Would you be a gardener? by Nick Turrell

June 26, 2013

in Articles, General Interest

I hate the image of gardeners that we are routinely presented with in the media. We are all middle aged, cheerful and smiley. If you are a woman  you are inevitably as ‘lovely’ as your garden and had better be as sweet natured and lovable as Beth Chatto or Anna Pavord.

So, as Nick Turrell points out here – why would anyone want to be a gardener?

(see also ‘Just a gardener – just? by Stephen Hackett’)

Anne Wareham, editor and Bad Tempered Gardener.

Portrait Anne Wareham copyright John Kingdon





Would you be a gardener? by Nick Turrell:

images (1) grumpy

Last week the RHS and HTA presented a report to the government stating that unless the skills shortage in the horticulture industry is tackled immediately the UK will face a “serious crisis” in years to come.  What? A skills shortage during a time of high unemployment? That doesn’t sound right.  Are jobs in horticulture really that unappealing?

Apparently yes and furthermore I know why.  I’ve been employing people in the industry for 20 years.  I can tell you in five words what the problem is, I don’t need an official report to tell me…gardening has an image problem.  It’s nerdy – not sexy, un-cool.  Oh and the money is crap too.  So just to re-cap…rubbish money and a geeky image – and we’re all scratching our heads wondering why no-one wants to work in it.

Gardening has always had an image problem; when a company wants to diplomatically get rid of someone they send them on ‘gardening’ leave. When something is mundane it’s described as common or ‘garden’.  These phrases don’t do the image much good. So what has the RHS been doing about it?  Whatever it is, it isn’t working. They’ve had over 200 years to work on this. Maybe a change of plan is needed.

Chelsea 2013 copyright Anne Wareham for thinkingardens

After 200 years…

I’m not sure throwing government money at it is the answer either.  If you want to “change the perceptions” of gardening it’s not government money you need, it’s new ambassadors.  How is it that other industries seem to manage, even when the starting salaries are just as low?  The art industry for example, there are struggling artists all over the place. But a struggling artist is seen as sexy.  It’s not just about the low wages it’s the status that needs to be addressed too.

And what about those industries that used to be seen as un-cool but have now transformed their image without the help of government funding. How did they do it? They did it in the same way they got the nerdy image in the first place; through TV coverage.  Before Keith Floyd, cookery programmes were pretty dull.  Chris Kelly from Food and Drink and Delia Smith weren’t sexy and their programmes were aimed at cookery bores. Keith Floyd changed all that.  The car industry is another image transforming success story.  In the 1980’s and 90’s Top Gear was famously watched by bearded car bores and then one brave TV commissioning editor took a risk and let Jeremy Clarkson off the lead.

Gnomes at Chelsea copyright Charles Hawes for thinkingardens

Yes. These are grown men.

Gardening TV needs to take a few more risks with its presenters.  If you only ever saw people like Rolf Harris rather than Tracey Emin representing the art industry on TV, would it have such a bohemian image?  These are the people who change the public perception of an industry; its role models.  Expecting the RHS to change the public perception of gardening is like asking the RAC to change the public perception of motoring.

Cookery had Keith Floyd, motoring has Clarkson who have we got?.…Alan Titchmarsh.  I’ve got nothing against Mr T but anyone with that many grandmothers who fancy him is not going to sex up the image of gardening.  He is to gardening what Cliff Richard is to rock and roll.

It’s not just Mr T either.  None of the current TV garden presenters are flamboyant, sexy, mischievous or funny.  And the industry is suffering because of it.  Why do the TV executives with the power think the public only want to see stereotypical gardeners on TV?

They aren’t prepared to take the risk. They don’t want to upset the loyal viewers.  But upset them we must.  Look what it did for Top Gear; sure they may have lost a few viewers but they managed to get a few new ones too; the last count was 350 million.

Not enough time has been spent promoting the sexy side of gardening, the creative side. Perhaps the RHS has spent so much effort promoting the growing of plants that it has overlooked what is sexy about our industry.

 Nick Turrell

on twitter  also to be found in Sunday Times ££££ and the Guardian

Nick Turrell 2012 04

Subscribe to the thinkinGardens Blog

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

Mark Burke February 1, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Well they have a gardener in one of the diet coke adverts, they had a gardener in Desperate Housewives I think. I can remember another advert a few years back when a middle aged woman said to her son its ok I’m not squandering your inheritance. I’m leaving it to Gavin (or whatever his name was). Then the camera cut to a good looking young bloke working on the gardens
So I thought the image of gardeners had got more sexy :0)

annewareham February 1, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Hmmm. Portrait of every young man’s dearest ambition. …

BT July 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm

The stereotype of the cheerful middle-aged gardener lingers, but there are characters in the industry. Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist, is but one.

