I was scratching around looking for something to write about and then this came to my attention.
Talk of divine inspiration; I was going to talk about snowdrops until I saw this. It even links to Anne’s recent post about irritating words in gardening. There has been a bit of rumble around on social media about what people feel the need to call themselves. I traced the origin back to the above post on Twitter/X/whatever it’s called now.
What’s In A Name?
‘Monty bashing’ is something of a sport in professional horticulture circles; it’s not something I’m interested in. Gardeners’ World doesn’t represent me or what I do, so I don’t watch it. I’m not interested in football, so I don’t watch that either….
I have no idea why professional gardeners tune in each week, especially when they just moan about how unrepresentative it is. It’s a ‘magazine show’ about plants and gardening, the TV version of what’s known in music as ‘easy listening’.
But anyway, this struck me as something worth consideration.
In taxonomy, the science of naming things, nomen nudum refers to a name that is given to something without adequate official description. Let’s say you discover a plant growing in your back yard, give it a name and pass it to gardens and nurseries but forget to actually formally describe it for science; that is a nomen nudum (which translates from the Latin as ‘naked name’, so think of it as a name that’s not ‘wearing’ a description).
Some words don’t really have good definitions, and ‘gardener’ and ‘horticulturist’ are two such words.
You’re a gardener and I’m a gardener. I’m a professional gardener because I get paid to do the gardening, but usually a non-professional gardener is considered to be an amateur gardener. This is a risky assumption because many gardeners can in fact be very much expert at what they do, despite not being paid for their skills.
‘Gardener’ is a good catch-all word, but it really covers a huge range of people doing a range of things at different levels.
Like Monty Don, I too have seen the word ‘horticulturist’ being used more widely.
The word covers a wide range of horticultural careers, not just gardening in the sense that you and I would know it. It’s exclusively used in professional circles but, thanks to the relatively undefined nature of the word, could in fact be used by anyone.
Despite the excellent work of so many people within horticulture, this is not an career that brings popularity and status.
Garden designers are usually regarded as the only people in horticulture who have any form of intelligence. The rest of us, it seems, are seen as bumbling simpletons who simply dig holes and barrow manure for our superiors.
Modern professional horticulture is definitely not like that; the work requires a much greater level of knowledge and understanding than it did in times gone by. The old days of one knowledgeable person commanding a large number of unskilled subordinates are long gone, and to have a successful career you’re now expected to be able to think for yourself, to know things for yourself.
Old ideas linger on.
I’ve learnt to weaponise the ideas of what a gardener is a bit; I call myself a ‘gardener’ to see how people react. People who are naturally respectful tend not to make their gardener feel inferior, but when I do come across people who assume I’m only doing this job because I didn’t do well at school, it’s gratifying to firmly, but politely, put people in their place simply by demonstrating that I’m not an idiot.
You might think this isn’t a nice thing to do; I’d probably agree. Through my career so far I’ve frequently encountered people who look down on horticultural professionals.
Other gardeners prefer instead to project a greater air of professionalism by, for example, calling themselves ‘horticulturists’.
There simply shouldn’t need to be a ‘special word’ to make people look more competent.
The problem with relying on words to convey a sense of professional status is that words are universal: anyone can use them.
A skilled gardener with an incredible knowledge might call themselves a horticulturist to distinguish their services from someone who just owns a few tools and has no idea what they’re doing, but there’s nothing to stop the latter from calling themselves a horticulturist too. If everyone uses the word then it loses any status.
Likewise being qualified means that someone has undergone some sort of training and has probably passed a test or examination at some point, but qualified does not mean competent. There are even people around with degrees in horticulture (MHort) who quite frankly shouldn’t be trusted with a pair of shears. The same can be said of designers; some are incredibly talented while others are less so, yet they’re all afforded the implied status of the garden designers as a whole.
Where Do We Go Next?
It’s worth lamenting the circumstances that make this an issue in the first place. We’re in a world that reveres suits and not skills, where having a trade is seen as a poor alternative to a ‘good job’. That’s a sad place to be; we all benefit from good workmanship, and yet society seems to not respect the people with those skills.
I for one will continue to own the title of ‘gardener’. I’m skilled, I’m good at my job, but I’m a gardener and not a horticulturist. People can think what they want of gardeners, but I do reserve the right to kick back against anyone who feels entitled to put gardeners down.