Sunday, April 01, 2018

Poor pay in gardening? Blame Aristotle.

I couldn’t make a living from gardening. There are many reasons for this, the main one being that I’m a bit too slap-dash, not taking quite enough time and care to do things properly and, importantly, tidy up properly afterwards. However, there’s also another reason. Money.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a high flier with a huge salary. I work part-time, term time and my salary reflects that. It doesn’t really reflect the experience and qualifications I’ve got, but it does me fine and lets me have school holidays off for looking after (not so) small child. But look at the pay of something like the National Trust. A head gardener can expect £27,000 pa. Not bad, but that head gardener has to have experience not just in all aspects of gardening, but also managing staff and volunteers, balancing budgets, delivering activities to visitors, managing contracts and ensuring the health and safety of staff and visitors. A gardener can earn £18,700 and an assistant gardener £8.46/hour (£16,500 if it weren’t a 6 month fixed term contract). For the assistant gardener role, you need qualifications, equipment use certificates and experience, so not exactly a job for an unqualified new starter.


So why is gardening so poorly paid? Well, I blame Aristotle.

You see, Aristotle believed there were five types of knowledge. I’ll talk about two. First, and what Aristotle considered the highest form of knowledge, is episteme – true (theoretical) knowledge. The sort you go off to university to study. Then there’s techne – skill. Over the approximately 2300 years since Aristotle, theoretical knowledge has always been privileged over technical knowledge. As much as we can’t live without builders, plumbers, and other skills-based jobs, including gardening, we really don’t value them. Just think how we categorise education – A levels good, BTECs bad. ‘Proper’ (academic) degrees good, vocational degrees are categorised as ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’ (the exceptions being things like medicine, which are vocational but, as Aristotle stressed, also involved theory and so were a ‘good thing’). So gardening? Bah, just techne, skills, to be looked down upon and paid poorly. Yes, yes, there’s a lot of knowledge in something like gardening (especially if we call it horticulture) but, you see, for those in power and who make up the rules, it’s the fact that at some point you get your hands dirty. It’s a skill. It’s manual. So, it has a lowly position and lowly pay.

That Aristotle, eh? What a card.

(Be thankful you haven't received the full 8,000 word exploration of forms of knowledge in relation to perception of academic roles...)

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Sowing the seed...

Whoops. It's been a while. I had my head in books for most of the summer, and not interesting, garden-related books, sadly. It's surprising how well the garden just gets on and does its own thing most of the time. Like Bagpuss, it has spent the summer being saggy and a bit loose at the seams, but I still love it. And now I've one more thing to do, but in this case, I think it might rejuvenate my gardening mojo rather than remove it further from me.

In May, small child's school sent out a letter asking for parent volunteers for a whole range of things. Gardening was on the list. 'Oh', I thought, 'I'd quite like to help keep the grounds tidy, doing a bit of weeding in the raised beds', so I put my name down. A few weeks later I went in to see a teacher about what I could do to help in the garden. It seems they had more planned than an occasional bit of weeding after school.

So, I'm not quite sure how it happened but I'm now running an after school gardening club, once a week. At least until half term, when it will start to get too dingy. The plan is, if it goes well, to start it up again in late February.So for five weeks, I have a group of 13 children from age 5 to 11, and there's a waiting list. I have to admit to being rather nervous, particularly over the admin (making sure all the children were there, what to do if one wasn't) and the weather Oh, and the state of the raised beds.

The school  has three long raised beds - one for flowers, one that's sensory (herbs and lambs' ears mostly, and a fruit/veg bed which has a couple of dwarf apple trees. All are horrendously overgrown with weeds, rather more than my cursory glances had suggested. So our first lesson was weeding. As an adult who has gardened since a child, on and off, I make so many assumptions - I know what a weed is, what isn't a weed, and ho to get weeds out. It was challenging to take it back to what a weed is, why we want to weed, and just how we might do it with the rag tag of assorted tools I had brought along as school budget doesn't run to extras and there's a lag between us starting and the school trying to drum up some support.

