Progressive Women

We are happy to announce that occasionally we will be writing articles for the Progressive Women website, a small charity run by volunteers to enable, inspire, and support women to achieve their full potential.  They are very supportive of our efforts to enter into the male dominated world of garden design as an all female team.

Being young and female in the male-dominated world of horticulture

Horticulture is suffering from an aging population, with younger generations unaware that it can be a legitimate career choice. This is a problem. But look in more detail at this and we also find that it is an aging, male dominated industry, and this is an even greater problem.

The UK has an almost 50:50 gender split, and figures from 2012 suggest there are approximately 20 million British gardeners. Yet horticulture seems to be stuck in the backwards ideologies of gender stereotyping. A survey undertaken by Arthritis Research UK in the run up to their 2012 Chelsea Flower Show illustrated a clear gender division of tasks which reflected the traditionally viewed roles of the men and women, with the 2000 participants indicating the heavier jobs such as digging and mowing were men’s work, whilst potting and weeding, and deciding which flower colours work best was left to the women. Surely this is completely out of touch with the 21st century, where we have all accepted that women are just as capable as men? But then again, this is not so unbelievable when ‘feminist’ is branded an ugly word. I tried to avoid the tabloid articles related to this subject but could not help but skim through and notice their repeatedly patronising tones on how women can truly ‘flourish’ in the garden and how wonderful it is that more women are involved in gardening.

Now before you say it I am aware the tabloid press is probably one of the last places to look for gender equality and although it may be mad to even consider looking at what they had to say, the Arthritis Research UK pole was taken by the general public, and their opinions are just as disappointing as a Daily Mail article.

One of the most well-known displays of horticultural skill in the world is hosted by the Royal Horticultural Society. This year the RHS Chelsea Flower Show took a risk by breaking away from their traditional, older designers and accepting 8 first time show garden designers, some of which were in their 20’s. While four male designers under 30 years of age were given huge amounts of television coverage for breaking the mould of veteran designers, 28 year old Sophie Walker was hardly given any press attention despite being the youngest woman in history to design at Chelsea. Walker did claim she found it difficult in such a male dominated industry, and clearly deserved media attention more equal to her male counterparts. The RHS should be applauded for including more young designers as the industry needs to be revitalised, but the media should give attention to all.

Despite the extensive campaigns, which the RHS are involved in, to engage more school children with growing their own food and gardening, the application of horticulture as a legitimate career option is infrequent. This attitude from UK secondary schools could be the greatest barrier to involving youth in gardening, not as Alan Titchmarsh once claimed, young people’s indifference. YoungHort, an initiative set up by young horticultural students to support and encourage others, is testimony to the fact that young individuals are eager to get involved but face extensive barriers. In relation to breaking the glass ceiling of creating show gardens, Matthew Keightley, 29, People’s Choice Award winner at the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show, believed the pattern of the same designers and sponsors was a major barrier to the new generation wishing to be accepted.

I hope this new focus on talented youth will continue into next year’s shows and am pleased the RHS are heading in this direction, however the lack of young females in the industry is frankly alarming, and my sister and I hope to change this. As first time show designers we aim to break the usual show garden mould, as we focus our design on my sister Caitlin’s plant genetics background, highlight conservation and food security, and shatter this illusion that young women (we are both under 25 years old) cannot succeed in male dominated fields! Carol Klein of Gardener’s World fame, mentioned how she would like to see more young women at Chelsea in the future, well Carol, we will see you there next summer!

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