Gardening as a career

Gardening? It’s not the career of choice for most people. Especially when there are so many other ways you could be earning a living. In this post, I explain why I took the choice to make a career of it, and try to gain an understanding of why this decision seems to cause mild discomfort for others.
Gardening as a career title image

Sometimes I have to pinch myself. Sun on my back, wind in my hair  (twigs in my beard ). My hands in the soil and lungfuls of whatever it is about being out here that Studies Have Shown gets both serotonin and dopamine coursing about the old noggin like it’s going out of fashion. 

This is the equivalent of the view from my desk. Takes the idea of the open-plan office to another level. 

It’s not always like this. Sometimes it’s pouring down and my waterproofs are failing and the claggy clay is sticking to everything and because I get paid to garden I have become intimately  acquainted with just how finely you can clip the line that marks when it’s so wet you’re doing more harm than good to your lawns, your beds and borders. Days like these don’t make me wish I wasn’t a gardener. Days like these make me determined to get more clients with greenhouses in which to work under cover. 

Not everyone has always understood my desire to be a gardener, or the pride and satisfaction I derive from my work. “Oh, so you’re a garden designer,” they say, hopefully. That, so it would seem, is deemed just about respectable – the well-to-do have garden designers after all. This kind of exchange always puts me in mind of Lady Bracknell’s magnanimous pronouncement upon Liberals. “They count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evenings at any rate.” 

Or, horrified, someone will blurt out “what, you’re sweeping leaves and stuff?”  Well, sometimes, yes. But probably raking them, to be honest. It’s great fun in September and October, though by the end of November even I have to admit it’s wearing a bit thin. And that’s not all I’ll be doing. There’s planting and pruning, staking and mulching, deadheading, disbudding, weeding, feeding, sowing, propping. There’s planning, buying and invoicing, there is (whisper it) even design too – but it soon becomes clear that many people won’t see beyond the rake. 

There’s no escaping the leaves.

There’s no escaping the leaves.

I kind of get it. It’s the menial thing, isn’t it?  Dirt under the finger nails makes people uncomfortable. Shouldn’t we be beyond soil now? Well, I have to tell you, I’m not. At the end of each day, I like to know I have made a tangible difference to some part of the world, and soil in the creases of my hands tells me this with a degree of clarity that no comfortable office-based job has ever managed to achieve.

I’m not the only person to have decided, after a decade or so of piloting a desk, that I was disillusioned with the grinding of the corporate sausage machine – there are whole host of career-change gardeners out there, and their interesting and varied reasons for making the switch to horticulture will be a topic for another blog post in the near future. Chatting among ourselves, it becomes quickly apparent that many of us are fearsome snowflakes fed up with the current order – but you can only push that so far. Most of us are gardening for people who can afford to pay gardeners, and any creative spirit who thinks they’ve rejected the system is kidding themselves as long as they’re relying on commissions to pay the bills. There’s no opting out of the system here – we’re just exerting a bit more agency over the part we play within it, and we’re willing to pay the price for that. That cost-benefit analysis we’ve all carried out before making the career switch will be part of my next blog on the subject.

Soily hands and flowers. That’s what it’s all about.

Soily hands and flowers. That’s what it’s all about.

But back to people’s reactions. Even the most well-meaning of folk can have trouble making sense of my chosen line of work. How often have I seen people surrender to an urge to stick the word “landscape” in front my job title, as if being a gardener requires some context in order to make it acceptable, or perhaps even comprehensible, as a career option for a person who can speak in full sentences. For the record, I’m not a landscape gardener. I’m immensely impressed by people who do patios and will swoon at the lines of a good stone wall, but I’m pretty rubbish with hard landscaping materials – you wouldn’t want me behind the controls of a digger. What I do is look after plants. I can tend your garden for you. Of course, I can help make things look nice if you’re not that interested in your garden, but if you’re willing to engage with the space, you’ll get so much more out of the relationship. I can teach you how to get the best from the plants you’ve got, and recommend others you might find bring delight to your outside space. I can make your fruit trees more productive, or create a prairie, a tropical paradise, or a productive kitchen garden in that place beyond your back door. I can bring you year round colour and movement, and help you manage an area that you might not quite know what to do with…oh, if only there were a word for such a job. Hang on…

I’m a gardener. Can you dig it?