Racism in the Rhododendrons; Discrimination among the Daffodils…

The RHS, in their monthly magazine ‘The Garden’ (which, if you haven’t seen, I can thoroughly recommend), briefly mentioned that there has been a ‘worldwide discussion on diversity, race and inclusion within the horticultural industry’, initiated by the Black Lives Matter movement. It must have passed me by. And in fact the only mention of it in ‘The Garden’ was in the introduction to the letters page, where there were three letters from members on the subject.

Is the industry racist? If so, that’s a particular shame; because if the interest of gardening, and the connection with the natural world it brings can’t bring people together and make them forget any prejudices they may have, I don’t know what can.

To work or relax in, gardens should be there for everyone, regardless of race or culture

The letters were certainly critical, but they concentrated on what we actually see – too many white faces in the media; a general lack of racial diversity in images shown in ‘The Garden’; complaint about ‘the number of white hands highlighting a flower or demonstrating how to plant things’. I don’t feel this really gets to the heart of the problem. It seems rather superficial to me. I suspect the proliferation of pale skin reflects the ethnic make up of the industry, rather than being a problem in itself. Using more dark-skinned models wouldn’t change anything – just make it look as though everything was fine, destroying any impetus to make real changes.

If we want to do something, we need to address what it is that’s holding back people from different ethnic backgrounds. An assumption seems to have been made that it’s all down to simple discrimination, but is that right? Can we reasonably assume that the ethnic (and indeed gender) make up of a particular interest group or industry should exactly match that of the general population? I wonder whether that lack of ethnic diversity in the industry might not be as much down to two other factors.

  1. Culture.
    I know that people from East Asian cultures have a history of preferring apartments to houses. In Sydney, for instance, Chinese people account for a large part of the market for apartments. Might it be possible that people from a culture where domestic gardens are a rarity might be less inclined to think of gardening as a career? And my experience of South Asian communities in the UK suggests a significantly lower proportion of households show an interest in their garden. Please correct me if you think I’m mistaken. I don’t have sufficient knowledge of Afro-Caribbean communities to know whether the same is true there.

    These are generalisations – I know there are a lot of people from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds who have a love of gardening and plants. Many will already be working in the industry. Others may be keen to enter it. From watching Gardeners’ World on the BBC for many years it seems as though allotment holders are a very diverse bunch, although ethnic minorities may have been disproportionately represented because of their great ingenuity and skill in growing produce that is more exotic, and therefore interesting, than the usual peas and beans.

    One of the main aims of the RHS is to enthuse people in gardening and plants. It may be people from some cultural backgrounds present more of a challenge, but it must be worth making an extra effort, because plants, gardens and the natural world should be an integral part of all our lives, whatever our background.
  2. Class.
    A thorny issue, this one, but from my perspective it looks as if the industry is dominated by the plummy accented and the double-barrelled; the spouses and offspring of those who have already made it to the top. Could it be the colour of your skin is far less important than who you know, and what school you went to? This is probably true across much of society. Most opportunities that arise find their way to the privileged. If what we hear is true – that ethnic communities are on average considerably less wealthy, and less privileged than the indigenous white communities, then the class system will be a huge barrier to people from ethnic minority backgrounds getting the breaks; a huge obstacle in the way of equality.
Perhaps we need to be more like chickens – my mob don’t appear to have any prejudice against visual differences. Although the two bigger hens do tend to pick on Lola; the little bantam.

Could it be that gardening – horticulture in general – is something that those of us in the racial category ‘white European’ have a particular interest in – an interest that isn’t generally shared by people from other groups? Is it the class system that’s holding people of other denominations back – jobs for the boys; nepotism, a game the whole family can play? Or is there a sinister shadow of racism lurking among the herbacious borders? Personally, I’ve not experienced or witnessed any discrimination in the industry, but up until now at least, I haven’t got out much. What, if any, experiences have you had?

