We’ve had a lot of responses to Nick Turrell’s piece, ‘Would you be a Gardener?‘. Including what amounts to a whole new article, which I am publishing below. Keep up the comment – but more, perhaps, let your views be known and the pieces circulated wherever they may make a difference?
Anne Wareham, editor
Alan Titchmarsh caused a bit of a brouhaha recently when he commented on a new RHS report about young people and horticulture (Gardening not for thick or dull.). Gardening, he was quoted as saying, is not just for the ‘thick and the dull’ – a perception which prevails out there, apparently.
Speaking as one who is neither thick nor dull, I was reminded of two things people say to me a propos my own work as a gardener. Firstly: something along the lines of ‘what did you do before you became a gardener?’, or ‘you’ve obviously not always been a gardener…’. This latter comment, I think, reflects my modest physique and weak tan … I don’t wander about with a straw in my mouth and string holding my trousers up. I read The Guardian and speak with an accent which belies my Lancastrian roots. Does that have to mean I must be a refugee from some other trade (or, should I assume, profession)?
As it happens I am, but the reasons why I am now a gardener are very complicated. Gardening is certainly not something I took up lightly: it took many months of thought (on top of many years of gardening for myself) to decide to pursue gardening as paid work. Neither is it – and this is another interpretation people sometimes fall back on – a ‘stop gap’ activity, something I am doing simply until I ‘get back on my feet’ and ‘things sort themselves out’. How patronising. I never question how or why people in other jobs got into them: “oh dear, but don’t worry, I am sure being a solicitor will keep you busy until something comes along…”.
Secondly. there is an assumption – particularly when I meet people socially, away from their gardens – that I am (surely, must be) a Garden Designer, Landscape Architect or some such. Again, the underlying feeling is that ‘someone like me’ (whatever on earth that might mean) cannot be merely ‘a gardener’. In fact that is what I am. I am just a gardener. I garden, I help people to keep their gardens looking nice, and I help them to make their gardens better if they want me to. I spend most of my time weeding, mowing, pruning – working (shock, horror) with my hands. That is what I am good at, that is what I am (belatedly) qualified to do, and that is what I enjoy.
If I do any ‘design’ it is making planting schemes and plans, and implementing them to improve cllients’ gardens. This I love. I do a little basic garden DIY work – edging, paths, fencing – but I don’t especially like it, and wouldn’t go looking for it. I certainly don’t want to get involved in ‘hard landscaping’ work: I have spent time in other jobs managing building projects, liaising with other trades, sorting out the numerous problems along the way – and that is not what I want to do now. I am strictly a secateurs and trowel, seed tray and watering can, merchant.
There really should not be any need to apologise for being ‘just a gardener’ (sic) – but, and Alan T has clearly hit a nail on the head here, it seems lots of people think there is.
Stephen Hackett is a gardener, living in Salisbury. Stephen’s Blog