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The Female Gardener’s Triumph

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. Whilst women have been working on breaking into the horticultural industry since 1600, it has become increasingly apparent that there has been a gradual triumph in recent years. A new generation of online female gardeners have been busy building a community and breaking down barriers by inspiring and instigating conversations around the tribulations and triumphs of cultivating practical and beautiful green spaces. 

Historically, gardening was predominantly a male territory, whilst women were discouraged from getting their hands dirty and limited by the spaces that they could inhabit. Today, the gardening world is a fantastic demonstration of how far we have come and a testament to what we can achieve with an inclusive and determined approach. 

We have reached out to three wonderful women who are part of this wave of change. They told us a little bit about their gardening story, approach to challenges and their inspiration. 

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Twitter, Facebook, Blog

With a young family and some chronic pain and fatigue to boot, it seems nothing can get in the way of Kelly-Jane and her allotment. Her tweets have a warmth to them, as she shares pictures of her progress on the plot, engaging with her chatty following and highlighting her very real highs and lows of gardening. 

 

What first got you into gardening?

My family and I live in a flat with no outdoor space so I have had an allotment for just over four years now. Originally it was because we didn’t have a garden and I am a keen cook. I wanted to produce what you couldn’t buy in the supermarkets. Unfortunately, since I applied for my allotment, my health has been a bit rocky and I am constantly having to adapt towards what I can do and adapting myself to think differently for things I thought I couldn’t do. It’s a safe space and a sanctuary. It keeps me healthy, active and fit. Every year is a challenge and that keeps my mind active too!


Tell us about an obstacle that you’ve faced in your green space 

My plot is relatively small and oddly shaped. It was 6ft high in weeds and dumped rubbish so turning it into a green space was a challenge in itself, especially as I had just had a baby and was quite unwell and going through other health problems alongside it. The first year brought bees to me, even though I didn’t have any idea about what I was doing. Now I’ve managed to not kill off the perennials that I’ve established, I also have fruit trees and raspberry canes which adds to the excitement every year. I add more and more bulbs as I go along too. 

It’s a place that now constantly keeps me inspired. I do sometimes get a little overwhelmed from fatigue and pain, but I get much stronger the more I do it. My advice is to keep going - think outside the box or ask for some help from friends or family if there’s something you want to achieve.


Is there another female gardener that you look to for guidance?

I have two female gardeners which I go to for everything and that’s @lovely_plot and @thriftygreen.

We all have our own commitments but we never tire talking about...well, anything! They’re especially amazing for advice if something has failed or just not going quite right. We all support each other. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit their plots this year! They’re very inspirational women - I wouldn’t be without them this year and they’re just fantastic and care about the environment in the best way they can. I can truly see them achieving such amazing things and there’s nothing more inspiring than that!

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Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Website

With titles including author, radio and podcast host and ambassador at Trees for the Future, Ellen has been making her mark on the horticultural world for a little while now and it is glorious. 

 


What first got you into gardening?

I have loved gardening ever since I was a child. We had a kitchen garden where I used to pinch the peas straight from the pods and my Uncle had a garden where I used to help him pick the caterpillars off his cabbages! Those memories are all with me every time I step into a garden. Gardening for me is now an essential part of my overall wellbeing from absorbing all of the physical and mental health benefits to eating a plant based diet. You could call it a healthy addiction! You simply can't beat the satisfaction from growing your own food and nurturing a garden.

 

Tell us about an obstacle that you’ve faced in your green space

I guess obstacles in gardening could be many things from access to land, to pests and diseases - but us gardeners are resilient and manage to work our way through them to continue growing plants. For me, I can remember having such a bad case of Bindweed on my old allotment. It was everywhere and uncontrollable - or so I thought. But I noticed how much insects loved the flowers so I decided to view it a bit differently. Instead of trying to completely eradicate it, I just controlled it enough that the bees and other pollinators could love it but it didn't ravish my crops. It's much less stressful that way!

 

Is there another female gardener that you look to for guidance?

There are so many female gardeners who are so inspirational and I love the gardening community on Instagram which is so supportive. There is actually someone who might be a surprise! Her name is Elizabeth Lawrence and she is no longer with us but her story really inspires me. I stumbled on her garden in North Carolina some years ago and watched a film about her before fully discovering what she had achieved. 

Elizabeth was a wildlife gardener who wrote for many publications and was the first female to graduate with a landscape degree from North Carolina State University in 1933. I would expect she came across a great deal of resistance at the time. Her love of wildlife gardening has completely transformed a neighbourhood and her legacy continues to inspire people to this day. She experimented, bucked trends and theories by growing plants otherwise thought to be impossible in NC.

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Instagram

Hollie’s celebration of garden space is one that many people can keenly relate to. But it is more than just how relatable she is that has kept the gardening community tuned in. It’s also her refreshing honesty, the way that she entwines her family history, sense of self and gardening into a single profile page as well as willingly tackling difficult issues like misogyny that has captivated our attention.

“This picture was taken in my old garden in the summer wearing a traditional Hakka hat called a leung mao, identical to the one my grandma wore when she was a rice farmer.”

“This picture was taken in my old garden in the summer wearing a traditional Hakka hat called a leung mao, identical to the one my grandma wore when she was a rice farmer.”


What first got you into gardening?

My grandparents, who were farmers in Hong Kong before they moved to the UK, had a large vegetable garden when I was growing up. So from a very young age I knew that I wanted to have a vegetable garden, but I moved to London and space became a barrier to my good life dreams. Moving to London was a huge barrier to gardening, due to space constraints but for the past two years I've been lucky enough to have space to cultivate, and this season we have a garden of our own which means I can grow where and however I like. I love growing things that are culturally meaningful to me, that connects me to my Hong Kong Hakka farming heritage and every season I look forward to being able to show my grandparents what I can grow. Gardening is a way for me to connect with them and my history, which is why I love it so much.

 

Tell us about an obstacle that you’ve faced in your green space

In the wider gardening community, I feel like that there have been times when women have been minimised of their gardening achievements.

An example of this is an outdated idea that women are drawn to no-dig gardening because we're too weak to dig, which completely ignores the fact that no-dig is undeniably better for the soil than a traditionally dug garden. This is such a lazy way of thinking and does a massive disservice to all no-dig enthusiasts out there. Challenging these archaic notions is the only way to combat them and I've had many conversations with people on topics like this. I may not have changed their minds but hopefully, I made them step outside of themselves for one conversation and understand someone else's point of view. 

 

Is there another female gardener that you look to for guidance?

Sui who runs the account @TheTemperateGardener and @DecoloniseTheGarden is a great source of inspiration for me. She's made me so much more aware of the systemic issues in gardening; her account challenges my thinking every day and that's how we grow! I'm continually inspired by her interminable energy towards highlighting inequality and elevating the voices of underrepresented communities in gardening.

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It is undoubtedly clear that there are some truly remarkable women contributing to the online gardening community. Despite the progress that we can identify in the horticultural world, it should be noted that daily opportunities will continue to arise in our lives where we can challenge ourselves and others to think about how we can reach the goal of a gender equal world. All the while that there are places and people with outdated and oppressive notions on what a person is capable of, there is work to be done.




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