What is a gardener?
Many years ago Charles would refuse to ‘own’ his part of the garden because he declared that he couldn’t properly claim to be a gardener. He appeared to be giving the term considerable status.
Then recently a friend sent me a card with this image on it.
I realise I am supposed to identify with this image – it’s a stereotypic gardener, as in the online definition (Definitions from Oxford Languages
A person who tends and cultivates a garden as a pastime or for a living.
Yep, it’s a ‘pastime’ – for all you lot who find you don’t quite know what to do with the yawning gap of empty time between you and the grave. If you’re a bloke, and English, you may well embrace this definition, along with calling your wife ‘her indoors’.
Perhaps though, when you view the jolly picture above, you may be wondering just what status you have in the wider world. You might just rush to embrace an alternative which has crept out of our garden dirt: a horticulturalist
An expert in or student of garden cultivation and management.
= ‘she was a trained horticulturalist who knew how to make a garden bloom’
Feeling better now? I like that you qualify whether you are an expert or a student. Some would say you’re always a student of this particular discipline.
Does it matter how the world sees you?
Well, personally I think that is one thing that we all declare we are totally indifferent to, while actually caring very deeply about it. Nothing lowers your status so quickly, you think, as acknowledging that you might care about your status.
But, if any of us feel we can afford to discuss this, we might consider just what kind of people we might tolerate lumping ourselves together with?
A florist ?
A person who prepares and cooks food, especially as a job or in a specified way.
‘Susan was a school cook’
A musician? Considered here: https://gardenrant.com/2021/02/gardens-and-music.html
An environmentalist? I suspect this has become a very popular possibility as a status to embrace alongside ‘gardener’.
An artist? This was discussed once under the auspices of the Royal Horticultural Society so this link may help you consider that one. https://thinkingardens.co.uk/events/are-gardens-art-review-by-helen-gazeley/
A plantsperson or plantsman ? Wikipedia declares
A plantsman is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener (amateur or professional), nurseryman or nurserywoman. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plantsman
I may be out of my depth now, as a Non American – but perhaps a ‘Master Gardener’? To save my ignorance, Dave’s Garden has tackled that one: https://davesgarden.com/guides/terms/go/568/#b
What about me? Well, I discussed this question for myself in an article in the RHS magazine, The Garden: – https://veddw.com/general/how-do-we-define-gardeners-by-anne-wareham/
And concluded that I would define myself as a ‘garden maker’.
I’m also, without doubt, a snob.
But here’s a guy who has struggled with this too.
Modest, knowledgeable, thoughtful, observant, communicative and a professional. Lucky the people he works for.
See https://bensbotanics.co.uk/ or follow him on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bensbotanics/?hl=en
I hope he’ll forgive me for pinching an Instagram post of his (chosen randomly) to give you an idea of what he has to say:
He honours the title ‘gardener’.
PS I’ve just come across a “Horticulture development specialist”.
I’m with Ben on this one. I prefer gardener—the dirt grubbing sort. Horticulturist, to me, sounds so highfalutin.
Yep, I think you’re a proper (seed sowing) gardener too…..
I agree. Nothing I do in the outdoors is so well-thought-out, high-level, refined as to be “horticulture”. I garden. Even with gloves, I have dirt under my nails and up my sleeve, and debris in my hair. Actually … thinking about it, my neighbors refer to my yard as a “farm”. But I can’t claim that title either since I have no livestock. Yet.
What about flower farms? Are they not farms? Or tree farms? Or vegetable or fruit farms? My daughter always said we don’t have a farm because we didn’t raise animals. I always disagreed. I’m not being mean, simply presenting alternative ideas.
Professionally, I am a horticulturist, personally a gardener. And that is horticulturist, not horticulturalist (sorry, I was triggered by that word and am now on a small rant myself). For a while I was a florist, not a floralist. And my son is studying to be a chemist, not a chemicalist. Sometimes I feel like a snob, too! But let’s save ourselves that extra syllable–be a horticulturist!
Both of these spellings appear to be in common use. How would you like to distinguish them? (Your examples of other names are of ones which are not, as far as i know, in use)
Yes, both appear to be accepted, but horticulturist would be based on a noun, not an adjective as horticulturalist would be. Hence the examples are also adjectives (though chemical can be both, so poor example there) and not used. Seems to be a similar problem with agriculturist/agriculturalist. So I vote for fewer syllables–much easier to say! 🙂
Phew! OK – I will endeavour not to trigger you again.
I tell people I like to garden. I don’t call myself anything.
