Andrew Wilson responds to “Gender and the Garden World” by Anne Wareham

February 13, 2008

in Articles, General Interest

Comments on Anne Wareham’s article on gender and the garden world

A fascinating subject indeed.

This is one that came up in discussion on one of my courses at Merrist Wood along the lines of “if there are so many women involved in garden design, gardening etc, how is it that most successful designers, teachers, writers etc are men!”

The answer of course is not straightforward and treads the minefield of equality and chauvinism.

Firstly, the agonising truth is that many women are far too self effacing or modest, have a low self worth, lack confidence and self belief – any or all of these things.  I see this first hand in many of my courses in which women aim to change from being a wife, mother etc, having worked in this way for most of their adult life but not having benefited (if it is a benefit) from being in the workplace.  For these people, gardening is often a joy and a serious hobby which they then hope to convert to a career.  The hobby aspect often remains – this is also where the lovely, nice, light etc descriptors come from.  I once had a conversation with a student who was angry that the course work in garden design had taken her away from gardening – not something that she expected or wanted to happen.  Well, garden design involves drawing boards, computers, meetings, administration, abstract creativity etc – it is not gardening!

The interesting point here is that garden design is a job, just like any other – it involves financial control, it needs admin, client support, site monitoring in a male dominated contracting world.  There is competition with other designers, aspirations to expand ones business and client base, a need to market and promote etc – all the main attributes of the typical work place, amplified into self employment and working alone.  Women are of course perfectly capable of taking on all of these roles but in my experience this is not why most go into garden design – they see it as a continuation of gardening which it is not.

The jump from hobby interest to career is one that many either don’t want to make or feel unhappy or uncomfortable making.  Men on the other hand are happy with the career prospect and in the same role are usually the main breadwinner, mortgage payer etc.  They also tend to be more interested in the prospect of success or notoriety – the usual competitive streak that can often come across as arrogance or chauvinism.

Asked by a female student to suggest any role models for her I was hard pressed – Sarah Eberle is an obvious and rare success story who has an incredible drive and ambition which I have seen more in males rather than females.  There are other successes but few who share or demonstrate those specific qualities.

Many end up being successful almost by accident – Rosemary Verey, Penny Hobhouse – good connections also help tremendously!

If I asked you to put four or five female speakers together for a conference – what would your response be? – and if you had to do it again for next year’s conference what would you say then? You might do it if we went international with Topher Delany, Andrea Cochran or Isabelle Green etc but if we then said, OK let’s keep it British – what then?

I find it really heart wrenching to see the talented students that I teach who are female who then for all sorts of reasons – babies, marriage break down, travel with husband’s job, too comfortably off etc – do not progress to a successful career.  The interesting thing in garden design is that there is no so called glass ceiling, there are no barriers to success that might be identified in more traditional careers so what are the answers?

Andrew Wilson

Return to the article

Subscribe to the thinkinGardens Blog

Enter your email address to get new articles from the thinkinGardens blog by email:

Previous post:

Next post: