Starting out as a gardener

I began my gardening career in 2015, I took on a few general maintenance clients and did some work experience with various companies. It was great, but without a network of people to learn from/aspire too, I was lost.

What I’ve learnt in these past few years:

  1. Be energetic, enthusiastic and friendly. Interacting with customers and other gardeners is useful; it builds strong relationships that can provide future work.
  2. Create a Twitter/Instagram account and connect with fellow horticulturists on there. Read their blogs and listen to their podcasts because you will learn a lot!
  3. Never turn down an opportunity! Use the connections you build in person/on social media to go on courses/find work experience/expand your knowledge.
  4. Knowing what tools are necessary; take a look at my toolkit blog here.
  5. PPE is absolutely necessary.

Finally, garden maintenance is a great place to begin in horticulture, you learn a lot more about plants and from doing a job than you do from just reading about it.

Being a young female on the Internet

The blog title made you worry and start reading this, didn’t it…

Three-quarters of women and girls expect abuse if they post an opinion about politics or current affairs online. People tell you to watch yourself online; be on your best behaviour if you’re going to ‘put yourself out there’.

55% of women suffer anxiety and a sense of powerlessness from this abuse.

I recently wrote a blog about the everyday sexism I receive as a young female horticulturist doing what is perceived as a ‘man’s job’. This article was viewed and read by many different people who agreed that these comments are absurd, misogynistic and patronising.

Then I received more comments.. an influx of direct messages from (in this case but not always) men offering their opinion on the situation:

  1. I was asked where I lived
  2. What my dad does for a living and if I worked for his company
  3. Told I had to meet up with them so they could share their opinions face to face
  4. They tried to add my personal accounts on Facebook, Instagram etc
  5. Made personal comments about my appearance
  6. Sent harassing, inappropriate comments that I have blocked them for
  7. Emailed me for not replying on social media
  8. Being aggressively abused for not replying to the email

The blog I wrote was a personal article on how misogyny affects me; I don’t regret posting it even when people were telling me to watch what I say because it could make others perceive me negatively.

I felt enriched after many of you agreed with me, saying it affected you too but not letting it bring you down and powering through it, consistently breaking stereotypes and changing the world. To contrast this, the horrible comments left me feeling powerless, intimidated and enraged; it proves my point even more and highlights how dangerous the world can be when it escalates from being ‘harmless’ comments.

Statistics from Amnesty International’s latest report, link here.

Favourite seeds for 2018

I have three medium sized vegetable beds. One of these is filled with strawberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, a gooseberry and dahlias; the other two are empty and ready for spring.

Sorting through the seeds I’ve been hoarding over the past few months and I’ve found some that I am so excited to try and grow!

It can be easy to sow seeds that are tried and tested; each year I choose a few that are new and unfamiliar to me.

  1. Tomato ‘Black Russian’
  2. Tomato ‘Yellow Pear’
  3. Kale ‘Dwarf Green Curled’
  4. Broccoli ‘White Sprouting Early’
  5. Pumpkin ‘Munchkin’
  6. Squash ‘Turks Turban’
  7. Borlotti Bean ‘Lingua de Fuoco 2’
  8. Kohl Rabi ‘Delicacy Purple’
  9. Samphire
  10. Trachymene Coerulea ‘Blue Lace Flower’
  11. Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’
  12. Dill

Let me know the new seeds that you are trying this year on Twitter or Instagram @eogardening.

Spoon carving

I’ve always had a fascination with wood, grain and trees; it’s exciting to combine it all by carving. I began studying this craft 2017 to use up wood that I was removing from garden clearances (with permission).

I’ve been using different resources to expand my carving knowledge. A few of my favourite carvers for tips/tricks/instruction are:

  1. Barn the spoon
  2. Spoonesaurus by Matt White and Emmet Van Driesche
  3. Spoon carving with Tom

Tools for the job:

  1. Mora 106 carving knife
  2. Robin Wood hook knife
  3. Axe
  4. Sharpening kit inc. sandpaper, Tormek and leather/suede strop

Wood for carving should be green and soft. I prefer carving with birch, cherry and have used apple.

I like to try and make different spoons e.g. cooking, scoops, eating, spatulas, coffee, serving. It’s interesting to draw and design the shape.

Follow @eogcarve on Instagram for updates!

‘The plastics’ – mean girls of gardening?

The use of plastic is a huge debate in gardening right now. Us gardeners create wonderful gardens for wildlife and grow our own vegetables to avoid buying too much plastic but we sow our seeds in plastic trays and buy plants in plastic pots? This should change!

Plastic has filled our oceans and landfills. It takes hundreds of years to break down and we use it for the convenience.

Module trays, flower pots, compost bags, seed trays, compost bins… the list continues. I’ve heard that Monty Don has commented on the over-use of plastics however, as he hasn’t mentioned any, here are some alternatives.

I won’t suggest using terracotta pots as they are expensive; they are also heavy; people with limited mobility need lighter materials that can be handled easily. On the other hand, they are worth the money if they are available to you.

