Jane Stevens on “Gender and the Garden World” by Anne Wareham

March 7, 2008

in Uncategorized

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

Excellent reasoned responses so far and I cannot argue directly with anything that has been said.  But I would like to add a sideways look.

It seems to me that the domination of men in the garden design world has created its own aesthetic, heavy on the landscaped spaces, quick big trees and built environment.  This, coupled with the greater earning power of these kinds of works, has defined what is good and fuels the contempt of the “business-like” landscape contractor.  The older female garden designer- she says bitterly – has to deal with this on a daily basis.  It’s wearing, it’s pointless, it doesn’t create a responsive, interesting conversation.  It doesn’t, often, do the best for the client, but has a nasty childish, jealous, showing-off undertone.  I think of it as willy-measuring.  I had to deal with hours of it for 90% of every meeting in a previous life (husband’s records management business, since you ask) and it was only useful there because taking the cuts was the business.  Surely we hope we’ve got something real to do?

I recently designed a garden for a client who works in a very male environment (academic IT).  She had previously explained one of her central strategies for success.  Never ask a question, always look as if you know all the answers.  How can that work I thought, how do you find out what the other person wants, means, knows or thinks?  How do you find out what you don’t know?  But, in getting her garden built (an architect was involved in the extension, a landscape contractor who thought he was a designer in the terrace), I found she was right.  My relationship building, co-operative questions were gleefully seen as one-down acts of submission on my part.

Nonetheless it is also true, I wasn’t being paid much, I’m not interested in building a garden design practice.  But I am a good garden designer, and I do know about maintaining and developing a garden.  I make my money by making gardens and there is a huge market for such as me.

I’m not going to witter on about the love of plants – I recognise it’s important to kind of get over that.  But there is a perfectly legitimate longing perhaps mainly amongst women, all over this country, to have an interesting, involving, working garden, that they can manage (or get the help to manage), and that makes the most of what they have.  Plants are a good part of that.  Perhaps it’s up to the garden design course to define and focus on markets other than the high-end, high-profile, get in and get finished job.  As Andrew Wilson shows, somehow the courses fail to help the women students with this.  Surely no one, apart from some noted contributors to the Garden Design Journal letters page, would like to equate good design directly with expenditure, or, heaven forbid, administrative abilities.

So I seem to be saying that it’s time for the competitive, business-like, pressure-hosed men to recognise the benefits and opportunities provided by this vast army of interested women, particularly in the role of colleagues and designers.  Perhaps because of the particular demographic (often older, sometimes partially provided for) there is work to be done in supporting and developing arms of the profession that meet the needs and desires of both consumer and provider.  But losing the contempt is the first thing.

Jane Stevens

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