But you’re right. For interest to grow, we need fresh ambassadors …

Rycke Brown July 1, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Commercial gardening has a skills shortage, alright. It’s a shortage of workers willing to bend over and pull weeds. Mowers, weed whackers and herbicides are ruining our landscapes because no one is pulling the weeds on many properties. In the U.S., we’ve stopped calling most of these guys gardeners; they are called landscapers and landscape maintenance.

Maintenance in general has an image problem, being generally not thought about by the powers that be. It doesn’t make money directly, so it tends to get cut. Linked in didn’t even have a category for landscape maintenance when I joined. The IRS still doesn’t have one. “Weeders” is not a word recognized by my computer.

I have started offering free weeding classes, called gardening classes, in local parks to try to increase the available gardeners and gardening generally.

Gardening naturally,


Denise July 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm

A healthy garden industry is a diversified one. I want Monty D, Alan T, Margaret R, Dan H. and Gayla T. (these last 3 are from the US). Don’t replace, add different shows with different presenters. Then we can argue some more about which show, book or style is better – we will love that.

william martin July 1, 2013 at 9:58 am
Eric July 1, 2013 at 1:50 am

That’s a good point ……we are living in an age of where instant gratification is essential. So gardening, a pursuit which takes time and patience and focus, is not in sync with today’s lifestyles. And gardeners enjoy the continuum of knowledge and experience that come with tending the same space of many year…….

Eric July 1, 2013 at 1:36 am

Perhaps we need to move away from the term “Sexy” and focus on the potential for gardening to be “Sensual” and “restorative” in a hectic world. Aromatic botanicals are the rage, as are herbal tisanes and a need for soothing spa environments. The creation of meditation/tai chi gardens in soothing shade could attract a new demographic…..we can bring along a younger generation seeking some luxury that can be achieved in their own back yards.

annewareham July 1, 2013 at 8:23 am

Excellent. I have often wondered why people looking for space for calm and quiet don’t come to gardens. The usual couple of hours ‘looking round’ a garden doesn’t necessarily meet the best it has to offer.

william martin July 1, 2013 at 9:22 am

I believe the further mankind removes itself from the earth (soil) the more disjointed (a conservative choice of word) we become. We as a species have have our roots (as it were) in the soil for the majority of our existence. That equation has changed massively in just a very short period of time.

Jane Stevens June 29, 2013 at 12:07 am

Just to add my tuppenceworth about self-employed gardening – I have been developing about 12 gardens over the last six years, I did the original designs, worked with the builders and started the planting. Now I continue developing with pruning, more planting, weeding, editing, increasing, managing. Talking and showing the owners stuff they want to know or do themselves is also part of it. I do not mow or use any machinery, simply because I don’t like it and lots of other people, including owners, are willing to do that. I’m in Kent, charging £15.00 an hour, working about 6 or 7 hours a day. I nearly always, even now, have a new garden I’m designing too. It’s varied and enjoyable but can be tiring, now I’m 60. Last winter was the first really difficult one, when I couldn’t work for weeks, usually I keep going.

I’m moving half time to Italy and want to give a lot of my regular work up. People are always asking me for more time or offering me more work. I find most are older, interested in their gardens and love them to be attractive. Their pleasure in their gardens gives me great satisfaction. I tend to find long-term relationships develop easily with people who understand what I’m doing and who I feel able to respond well to. (stating the obvious here).

I have a diploma in Garden Design (very old, done part-time, would be considered rubbish now). No other formal training, but ardently self-taught over 40 years. Leaving is hard as I can’t find people to hand on to. My clients are finding it very difficult to replace me. This seems sad, I have tried working with others and training a couple of youngsters but it didn’t really work out and was terribly hard work compared to my usual solitary carefree days.

Wish I’d changed my career to this earlier – I worked in the Criminal Justice system for years. Wish I’d taken this horticulture game up when I left school and done better at it. Wish we had as exciting and well-resourced public gardening as they seem to in France. Wish plants and gardening were as loved and valued as cars, pets and sport. On the whole I believe people come to it when they’re past their overwrought 20s and 30s, and that’s fine, there are plenty and ever more, of older people, many of whom have money and property.

When, like Nick Turrell, I spoke of “cool” and “sexy” I meant vital, creative, alert people, people who seem to possess something that others want. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that. The profile of gardening in this country does seem to need raising again and France might be showing the way. Strange that at the same time that country seems to have completely lost its way with food! Maybe there’s a cosmic law that a given culture can only have one involving domestic art at any one time.

Here, there was a time, about 20 years ago, when ordinary people seemed to love their gardens more. Just walking in suburbia and studying front gardens you saw tremendous care and attention, over long periods, now it’s more of a blitz, followed by gradual deterioration.

As to TV gardening, those television gardeners often do weirdly specific and technical things that depress and bewilder. They need to remember that a lot of people just go and buy plants, which they then want to plant together nicely and grow well. They need some gardening principles that make sense and you can build on, no wonder people find it boring and arcane. No-one ever seems to speak the real truth, weeding barely raises its head.

Finally, on the television front, I wish they would try talking things through properly. There is no utterly right way, there are always choices and possibilities, with different effects. Upping the game, demanding more of the audience, respecting the subject, what a loony I sound.

tom attwood June 28, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Every attempt to sex up the image of our profession will have dire consequences, i really do understand what Nick is talking about. I’m frustrated by the appaling lack of coverage such a huge pastime recieves from the mainstream channels, but it’s not the presenters, its the narrow scope of content that bypasses vast swathes of what makes the profession so diverse, exciting and fulfilling. I did not come into gardening,and i don’t believe any adolescent would because a gardening presenter in the mould of Jamie Oliver stood over a delphinium and was able to flick out a pair of secateurs to the soundtrack of Kill Bill with rapid music video close ups of nostrils, breasts, buttocks and pursed lips.
Gardening attracts certain swathes of the population for a reason, the profession appeals to people with a certain outlook and approach to a lifestyle that appeals based on that persons aspirations, ideals and what makes them most content. Someone said to me when i was 12, don’t eneter this profession to make money, it’s not about that, and to this day it has to be recognised that that will always be the case. My wife and I don’t run a nursery to make lots of money, we do it because it’s a passion, if we can make a reasonable living from it and for our baby daughter then we will be content (for me deeply) Things aren’t as dire as they were regarding pay, significant improvements have been made across the sector including organisations like the National Trust, I agree it comes at a price, and most recently the loss of tied accommodation. You can stand around bemonaing the lack of pay but if you’re enterprising you can make a comfortable living-you may not be affluent but your sense of contentment in your work is truly priceless (as idealistic as that sounds)
It’s an exercise of opening peoples eyes (including TV producers) to what is out there, but for the love of God don’t take gardening into the arena of 3 middle aged men pushing plants to the limit by seeing how much fertiliser they can ram down their roots in a top gear inspired gardening show.

Abby Waldman June 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Gardening’s lack of cool is a question that often crosses my mind, but I’d say don’t bother comparing gardeners with artists and wondering why gardening does not have the cool of art. Gardening is not cool because most people with decent gardens are not cool… because they are homeowners. Cooking can be cool because it’s accessible: you don’t need a state-of-the-art kitchen to buy the Moro cookbook.

People who rent their homes (this is most of my friends) have terrible gardens. Given what it’s like to rent (crap, greedy landlords and frequent house moves) who can blame them? Why would you invest time and money in someone else’s garden? How many struggling artists do you know with gardens? I don’t watch gardening shows (I don’t have a TV) but it seems that the focus of most gardening media is on domestic gardens and heritage properties. Most city-dwellers cannot access these because we don’t have cars. No matter what lip service the National Trust pays to public transport, most of their properties can only be reached easily by car.

But I digress 🙂 What I really want to say (and I am a keen gardener who has just completed an RHS Level 2 Horticulture and am wondering about next steps) is that gardening probably could be cooler if more attention was given to it in urban public spaces. The focus of most community garden projects is on food growing, which is nice, but tomato plants are hardly inspiration and definitely not sexy. (Sadly that seems to be where most of the funding is.)

Sue Beesley June 28, 2013 at 7:14 pm

A brief addition to this excellent discussion. Most, though clearly not all people who hire a gardener do so thinking of it, at least initially, as a form of outdoor cleaning. They see it as the removal of unwanted material – grass clippings, weeds, prunings, dead flower heads. Mowing as outdoor hoovering. They seek the weekly or fortnightly restoration of it to a neat an orderly ideal which changes as little as possible from year to year, just like the inside of the house.

Cleaning remains a lowly profession, in the main, and all outdoor work ranks below all indoor work in the modern era. The presumption is all-pervasive that anyone doing a job which involves getting dirty, wet or cold must surely have no better option. Even among my long-standing team here, I am the only woman here who does not wear gloves to keep my hands clean (I do wear them to keep my hands functioning in cold weather, or to prevent injury). So, my hands are rough and deeply stained such that no amount of scrubbing in the bath will restore them. This turns out to be surprisingly strong counter-cultural behaviour in a world of hand sanitisers in every bathroom and nail bars on every high street.

Western culture avoids physical effort and dirt as much as possible. To indulge in either is seen as a leisure choice, manifested in gym-going, or mountain biking at the weekend. But to do it as a day job? Incomprehensible.

Anyway, I pay no heed to doom-mongers fretting about lack of skills. If it is the case, then logically, pay will rise as employers compete for the best people, those who really understand what they are doing and who are willing to bend their backs to the task and get dirty in the process. And maybe one day those clean-nailed office workers in their uncomfortable heels and too-tight belts will gaze out of the window in envy at the lean, fit, well-paid person managing their beautiful garden and suggest to their kids that they train for horticulture instead of an MBA.

Pam Ruch June 28, 2013 at 10:43 pm

You are a dreamer, Sue Beesley.
I completely agree that most people think of gardening as a chore, similar to housekeeping. It is increasingly true in the US as well. Different color mulches, and stones create a pristine look that is best described as an anti-garden. My new approach to getting people outside is to champion and teach nature journaling (or, the art of noticing). For isn’t what we love about the garden more about the fascination with the interaction of plants, insects, fungi, people … rather than the vista?
The fit body is a very welcome side benefit!

annewareham June 28, 2013 at 11:20 pm

What’s wrong with learning to notice the vista? (ed.)

william martin June 28, 2013 at 11:53 pm

My vista’s are the bigger and smaller pictures..no difference. One can’t exist without the other! Fortunately (for me) i have splendid bigger picture vista’s and a huge part of my equation is the challenge of maintaining/cultivating a certain mutual respect and balance . The micro cannot exist without the macro and so on and on…..etc. Umm is it too early in the morning for this!
Splendid article.

Pam Ruch June 29, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I love the vista, of course! But, for me, the drama lies in the discovering what goes on in my garden(s). Yesterday I watched a blue-green ground beetle attacking a potato beetle larva, cheering him on all the way, of course. Every day there is a new discovery, and with it a realization that the discoveries are endless. And this is the heart of my gardening addiction.

Christina June 28, 2013 at 7:01 pm

This debate is present at the back of my mind the whole time. I am in my late 40’s and work as the gardener (part-time) for a retirement village in Hartlepool, NE England. The village is a northern outpost of Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, based in York. I am paid £9.75 per hour. I am well-qualified – have both the RHS Advanced Cert and Diploma in Horticulture. This is a ‘second career’ after taking time out to have my two boys. We could do with me being better paid as my husband is a social worker so not earning a massive salary himself. His job is worthwhile but stressful and not exactly enjoyable so I hoped that my choice wd give our boys an image of the possibility of enjoying what you do for work. Friends tend to assume I might want to do ‘garden design’. Inasmuch as I have a lot of free rein (though very limited budget) I am indeed garden designing, slowly but steadily reshaping the poorly conceived and planted gardens in this 4/5 yr old site. I like being hands-on, and get warmly-intended comments from residents of the “Up the workers” sort. I value what I do but do have that mental background buzz of wondering sometimes what others make of it and indeed whether I should be aiming ‘higher’. I look ahead too and wonder if I might not be physically too knackered in 10 years time and is that another reason for me to aim to take off my blue collar (blue polo shirt uniform!) That said, I am working and shaping these gardens alongside an 80 year old resident who is impressively fit, nimble and passionate for the gardens to become all they could be.

Sara Venn June 28, 2013 at 4:49 pm

The blog post written by Georgie http://www.commonfarmflowers.com/blog.php, is about an incident I was involved in in Bath, during which I remained calm and professional although I was furious, angry and really upset. The issue as I see it is that horticulture is, in many ways, an unseen industry and the public’s perception of it is not actually really what it is.

However, to me the point in question is how do we bring more folk into our industry, as it is on it’s knees and desperate for trained staff who know what they are doing and who will move the industry forwards and be proud of what they do.

I believe that the RHS has probably tried its best but that the reality is, and I apologise if this offends anyone, that they too have an image issue and are mainly run by the older generation of horticulturalists, who in many ways are not truly prepared to do what is needed to step the industry up a level. After all, lets be honest, the most exciting thing the RHS have done this year is allow gnomes into Chelsea which although amusing is far from groundbreaking.

So what is to be done? There is a collective noise on social media sites with hashtags a plenty and a real interest and passion for plants and gardening coming through. Equally there are bloggers, many of whom write great pieces although you do need to trawl through the dull and dreary often to find the good ones. Gardening is never going to be sexy in the way a Ferrarri is, nor as glam as Raymond Blanc’s kitchen. But it horrifies me that as a supposed Nation of Gardeners we as a whole, don’t make more of a fuss and stand up and make a noise.

The garden media, although full of beautiful pictures of glorious gardens, is all a bit chocolate box and the mainstream television show that is Gardeners World (#shoutyhalfhour) is about as exciting as watching paint dry – and yet what can be done?

