IN A NUTSHELL…
‘I was offered the job as a gardener but didn’t take it as the celery was too low’ - Anon
Gardening as a hobby was and is part of my life and heritage. Nearly thirty years ago, I left a job making lampshades and not for the first time in my life, followed my heart.
Gardening and now professional horticulture has played a significant role in my life and family for at least four generations that I know of. My terrifyingly tyrannical great grandfather loved growing pineapples in his enormous pile of a Victorian greenhouse. His son and granddaughter, respectively my grandfather and mother, both adored their much less imposing gardens.
Being a farmer’s wife, my mother was restricted in her floral achievements. Her priority was feeding us as a family in post-Second World War southern England. Nevertheless, with the help of seedlings and cuttings, she amassed enough colour to convince my father of her passion, whereby he reluctantly agreed some space could be spared for flowers and frivolity. From only growing out of necessity, she began growing for aesthetic and creative purposes too. A small gain but nevertheless a big victory for her. One of my earliest memories is of helping her weed between, and prick out tiny English marigolds, cornflowers, cosmos and nigella she had lovingly grown from seed.
Certainly I never dreamed at that tender age I would end up embarking on a career whereby getting my hands dirty was a prerequisite. Only when I left the childhood home and married did I abruptly realise how much creativity had been lacking in my awkward and rebellious years. A passion erupted into a yearning to cultivate that was so strong, it was almost primeval.
The marriage however, was doomed probably from the outset. After nine argumentative years, I packed my two precious young children from that unhappy union into the hopelessly unreliable Mini Metro and jumped ship. Clothes, the car, a few toys and a red TV set were all we had in the world. Together the three of us weathered that pretty horrendous storm with all the disgustingness that situations like that throw at you. Happily, there really was a light starting to glow at the end of that very gloomy tunnel, which grew steadily brighter with time. Leaving was the first rung on a very steep ladder.
Fast forward a year, and I met a man through work who turned me weak at the knees. This was partly due to his ability to conjure up a joke at any given opportunity or situation, but mainly because he wore tight jeans - it was the late 1980’s after all - and he had a cracking bum. Simon became a permanent fixture in our lives and we set forth together to conquer the world.
Despite our best efforts, our joint business making lampshades struggled to feed the four of us. Another tack was required, so I jumped ship for the second time in my life. This time only from a job. Simon was for keeps - by then we had a child together and married shortly after our son was born.
Turning from a keen, hobby gardener into a full time professional gardener can go one of two ways. I was going to find out which path I was setting out on very quickly.
As well as starting out as a part-time jobbing gardener, I filled the rest of my working week, between my three children’s school runs, working in the local garden centre.
I loved that job. Out in all weathers, meeting the public, speaking the gardening language, soaking up horticultural snippets, finding out how to care for and identify plants and learning their Latin names. Everything fell into place. I realised almost immediately I had found my tribe.
Evenings were spent reading voraciously to extend and accrue every possible facet of professional knowledge I could.
A couple of years down the line, the weekly gardening rounds of customers were crying out for me to find yet more slots. Again, I took the another leap of faith and plunged into the financially blindfolded world of being newly and totally self-employed, bidding farewell to the garden centre, and embraced life as a full time professional gardener. Riches were never going to be my reward, however it appeared then as good for the mind as it seemed for the body. Oh really?
As the rounds grew, it became obvious I was working myself into the ground so took on others to help. Mainly, but not exclusively women as you perhaps read in an earlier post. Mostly muck ‘n’ bras. With my trusty band of fabulous helpers the business romped ahead.
There was, however, a gaping hole that needed filling.
Customers were asking for design work, not only simple mowing, weeding, pruning and hedge cutting. Enrolling on a garden design course, I set to, devouring every assignment with relish, surprising myself by achieving high marks in the process.
Complete projects trickled in. Better paid ones too. Finding good quality hard landscapers became one challenge too far, so husband Simon abandoned his job and joined me on his own very steep learning curve. He too, worked every evening to find out the best possible way of doing things from the by then enormous library of books I had amassed. There was no Google back in the early 1990’s.
Design work flourished, maintenance rounds were full to bursting, and landscaping projects trickled in reliably and were completed in house. Garden creation to completion, and care beyond. Within a couple of years of Simon joining me, we had a one year waiting list for the landscaping projects. We were cooking with gas.
Until one autumn morning, I awoke and announced to my stunned husband that I wanted to design and build a show garden.