Much of the lesson was an impromptu introduction to minibeasts, and that whilst slugs might eat the plants we want to grow we still must treat them properly and yes, it's fie to pick them up and relocate them in the hedge. We also found beetles, centipedes and a spider or two. All rather exciting. We even managed to sow a few hardy annual seeds (calendula and love-in-a-mist) because I wanted us to get something in the ground in the tiny corner of the raised bed we'd sort-of managed to clear. I will have to go back and get all the weed roots out at some point, but in 45 minutes we achieved a little bit of gardening. For the lad who lives in a flat, it was his first bit of gardening; for the girl whose grandma wins gardening competitions in the next town, it was a chance to grow the same seeds as her grandma. It was a chance to get dirty and to work together to achieve a little bit of tidiness. I *think* they enjoyed it. I didn't have a chance to draw breath; the 50 minutes was over so quickly.

Hopefully they'll want to come again this week. We're going to do more weeding - this time in the veg bed, before planting some broad beans. I'm also pre-soaking some broad beans so they can germinate them in a transparent container, held against the side by moist kitchen towels. Hopefully this 'quick fix' sign of plant growth will help mollify the year 6 child who was rather woeful when I told her the calendula she'd just planted would look lovely next May/June. She thought they'd be out next week.

Their enthusiasm was contagious. I'm looking at the garden with fresher eyes again. And I can't wait to see my gardeners again on Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Wordless Wednesday - Blushing

Saturday, June 03, 2017


VP over at VegPlotting has organised an event for the Chelsea Fringe - a reprisal of the rather wonderful #MyGardenRightNow,  This hashtag encourages us to take a photo of ourselves in, as the name suggests, our own garden this very weekend.

The original hashtag event took place in March, and I participated via Twitter, with a photo of my feet in a rather wet lawn. It's officially summer now, though the low clouds are currently glowering at me like a teenager being asked to tidy their room. Nevertheless, I have been out in the garden, with an actual camera rather than my phone for the first time in ages.

I was tempted to act like a professional garden photographer (apart from the getting up at 4am to photograph the dewy lawn part), and frame the best views of the garden:

But, of course, with a five-year-old, some bits are hard to hide. Because the garden isn't just a place of quiet contemplation, gentle weeding and a glass of wine. In fact, rarely any of those three, unfortunately.

Instead, the garden is more frequently a site of intergalactic strife, where Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine fight those dastardly do-gooders, the jedi (we're always the baddies, except when I have to be the goody, to be killed). It's also a water park, where box bushes act as shields against water pistols or hosepipes. Sometimes, it's an athletics track, for sprinting or for games of tag. It's a minibeast zoo, too. It's certainly a repository for bits of plastic.

And, of course, there are those corners I might prefer to keep hidden. Well, more than corners, if I'm honest. Huge chunks of the front garden are rather bare at the moment, after a winter of removing overgrown shrubs. I've just planted the gaps with herbaceous perennials, but it will be a while before it looks anything other than a mess. I particularly like it when the local gardeners come round, touting for business - "We could tidy up that front garden for you". Yeah. Thanks.

The area by the back door is awful. Empty plastic strawberry planter, with some tree ferns which didn't get watered during the dry month or so we've had and so are now languishing. Actually, languishing isn't really the right word as it suggests someone, beautifully adorned, in a swoon on a chaise longue. These look rather scabby and emaciated. More fleabitten stray cat than silk-swathed maiden. I'm quite thankful for this hashtag as it has made me realise what a non-event it is, and that *something must be done* (said in a stern and not-to-be-ignored voice).

One thing I'm quite proud of at the moment is the removal (and accidental demolition) of a half barrel by the front door which contained nothing but ivy and looked an eyesore. Going against the name of this blog, I'm actually quite pleased with the new frilly and rather coordinated bedding planting I've got there. Frivolous, but not inelegant.

Finally, a view of my whole domain - looks much smaller than if I just take photos of individual borders. And a bit of me, too.

So, there you go. #MyGardenRightNow

Monday, March 20, 2017

Good Soil: a book review

I’ve spent the past few months reading about creativity in education; for the past month one of the things that has kept me going is a big, handsome book on my bedside table. Finally, assignment submitted, I've had a chance to settle down and read about dirt. Not the latest juicy showbiz gossip, but something much more interesting and important: compost, wee, and poo of a surprising variety.

Good Soil is a fascinating book. It explores something that we gardeners know is of vital importance to our gardens but are often ignorant of - the soil and how we feed it. Without replenishment of the minerals in our soils, our gardens will fail to thrive. The authors discuss how we can help our soils by timely addition of a range of materials, such as humus-rich matter and nutrients.

The book itself is hefty and beautiful. Whilst some of the photos seem as though they are there because they are pretty (the long-horn beetle, for example), they certainly don't detract from the message. In fact, they make the book extremely 'pickuppable'. The posterior shot of a statue is a lovely subtle hint as to the content of one particular topic, though the title of the chapter is certainly less subtle! I love the discussion of the varying levels and uses of different manures; who'd have thought that the Romans prized donkey poo?

The book's authors, and so the content of the book, are based in Sweden. There are obviously a few  minor differences between the UK and Sweden, for example the certificating bodies for organic status, but otherwise the information is absolutely relevant to UK (and other temperate) gardeners. The interviews with Swedish proponents of composting and lovers of soil are fascinating for the passion they reveal.

The book isn't afraid to delve into a little bit of chemistry here and there to explain how the nutrients are bound in the soil and made available to plants. I could have done with this easy to understand overview of plant nutrient deficiencies and excesses when studying for my RHS level 2 exams.

The final part of the book explores different plant groups in relation to their nutritional needs. This will be a useful guide to refer back to, as I'm rather remiss in feeding the poor shrubs in the garden. If nothing else, this book has pricked my conscience and I will be setting to with composted material and a new enthusiasm for feeding the plants and the soil fauna in the garden.

The authors write in an engaging and sometimes irreverent way, as the nature of the book often demands! It's clear that they enjoy the topic, and pass on their enthusiasm to the reader. With UK-written books obviously being the most common here, it has been really interesting to read a book from a different country, albeit with relatively similar growing conditions. It has made me think about looking for other gardening books written by non-UK authors.

Authors: Tina Raman, Ewa-Marie Rundquist, Justine Lagache.
Publishers: Frances Lincoln

Note: I was provided with a free copy to review, but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Wordless Wednesday - Subtle

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Not all oranges...

As a synthetic-orange petulant man-child becomes the most powerful person on our planet tomorrow, I just wanted to say 'not all oranges'.

Orange can be beautiful, diverse, fun, exciting, welcoming. And looking at the photos, it looks exceptionally bright when linked to green. Sadly, I don't think the new POTUS is keen on green.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Blues

I've had my eyes opened recently to modern art. I've never thought of myself as someone who would look at a modern piece of art and decry "But that's not art!", but neither had I actively engaged with it. Lazy rather than a philistine. However, a group trip to Tate Liverpool as part of my doctorate course forced me to engage with a range of modern art forms. I looked at felt suits, piles of clothes, lines round rooms, neon signs and an unmade bed. Some were OK, some were a bit "whatever" (Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' was one of these - I was moved neither to joy, laughter, confusion, anger, or anything at all), and some made a real connection with me.

The ones that connected most with me did it in a range of ways. Colour is, perhaps, the most obvious. Yves Klein's work really spoke to me. Yes, I'm sure the critics will explain that his use of one colour in most of his work was a joke on us all as consumers of art (or something like that). Indeed, a colleague and I stood in a room full of his IKB (International Klein Blue) paintings, having never heard of it or him, and tried to discern infinitesimally small differences in the colour blue, not knowing that they were all exactly the same. But, what a glorious colour!  A garden incorporating this in some way would be a garden incorporating delight. A quick internet search shows that Yves Saint Laurent's garden in Marrakesh made beautiful use of the colour; perhaps it looks better in the stark light of a warmer country that in the dreary north west of England. If I were brave enough, perhaps I would dare to paint a corner like this.

Form also connected with me. There were works by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, the forms of which connect through their tactile nature (not that you can touch them!) but also those with a more fluid form - 'Untitled' by Robert Morris was a black tangle of flowing, falling felt. Colour notwithstanding, the form of this artwork shows the importance of connecting verticals with the horizontal. In the garden, this can be done in a range of ways with plants. At one extreme we have the formal upright of a columnar conifer, piercing the sky. But this artwork suggests a more fluid way to link ground to sky, perhaps with the use of wall-mounted containers and opulent trailing plants. A hanging basket with attitude.

There is so much more I want to think about; for example, Krasinski's use of a simple blue line to provide unity through his art works and to draw the viewer to become part of the exhibition is an idea which could transfer so well and easily into a garden scheme. Not necessarily as a line painted through the garden, but through use of a repeated, almost continuous plant or colour through a bed or beds, picked up with ornaments or furniture, and continued through the garden.

So many thoughts. Probably so many more blog posts. I need to visit again.