The answer is unclear. It appears that until gardening is cool again Gardeners World will remain as it is and the vast majority of the media aim itself at the middle class, middle aged, middle Englanders that the RHS seem full of.

And to make gardening cool/trendy/hip? Well I believe that those of us that want to see the industry and British gardening progress need to stand up and be counted. Shout out whenever you can about things you have seen, both that you have enjoyed and that you have not. Do not be afraid to make constructive criticisms of gardens and to complain if you get poor service, plants you buy are poor quality or compost you buy is rubbish. Look at things with a critical eye as you would in an art gallery or a restaurant and use social media to speak openly about those things.

Once upon a time it was neither hip nor cool to be a chef. Taking that as an idea and working from it gardening and horticulture can again be popular and the industry can thrive but it will take time, determination and an enormous amount of pressure to do it. However, it can be done, it must be done and I, for one, am doing it. Please go ahead and join in!!

And if the lady in Bath is reading this, did you ever Google me? I suspect not but I really hope so.

Weeding the Web June 28, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Not taking issue with any particular point, but I would be interested to know, as you say “gardening and horticulture can again be popular”, when in your view it was last popular?

Sara Venn June 28, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Well to me and many others it is a vital part of our lives and a passion. By popular I mean mainstream and in the public eye as opposed to a trend for a particular thing.

chris seagon June 28, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Geoff Hamilton was when gardening was for everyone a true god of gardening. Showed us how propagate, to sow, make things. Loved veg and plants in most varieties and when it came to making gardens he made you feel you could make it. Same as ground force did, though at times an overdraft might been the need. That’s when gardening was totally cool – well as cool as can be in gardening. Now it’s time to stop thinking plants should be cheap and charge more for your plants or services you provided in gardening. We all paid legal fees need I say more ?

Weeding the Web June 28, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I feel there might be a few rose-tinted specs being donned. Geoff Hamilton was much beloved, but what were the viewing figures of Gardeners’ World in his day? Define how gardening was “cool” then.

I would venture that gardening is as “mainstream” now as it ever has been – RHS shows visited by 1000s more than they were; numerous TV shows; high-profile photography contest where the results end up in the national press. When was gardening more mainstream than now?

chris seagon June 29, 2013 at 6:41 am

Cool. Well to me it’s some who has a passion for their job, though cannot think of any one like Geoff Hamilton in my eyes. Who made gardening for every not the hedge and Latin brigade that’s on TV. Gardening needs to get the public in their gardens first not worried to much about Latin though its important for naming of plants so make sure there correct genies. Gardening shows are great but cost loads to get in to for average family most who do the rhs shows are the converted already. We need new people who want to .try gardening but are put off by the hog wash that’s spoken at times by gardeners. Make it simple. Get a person hooked then they will follow. Make complex they be turned off, just like a manual telling how to use your car or iPhone ( don’t own one them yet). Viewing figures, well I don’t take much notice of them when hear them spoken. Look at tv on a Friday evening when Gardeners World’s on people moan about Monty, though I’m not a fan of him, way too much tripping off to the garden centre and not the nursery. Though dare say he can get a good cup of tea there were as the nursery wants to sell plants not the other junk that garden centres sell. So getting back to cool, its what you think in your own mind that’s cool. Then this is why most gardeners are free thinkers and not sheep. Its what’s make gardening cool as you have so many different gardens and every one can be different. What’s your cool?
Will look at your site. Looks interesting

Eric July 1, 2013 at 1:22 am

Have you read the book called “The Brother Gardener’s” by Andrea Wolf? In the 18th Century, it was the British upper crust whose passion for collecting every new plant from every colony in the Empire that defined what we think of as today’s English garden style of dynamic and complex mixed borders of shrubs & perennials.

Andrew OBrien June 28, 2013 at 9:35 am

Another clarion call for the horticultural body to rally round the standards of Cool and Sexy? Please. No-one who has claimed either label has ever been remotely in possession of the attributes which they describe, and this continual harping on and hashtagging – #plantpeoplearecool (why not go the whole way and spell it with a “k”, that really would be out there) is not only comically undignified and smacking of desperation, but entirely counterproductive. If the aim is to get a young generation to engage with horticulture, yelling about how cool and sexy it is will achieve the exact opposite. They don’t believe you, even if you cast aside your elbow-patched harris tweed and start dad dancing to Rhianna – yea baby! – you just make us all look like sad old gits. Which we probably are.

There’s a serious point here. I’ll admit that the word ‘sexy’ always makes me cringe a bit – maybe that’s my problem – but it seems to me that the people who possess the characteristics that many would like our profession to be seen to have are the very ones who seem to have the least care about projecting such an image. What’s attractive to people, including young people? Passion, integrity, honesty, a certain devil may care attitude perhaps. I see these traits writ large in the words and actions of friends and colleagues not just on these pages but across the industry.

