landscapers alike. The competition is run by the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, and is open to one and all.
A challenge for plant enthusiasts
My first foray into the contest was in 2013 while studying my Level 3 Diploma at Brooksby Melton College near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. The competition is run over three rounds; the first of which are eight regional heats that are held up and down the country in colleges, garden and garden centres. Winners of the regional heats gather at regional finals before the winners of each of the finals which move on to the Grand Final which each year moves around each of the eight regions 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 in 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 touch harder (a lot harder).
Thankfully the competition is not based under the spotlight à 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 altar. 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 sniggering as you get the easy questions wrong.
2013 saw me enter the Brooksby College heat, win and then move on to the Eastern Regional final where I came a respectable 3rd - not bad for my first time. In 2014, while working at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, as a HBGBS trainee, I won the heat held in the garden before moving to the North West and North Wales Regional final.
Having seen how the final ran the year before I was quietly confident and luckily won. The 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.
Starter for ten
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?
Third time lucky?
So that brings us up to 2016, after a year out, it was time to make a return. Now, as a trainee at RHS Garden Wisley, I won the heat held in the garden and then the South East Regional final, which means that once again I was heading off to the Grand Final, this time hosted by Glasnevin Botanic Garden, Dublin. The competition in the South East Region was fierce with entrants coming from RBG Kew, Hadlow College, Merrist Wood College and the calibre of Young Horticulturists in Dublin for the final was once again excellent. However, at long last in 2016, I was lucky to improve on my current personal best of 5th place, and win the competition.
Check your answers
Time to see if you were right.
- 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.