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Meet the women behind the Young People in Horticulture Association

by | 08 Mar 24 | Long Reads, Sustainability

Young People in Horticulture Association

It’s hard to believe that five years ago, the Young People in Horticulture Association (YPHA) didn’t exist. But since it was first founded at the start of 2020, it has grown to more than 800 members – that’s hundreds in the horticulture industry who have joined a community of like-minded people.  

And that’s exactly what Mollie Higginson and Natalie Porter were hoping for when they first thought up the idea for the association, though they had just growers in mind to begin with as that’s the part of the industry that they’re both from. 

They met at a horticulture conference and were dismayed to see very few women in the room and even fewer young people. “I thought, surely there’s more people out there who are under 50 and working in horticulture who are passionate about it,” says Higginson. “Nat and I both said how we thought a community for young people was missing and an opportunity to meet more young people in horticulture. So, it started with a conversation like that.” 

Both had a strong relationship with manufacturer ICL and so they asked if it would be able to fund them to kickstart a new association. “It just spiralled from there.” As well as growers, they started to welcome people aged 35 or under across all sectors of the industry, from those working in garden centres to those in landscaping and garden design. “We thought, why is it not just an open group to people who are young, who are in our industry, so that we can all network together? And then we’ll hopefully retain those people because they feel like they’re part of something.” 

Better yet, its members are fairly diverse, with an almost even split of males and females, for instance. Its committee is actually three-fifths female. “The more we can get our faces out there and show how diverse we are, not just in male and female split but also in job roles, our backgrounds, our history, then the more that’s going to encourage people to join and hopefully give women more confidence to come into the industry and progress in their career.” 

Higginson admits that she initially didn’t want to join her family business, New Leaf Plants. When her parents bought the company, she went travelling and lived in Canada for a year and a half. On returning for the Christmas holidays, she decided to stay for longer and asked her parents for a job, starting out on the potting machine and working in the cuttings shed. “I was not given it light to start off, I can tell you that. And I think even my parents were skeptical about me joining. It took a long time to show them that this was something that I wanted to do and for my passion to come out.” 

Young People in Horticulture Association

The YPHA unveiling its Launch Success initiative at the Garden Press Event

Porter also joined the industry as the boss’s daughter, so says she was “immediately on the defensive, expecting prejudice, cries of nepotism and generally to be underestimated.” It means she’s had to stamp her feet louder than necessary, she says. “I would argue that the same behaviour that leads people to think of me as ‘opinionated’ would have led a male counterpart to be described as ‘assertive’ and ‘determined’.” 

Sometimes women do need to have the confidence of a man though, says Higginson. “It’s putting yourself into somebody else’s shoes and thinking, ‘If they can do it and they have the same qualifications or the same knowledge or the same background as me, then why am I not doing that?’ Sometimes, we can batter ourselves down a bit and think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that’. And sometimes we just have to have more confidence.” 

The accolade of being a member of the YPHA makes Higginson feel more confident and respected, and despite its youth, it’s already making strides into actively encouraging change in the industry. Fellow committee member Lilidh Matthews appeared in the House of Lords last year as a witness to the Horticultural Sector Committee, and Higginson signed the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Charter for the Horticulture, Arboriculture, Landscaping & Garden Media profession on behalf of the YPHA the previous year. 

“We need to keep showing that we are trying to change the industry, but also that the industry is changing. Our association is 800 members and we’re a 50/50 split of female and male, which is a huge achievement. If we can keep all those 800 in horticulture, and in 30 or 40 years’ time we’re all heads of businesses or running businesses, and we’re still a 50/50 split, then we’d be looking at a completely different industry. Yes, okay, we still have issues we need to fix; it’s still something ridiculous like 90% British white. But the fact that we’ve managed to push that change for female/male split is massive, and that’s the first step to getting other diversities to join.” 

Porter adds that she’s “delighted” to see the industry become more evenly split. “I sincerely hope the industry continues to develop its respect and empowerment of women in horticulture in such a way that we start to see a more balanced representation at the higher levels of operation.” 

It might be at the start of its journey, but the Young People in Horticulture Association is already making waves and encouraging a shakeup. Considering this is the next generation of horticulturists coming through, it certainly suggests the industry could be heading in the right direction and that change is afoot.  

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