The pursuit of Sexy and Cool should be left to dodgy politicians and those wrestling with mid life crises. We should stop worrying so much about what other people think, embrace our passion for gardening, and let that attract people to horticulture. If that’s not good enough, sod ’em.

william martin June 28, 2013 at 10:44 am


Sandra June 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Well said, you took the words right out of my mouth.

Eric July 1, 2013 at 1:26 am

Who says plants aren’t sexy? A friend coined the term “Plant Porn” for the urge to troll the various websites of Daylily hybridizers who present their endless streams of exotic colorations & forms which range from juicy ruffles, to airy spiders.

Weeding the Web June 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I think we had a “sexy” period in gardening with Groundforce – Charlie Dimmock and that big tall chap. The problem was, as professional gardeners will tell you, the ensuing “Groundforce effect” of unrealistic expectations of time and money required. It crops up every so often on Landscape Juice network (http://www.landscapejuicenetwork.com/forum/topics/should-ljn-members-scrutinise-future-garden-makeover-shows-very and http://www.landscapejuicenetwork.com/forum/topics/garden-makeover-tv-programmes) and isn’t regarded as particularly good. If we pay less attention to the nuts and bolts of gardening (including materials etc) then you’ll end up with some very dodgy results and a plummet in reputation.

Delia Smith may not have been sexy, but her books have sold in enormous numbers, so I don’t think she’s a good comparison with Floyd.

But the two types of cooking are a good analogy, I think. She was homely, basic, everyday – and equates the sort of gardening where you keep things under control and tidy and don’t need a lot of knowledge to do. It’s the sort of gardening that probably the majority of people want help with, and won’t pay a fortune to get. It’s also the type of gardening where the less qualified can find a job and I think that’s a good thing.

Then there’s Floyd’s cooking – flamboyant, adventurous, done with panache. That’s the higher end of gardening, where more extensive knowledge is required, probably includes some design work, and attracts higher wages but is needed by a much, much smaller market.

I think we need to acknowledge all types of gardening work and give them equal respect, but I don’t think we can expect them to be paid the same. Just as a few chefs and cooks make it big, a vast number slave away at what they love for extremely long hours and not a large salary. It is a penalty of loving what you do and, given that the chances of ever affording a house on any sort of wage are vanishingly small for younger generations, we may see more entering the profession because, if you can’t make money, you might as well enjoy what you do.

william martin June 27, 2013 at 11:07 am

gardener is a concept by which we measure our pain. (thanks John Lennon)

Jane Stevens June 26, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Now I do remember a rather lovely young man called Sven (!) who did a bit of 3d garden design and then rushed out, took his top off and built the thing. I think he was on a short-lived gardening channel on early freeview. Anne-Marie Powell and James A S and Cleve West were also to be found doing garden makeovers. Charlie wotsername was on with Mr Ttichmarsh. So that was the high water mark of garden sexiness and humour. Are you expecting more? You’ve had your chance.

The main problem of course is that garden design has completely trumped garden maintenance which is an absolute Cinderella, with no-one understanding how it builds into garden-making over time. I do think a bit of wit would make all the difference, a small cheerful, nice-looking, FUNNY team, doing real work, in a real garden, chatting about it and other stuff they like. A good background voiceover, knitting in a bit of time-lapse, honestly clarifying what they’re actually doing. Excellent camera work, by someone who’s interested. Not teachy or sentimental and don’t let Carol Klein anywhere near it. That’s my recipe. The people need to be a bit cool, obviously, but they don’t have to be monsters like Clarkson. Surely they exist?

annewareham June 26, 2013 at 10:59 pm

O, I love a good monster. I think gardens and gardening are plagued by ‘nice’. Lucy Masters tweeted today that you wouldn’t want to take the ideal presenter home to meet your parents’. That hit the spot for me.

Jane Stevens June 29, 2013 at 12:18 am

You might be right Anne about a bit of monstrosity. But it would distract and irritate me at least. For me, nice is ok, so long as they’re not wet or dull as well. They don’t have to shock or offend unless the subject is really appallingly boring. Oh, so that’s why Mr Clarkson’s like that. Finally, I get it. Durr, as the young folk say.

mike gerrard June 26, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I have made a good living out of being a self-employed gardener since 1975. There are 2 reasons for this.
firstly I read all I can because I am fascinated by plants.
secondly I value my abilities and don’t sell them cheap.
people know that there are gardeners in rusty transits – and then there are gardeners who know what they are doing. It takes 3 years to get a wisteria flowering properly or an apple fruiting well after being hacked by a know-nothing.
I am not now, and never have been, ‘sexy’ and the worst thing ever to happened to garden design was when it became ‘sexy’. when that happens it just means that lots of people who were in semi- sexy professions decide to make a life-style change and move into this year’s ‘it’ vocation.
I sincerely hope gardening never goes this way, i would much rather be considered a member of an underclass than have the approval of estate agents and prime ministers
Kids if you want to do it, get a few city and guilds and never stop learning and you’ll be fine ( and comfortably off if you can hack being self-employed). If not keep buffing up your cv.