text & images ©Graham Wright 2020

A New Greenhouse…

It’s been a while coming, but we’ve finally got our greenhouse. Here it comes…

The base under construction, with the topsoil put aside. It doesn’t look much, but days of work went into moving rubble and gravel from elsewhere in the garden.
Eight bags of cement, a large pile of ballast (sand and gravel) and numerous back-breaking mixes later, and the paving is finished. I re-used paving from elsewhere in the garden – the greenest materials you can source.
The greenhouse under construction. I’ve built a (smaller) greenhouse before, I can make short work of flat-pack furniture, and I’ve built two kitchens (one from scratch, the other from kitchen components) but I struggled with this. You really do wonder about some of the design decisions that went into it, and as for the instructions; well, had it been cold, they would have been more useful as kindling. But finally…
The finished product.

Despite the traumatic construction process, it’s actually a very good quality greenhouse, with none of the nasty sharp edges of the one we built in our last garden, and a doorway you can walk through without bending double (and risking lacerating the top of your head). It took us the better part of three days to build, and with amazing timing, we’d literally just tightened the last bolt and put the tools away when there was a cloudburst.

The greenhouse is a Hercules Hastings, in Old Cottage Green, from The Greenhouse People. We got it up and running not a moment too soon – just in time to get the tomato plants in (proudly grown from seed) before it was too late. We’ve also got a pepper plant, which is doing well. We picked it up on a fraught and hurried trip to a garden centre and food store earlier on during the lockdown. I must have picked up the wrong plant, and it was only recently that I discovered my mistake. It will be nice to have fresh peppers, but the one plant will only produce perhaps half-a-dozen, while a single chilli plant would have kept us in chillies all year.

Elsewhere in the garden, we’ve been dividing our time between watering, to keep all the newly planted trees and shrubs alive during the Mediterranean weather, and digging out bootlace fungus. Not my idea of gardening, but we have been able to concentrate on some of the nicer things. For instance, the sunflowers are coming into bloom…

Since the weather broke the annual weeds have suddenly burst into action, and the grass has turned from brown to green and started to actually grow. I’d forgotten it did that. So there’s been some mowing to do.

The chickens are continuing to keep us amused. The garden reached the stage where we couldn’t continue to let them out (too many delicate seedlings for them to destroy) so we bought a long roll of chicken wire and have sectioned off an area where they can’t do too much harm.

The chooks enjoying a dust bath huddle – chicken heaven!

So, the greenhouse is done, but there’s plenty of garden building still to be done…

Up the Garden Path

This is the back garden as it was mid December last year, when we moved in, laid mostly to lawn, and dominated by a straight central path cutting the space in two.

We’ve got a working plan now. It isn’t quite finalised, but I’m confident it’s close enough that we can prepare the ground where the trees will go before it’s too late to get them in. Trees are generally much cheaper when bought bare rooted, but this can only be done in the dormant season, and they have to be planted within a few days of being lifted out of the ground. The path had to go. Here it is after I was half way through taking it out (taken 25th Feb):

The bed on the left is also going, so I’ve been taking the plants out and moving them to the nursery bed.

Work has been progressing smoothly, as and when I can fit it in. As you can see here, the chickens have wasted no time in annexing the bare earth as a dust bath:

This was the state of play as of 7th March, with all of the concrete and gravel removed, and the paving slabs left loose for the time being, so we have something to walk on:

I had hoped the slabs and gravel were laid on membrane over compacted soil, but I was to be disappointed. It’s been a long time since the old pick axe has seen that much action, and I’m left with a huge amount of rubble that will need to be removed at some point (I may be able to use some of it under paths and patios elsewhere).

You may just have noticed we’ve planted some trees in the grass. The design I came up with has a mini orchard, set with six fruit trees – 2 apples, 2 pears, a plum and a damson. I’m aiming to turn the grass into wild flower meadow, with a mown path curving through the trees to a patio at the end, under the large birch tree. In total so far we’ve planted 9 trees, and 100 hedging plants. And there will be more to come.

I’ll sign off, for now, with this month’s centrefold; the lovely Lola, sprawled on a bed. Calm yourselves…

Text & Images © Graham Wright 2020