  1. Flowerpots:
    • Make your own 9cm pots using a paper pot maker and newspaper
    • Recycle cardboard tubes from toilet/kitchen rolls
    • Buy biodegradable peat-free fibre pots
    • Buy The Hairy Pot Plant Company from local stockists, link here. Great company and great plants! They also sell hairy pots without plants in; look here!
    • Make your own using cement mix, vermiculite and coir. Blog to follow on this soon.
  2. Seed trays:
    • Biodegradable coir seed trays, available here.
    • Wooden seed trays
  3. Plant labels:
    • Try to use plant labels made of slate, bamboo, aluminium, copper or oak. Interestingly, pencil becomes permanent when used on aluminium.
  4. Compost:
    • Best peat-free compost I’ve ever used is Dalefoot; check it here. It does come in plastic bags but these can be used to make your own leaf mould compost.
  5. Compost bins:
    • Make your own using wooden stakes; hammer these into the ground and staple chicken wire to it to create a wire frame
    • Use old pallets for an entirely wooden bin
    • Reuse one-trip bulk bags
  6. Dibbers:
    • Wooden or metal dibbers are available to buy
    • You could whittle your own wooden one (be careful when using sharp knives)!

Thought of anything else? Let me know on Twitter or Instagram @eogardening.

Can social media become your horticultural tutor?

Being self-employed means I work alone. It’s hard to experience new things/be exposed to new gardening techniques when I don’t have a traditional, real life, role model; so I’ve let the people I interact with on social media become mine.

After a few years as a gardener, you find yourself beginning to repeat what you’ve done year after year; using the same tools, same techniques, sowing similar seeds and planting the same plants.

Last year, I challenged myself to follow every new person I came across on social media that would enhance my horticultural knowledge; botanists that specialise in unique plants, garden maintenance business owners that thrive and private gardeners who have long-term experience etc.

It’s provided a great wealth of knowledge and taught me things that makes jobs easier and a lot quicker. I’ve also discovered new plants that have diversified my planting plants.

Instagram is most valuable for video content, which is easy to follow; horticultural theory can be complicated to understand. It’s also great for tool reviews, there are so many different tools on the market and finding one suitable is difficult. Twitter is best for discovering unusual plant species, seed exchanges, diagnosing a pest/disease and general chat!

It’s also nice to upload a post and be given confirmation that what you’re doing is correct!

Some of the best (I could have continued this list for days):

  1. @fittleworthhousegardens
  2. @stvnhwrd14
  3. @ljclementsgardener
  4. @s.hockenhull
  5. @thomasdstone
  6. @mightyoaksfromtinyacorns
  7. @rekha181
  8. @botanygeek
  9. @alysfowler
  10. @headgardenerLC
  11. @DHgardening
  12. @londnplantology
  13. @j.l.perrone
  14. @hugh.cassidy
  15. @papaver

 

Let me know who else I should follow in the comments!

 

*NOTE: as a professional horticulturist you should study for qualifications.*

I’m told I’m ‘good at my job’ as long as I stay in my gender assigned role

What type of person do you picture when you hear the occupation ‘gardener’ or ‘landscaper’?

A middle-aged, well-built white man with a van who mows the lawn, cuts hedges and is very capable of doing jobs you can’t do yourself?

What type of person do you picture when you hear ‘female gardener’?

An older, white, partly-retired lady with a few hand tools and who loves flowers?

I work in a white, middle-class town in West Sussex that lives by social norms and conforms to gender stereotypes. Attempting to work as a young female professional can be difficult as my knowledge, strength and capability is disputed everyday. I’m told what I can and can’t do; this is very frustrating.

I often lose out on work as people believe that I am not up to the task because of my gender and age. Regardless of this, if you are a gardener, you are already kick-ass; we are clever people that aren’t easily intimidated by larger, more complicated tasks.

These outdated views are not always held by my ‘older’ clients and it’s refreshing to be encouraged/trusted by these clients to do my job.

Although these comments aren’t meant to be malicious, assigning stereotypical gender roles causes unequal and unfair treatment; it can also cause difficulty in relationships.

A few of the comments that I receive on a daily basis:

  1. “You’re only a gardening lady”
  2. “Don’t hurt yourself, we’ll get a man in to do it”
  3. “That task is too big/complicated/difficult for you, we’ll get in a professional”
  4. e.g. I split my own wood, “Does your boyfriend help you with that?”
  5. “Is gardening just your hobby… something to keep you busy?”
  6. “Do you know any men that will do that for us?”
  7. “It’s a cute, little gardening business”
  8. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
  9. “Are you alright reversing your van out the drive? *client walks behind van, chaotically waves arms, gets in the way*
  10. “You want to buy a van..ok..here’s our most feminine model van” *points to a nondescript white van in a row of white vans*
  11. “Don’t hurt yourself trying to use this power tool, we’ll get a strong man in to do it *winks*”
  12. “My sister likes gardening too, pottering about the the garden, deadheading and weeding”

If you feel you’re in a safe space, you can challenge these stereotypes and speak up; often people don’t realise they are stereotyping or conforming to bygone social norms.

A new wave of gardeners are appearing; people of every age, gender and ethnicity. I am excited that learning to garden is becoming more enticing; house plants and GYO are especially popular at the moment.