Valerie Lapthorne June 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Coincidentally I have been directed today to http://www.commonfarmflowers.com/blog.php on choosing a career as a gardener. worth a read in view of this post.

Jake June 26, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Is Jeremy Clarkson sexy?

Nick Turrell June 26, 2013 at 8:02 pm

No, he isn’t – but he must be doing something right, 350 million people still watch him

william martin July 1, 2013 at 8:46 am

Mr T, First of all i would like to say that your article is excellent and has generated for me the most rounded collection of comments for any subject embraced by this wee website. I turned 60 last week and have been involved with garden related stuff for the majority of my life. I could not give a hamsters bad breath if a gardener (etc) is seen as sexy or otherwise..but what does concern me is the generally very bad remuneration for all the operatives who do so much to maintain this fabulous world of garden. A good gardener in many respects is the domestic landscapes equivalent of a good local G.P. But then again the soul cannot be covered by the National Health.

Nick Turrell July 1, 2013 at 10:02 am

At the moment gardening is presented on TV as informative. Full stop. Which it should be. But why can’t it be both informative and entertaining; if it was, it would appeal to ‘garden-eers’ as well as gardeners. That would generate a momentum and more people would tune in, be inspired and realise what they were missing. When I first started watching Keith Floyd I wasn’t interested in cooking, I was too young but I watched it because he made it entertaining; Clarkson is the same. Gardening needs that knock on effect.

Paul Steer June 26, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I knew I was sexy all along, its all that struggling I do as an artist. Seriously, I agree, I use to feel that Diarmuid Gavin was good on TV and was out there with pushing gardening and garden design forward. What happened to him ?

Paul Steer June 27, 2013 at 9:58 am

It’s and used. No good rushing comments. On reflection perhaps if we want good gardeners we need honesty, knowledge, the ability to stand back and realise gardens are not a form of instant gratification, they take time to develop and mature. Are those ‘sexy’ qualities ?

Tristan Gregory June 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm

The money and hype and all that stuff will come with commercial success, we gardeners may have fled/eschewed the rat race but it is still a capitalist world.

The current food fad is a good example to look at but perhaps it is only because the winners are so much more visible than they are in horticulture. The industry is still founded on slave wages and appalling conditions and even then the rates of business failure are horrendous.

However, if that is the best model then we need a way to drag revenue away from tired old favourites and direct it to actual quality, a Michelin star rating for gardens perhaps.

Valerie Lapthorne June 26, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Where is the apprentice type training as formerly in local authority Parks and Gardens Departments? Most retiring gardeners have made their way up through this route as did the likes of Alan Titchmarsh and Roy Lancaster.

Few people are prepared to pay a decent wage for a fully trained gardener or care whether they are indeed trained in anything other than using a mower and a strimmer. And the pay scale never gets very high. A qualified solicitor will start on £15,000 but will not expect to stay at that rate for long.

Even in the most prestigious gardens, conditions are pretty basic for the gardeners.
Showers, kitchens, telephone, computer? You’ll be lucky to get a kettle in the shed.

Gardening role models? Don’t write off the oldie and wiser. My eight year old goddaughter’s role model is Mary Berry, who has her baking almost daily, influenced by her TV shows. How about competitive garden shows, Which Garden has the X Factor? Strictly Come Gardening. Celebrity Veg Plots.

So what is sexy about the industry, Nick? Go on, sell it to me as if I were sixteen.

Nick Turrell June 26, 2013 at 5:38 pm

What is sexy you ask? Great design, creativity and vision. We need to take a step back from all the focus on plants alone. Not even George Clooney could make Latin plant names sound sexy! No other creative, visual industry places as much focus on the materials used as horticulture does – and I think it’s a mistake. When you look at a beautiful painting or building, do you see the paint/bricks or the overall image? And I agree – appealing on TV doesn’t have to mean young or even easy on the eye – neither Floyd nor Clarkson could claim to be these things but people watch(ed) them.

Tristan Gregory June 26, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Just a word in support of plants.

Properly used and understood they are infinitely more beautiful and dynamic than some stodgy piece of design furniture. They may not be the whole story but saluting ignorance of their potential and yes their complexity is yet another step back for the art which it cannot afford.