As someone whose mother tongue isn’t English, I struggled at first in the UK with the distinction between plantsperson (is that someone who likes and studies plants but doesn’t garden?), horticulturist (a superior form of gardener?), botanical horticulturist (aren’t all horticulturists supposed to know about plants? Or is the botanical horticulturist a posh version that tends to use latin and prefer noble plants of wild origin?).
In French things are much simpler. An “horticulteur” (horticulturist) is a nurseryman/woman, someone who grows and sells plants or vegetables (which is much closer to the etymology anyway). A “gardener” is everyone else, whatever level they work at. Even botanical horticulturists in France are “jardiniers botanistes”.
You don’t need to be a native English speaker to be confused – good for the French. Though I would like to sneak in ‘garden maker’.
Well, in the US, “Master Gardener” is a specific volunteer position linked to our Dept of Agriculture, county Agricultural Extension Services, and land-grant universities. So no, most of us aren’t that, I think, even if many of us do know as much as or more than any given MG about various topics.
“Mistress Gardener” then?
Regarding my German grandfather’s 1906 arrival at Ellis Island, the ship’s manifest had it right as presented to immigration authorities. Occupation – gardener. He traveled from there to Western Maryland to waiting employment in, I was told, the first commercial carnation greenhouses in the US. He later relocated to Eastern Long Island to establish his own greenhouses there.
On IG, I’ve always identified myself as a garden maker. Imagine my joy reading the 2013 article you linked to here-spot on that one-knew I liked you. However, as I read this Rant, I thought about a soft green sweatshirt that a client gave me. It says “plant person” across the front and I think it fits very well.
Well, as a garden maker you do need those plants………
A pastime!!!!!! As Bill Shankley said “It’s not a matter of life and death, it’s much more important than that”.
BTW in my advanced years I am doing a post-graduate university qualification in “horticulture” which seems to be about electrons moving about.
O, exactly – to your first sentence. Wot?!!! to your second.
Love that quote! Yes, it’s a matter of our life or death!
I’m glad to be with Ben on this: he talks sense of course, but I suppose I might be slightly biased It seems just a re-run of the wider process I’ve seen all my life whereby occupations aggrandise themselves (usually to demand more money!) by adopting Latinate titles instead of using plain English words. I remember the arrival of ‘refuse disposal operatives’ and ‘rodent control operatives’ during my childhood!
Yep, that’s clearly a part of it. But does it compensate at all for the Old Codger image of a gardener?
Not really – my profession (Church of England clergy) suffers from the same image problem or worse. We are all portrayed as white-haired old geezers: it’s taken me 45 years to actually match the image, and many of my female colleagues will never make it!
Seriously, all one can do is embrace the title then confound the image and hope it evolves into something better. Knowing Ben as I do(!), what makes me seethe is the government listing horticulture as an ‘unskilled occupation’!
You are right, and I have to ask – have you minded that image? It has had some delightful push back, as in the series ‘Rev’ for eg. But whenever I have come across alternative images of the gardener in the non horticultural world, they have mostly felt to miss the mark horribly.
That is truly shocking (the unskilled occupation). And I doubt it gets confronted anywhere important.
PS to my last: here in France, ‘gardener’ is a listed ‘metier’ occupation, so ‘Jean with a mower’ can’t advertise himself as a ‘jardinier’ unless his qualification and/or experience (formal qualification and verifiable practical experience are held in equal regard as routes to registration) are officially recorded.
Bravo to the French
‘Have I minded that image?’ – yes, it has annoyed me pretty regularly.
I remember being in a Garden Centre in Cornwall and chatting to someone about acers (I have a number). and being treated as a sensible human being until they saw the dog collar (the dog said it was my turn to wear it that day). Their eyes widened, and they said ‘you’re quite knowlegeable…… for a Vicar!’ and turned and walked off saying nothing further to me! I’m surprised the Bishop didn’t get a letter complaining that one of his clergy had been caught out pretending to be ‘a normal human being’!
As a former retail garden center owner, those kind of comments were always my worst fear. Sometimes employees just get a little too full of themselves. Something about a little knowledge…..
You bet! I’ve been told by an employee in a rather eminent Garden Centre that ‘acers are ericaceous, and only grow acid soil’. Untrue and misleading. ‘He ‘knew better than me’ because he’d been on a course and got a certificate, whereas I’ve only been actually growing them for 25 years.
well, surely you know how zealous religious converts can be with their “new found knowledge”
Well, I must say that this has been interesting. My first comment would be, “How does Charles define the term ‘gardener’. For me, a gardener is any person that likes to spend time gardening. Obviously, there are good gardeners and there are bad gardeners, but that only matters if one is acting like a ‘professional’ and selling their skills for proper remuneration. As a Yank on the other side of the pond, I have always presumed that in the UK and Europe for that matter the occupation of ‘gardener’ has always held a much higher status than it does in the US where historically it is considered an ‘unskilled’ profession. I have always had an interest in plants and gardening starting with my own garden and then advancing to becoming the neighborhood yard boy for all the widow ladies and from there studying at the Uni and receiving a degree in Horticulture. After graduation I eventually started my own Landscape Contracting business and moved onto owning a retail garden center for over 30 years. During that time it became increasing evident that the occupation of working with plants in various capacities was truly a skilled profession that society needed to recognize and properly compensate. I have spent most of my life endeavoring to elevate the status of this profession so that people that want to pursue a career in this field can actually make a living. Hence, the public now sees titles such as Arborist (thank you to the ISA for this accomplishment) or CPH (Certified Professional Horticulturist, a title created by the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association). Yes, these titles may seem a bit self-aggrandizing but they are necessary. Do they guarantee that the title holder will do a good job? Of course not, no more so than a journeyman plumber or electrician will excel at their respective professions. But at least it gives the public the perception that they have gone through some sort of training to get to where they are. Long story short, while I have spent my life in the profession of horticulture, at the end of the day i still think of myself as a simple weed puller, a lover of plants, that finds endless joy mucking around in the garden watching things grow and flourish and hopefully enabling others to do the same. Steve Smith (The Whistling Gardener)
I wonder why fewer people whistle these days?
You made me contemplate how often ordinarily we define ourselves, if someone asks, by our actual job or by our qualification. Or as you end – by our inclinations/enthusiasms.
Maybe takes me back where I started!
I’ll never forget a nongardening friend of mine asking why I’d chosen “gardenersusan” as my gmail address – coz of the bad image she has of gardeners. Whaaaa? It was humbling to realize others see our passion that way. NOT in the U.K., though, I bet.
O, yes, in the UK. (see pic above) Presumably why the thing to be and to have is a garden designer.
Another meaningless title. A Garden Designer who isn’t also (even first?) a gardener is the worst kind of theorist. My dad used to rant about the claim of a pure science/art? of being a ‘manager’. ‘Just because you can manage a chicken farm well, I’m not going to give you a job running my nuclear power station!’ People who haven’t engaged in the raw processes can’t properly engage with the more rarified expressions of it.
Leads to another question: how old do you have to be, with how much experience (which comes slow for gardeners) to make a serious attempt at making a garden?
Well I guess it depends. I know someone who had made a very attractive little (bigger than some modern houses!) garden by around 16.
I was thinking less about the aesthetic, more about the experience of plants and weather, so I’d guess an element of luck there?
Not in that case!
A reply to ‘not in that case’ – hm – I won’t ask for explanation – this could go on for ever. But after 40 years I’m still learning and suffering nature’s ways so having to make amendments as a result. After 16 years (assuming a gardener from birth) it’s perhaps not surprising I assume some luck.
Though the answer may be in time – ie it appeared, fully realised and excellent, and all change stopped, perhaps.
Living, adapting and evolving through one’s lifetime is a characteristic of all living things, but above all surely of a gardener. I’m amazed what I learn about the things I grow here, especially having moved to another country.
In my ‘real job’ I remember a bishop visiting one of his priests: the priest found the bishop looking through his bookcase when he brought the coffee. ‘Are you looking for something?’ said the priest. ‘Yes’ said the bishop, ‘I’m checking to see when you brain died’!
Well as the Royal Household so delicately put it: “recollections vary”. Mine is simply that until you (ever so nicely) insisted that I take over the Vegetable garden I was content to just be the helper. That taking responsibility for a part of the garden put me on the path to become a gardener, a role/title I am now content to claim because I think I have a reasonably broad grasp of the work involved in looking after the garden. Not that there is any status in that role excepting that because our garden has achieved quite some reputation I feel that a certain status is bestowed on us both by our visitors. Of course when I left my job as a social worker I lost the status of being employed in a responsible job immediately . And I think that I just about cling on to some status as a photographer because my images are still being published (though when via Getty at such derisory fees that I actually feel humiliated). And now I’m old (technically a geriatric ), my status is constantly undermined, not living in a culture that bestows much respect for the elderly.
Charles, thank you for chiming in. Indeed, I agree that you have earned the title of ‘gardener’ and should be able to wear that moniker with great pride. All of this sniveling and whining about status is ridiculous. People can think whatever they want. It’s how we perceive ourselves that really matters. Enough of this egoic nonsense.
Sadly, for many of us, what we think of ourselves is heavily influenced by what other people think of us.
And maybe it’s not sadly, actually, because I imagine that is what largely makes us behave ourselves.