Valerie Lapthorne June 26, 2013 at 8:22 pm

George Clooney whispering Latin Plant names. Oh bliss….

Nicky Fraser June 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Ah Nick. Just what the world needs. More garden designers. There seems to be no shortage. EVERYBODY’S a bloody garden designer these days. Trouble is there are a dwindling number of not only qualified but experienced gardeners out there to make sense of these marvellous creations once the designer has grabbed the money and gone. Every day on Twitter I’m asked to follow this garden designer, that garden designer. Most of them are housewives who’ve got a little time on their hands now the kids go to school. Twitter profile summary ‘Garden Designer, garden writer and Mum’. ‘Busy Mum juggling the school run with designing gardens’.They do the RHS course. Learn a load of hocus pocus that is completely irrelevant to the modern garden. Design a plan on paper filled with plants they like, not that will work together. They over-plant the gardens to make them look good on the day the cheque is due. And leave. I make a lot of my living re-designing the designers gardens to make them actually work. I can do that because I have a very good understanding of the materials used to make that garden. Nothing works in isolation. Gardens are long term.

I don’t know how to stop this comment. I could go on for a week but I’ve got a beautiful garden that was designed with creativity and vision. I need to go and focus on all those inconvenient plants that need dead heading, propping up, weeding.

And didn’t we do the whole ‘sexy’ thing in gardening back in the 90’s?

Nick Turrell June 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I agree there are perhaps too many ‘garden designers’ these days but ultimately the good ones remain in business, the others are ‘weeded’ out. (ps you didn’t study at Brooksby College by any chance, did you? I used to know a Nicky Fraser back then)

Pam Ruch June 26, 2013 at 11:46 am

I agree that the issue is more about money than the “cool” factor. We pay a wage penalty, I suspect, for job satisfaction. Could the fact that we love what we do cause some resentment among those determining the gardener’s wage? I can’t tell you how many times a spiffily dressed person has said to me, dreamily, “I wish I were doing what you’re doing right now!” (usually on a pleasantly warm spring day when sunshine and hope abound). On days like today — with temps in the 90s and high humidity — those same people sit indoors in air-conditioned comfort while we prove our mettle, unseen.

Rob Stevens June 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Surely there are people in other industries that get paid a decent amount for doing something they love? I can’t offer a suggestion as to why the pay is so poor, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the perception that gardening is an unskilled job. Helped along by people like our dear esteemed primeminister.

Rob Stevens June 26, 2013 at 10:40 am

I’ve ranted about this on my own blog before now. I don’t think it’s so much the image that’s the problem. I currently work in IT and it suffers a similar issue with being perceived (probably rightly so) as a geeky profession. You go into it if you’re interested in it. The big difference is that if you put in enough time and effort in IT then you stand a pretty good chance of eventually earning a reasonable wage – I’m yet to get there, but I live in hope. Horticulture can’t offer that. It is very easy to find job adverts asking for experienced gardeners with good qualifications and offering them the princely sum of £12k a year. Seriously, that right there is the reason no one wants to do it. That is a truly appalling wage. I’d love to work in horticulture. I’d love to have an excuse to retrain and get some qualifications. However, there is no way in hell I would put my family through the unpleasantness of living on such a small amount of money. If you want skilled, passionate, intelligent people to do a job then you need to make it worth their while. It seems blindingly obvious really…

Annette Lepple June 26, 2013 at 9:44 am

And we poor souls on the continent always felt your credo is “Gardening is the new sex”, which makes me wonder -in hindsight- whether its meaning goes into a completely different direction from the one I was thinking of ;). What’s your definition of sexy, Nick? Then there are Alison Fowler, Rachel de Thame, James Wong, James A.-S. …besides, older, mature people can be sexy, too. But I agree, it may be a good idea to allow some spring air to flow through the old RHS cupboards.

annewareham June 26, 2013 at 9:48 am

Perhaps this piece from Helen Gazeley’s blog is also illuminating? ‘Will James Wong get gardeners excited?’ http://ow.ly/moBtw

Nick Turrell June 26, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Definition of sexy?…I’m not sure…but whatever it is Keith Floyd had it and Delia Smith didn’t

Faisal Grant June 26, 2013 at 7:46 am

I’ve felt for quite some time gardening’s gone backstage. To me, in Australia, that appears to be because instant gardens and instant homes are so readily procurable. And produce/kitchen gardening has taken over as the thing to get stuck into.
Gardening is hard, back-breaking work requiring a duty of care, a lifetime of learning and ( for me, anyway ) instinct.
Why not just out-source it?
The issue has alot to do with available time, our vicarious link with the natural world, the rush of our 21st century lives and the multitude of alternative options.
I feel Nick’s correct in suggesting new ambassadors need to be found.
Send your television crews to me!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: