Jobbing Gardeners, a dirty little secret?


I know that there are probably thousands of jobbing gardeners all over this country, and all I’m sure quite similar to me. You will have all seen us travelling around in our little old vans or our dilapidated estate cars from job to job, loaded up with our motor-mowers, our brush-cutters,  other gardening tools and possibly a rotting, stinking bag of garden waste too. We tend gardens for people from all walks of life, from the elderly widowed ladies living in their little retirement bungalows, to the affluent late middle-aged executive types living in their rambling antiquated mansions.  We maintain their gardens on a regular basis, doing everything from cutting lawns to trimming hedges. We are an essential service, respected and loved by many of our customers, and in many cases we are their only weekly contact with the outside world.

And yet if you were to rely on just watching the television horticultural programme output, or just read any one of the popular gardening monthly magazines available off the shelf at any of your local newsagents, you would probably never know that we even existed. When exactly was the last time that you saw an ordinary jobbing gardener at work on ‘Gardener’s World’ ? Or perhaps a short article about our work in one of the many glossy home and garden publications? Perhaps we are a ‘dirty’ little gardening secret, to be hushed-up, ignored, or swept under the floral carpet in the commissioning editor’s office!

Now if I was to propose to the B.B.C. that they commissioned a series about an ordinary jobbing gardener, somebody just like me, a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ type programme showing our typical daily working lives, then, and please forgive my cynicism, here’s how I imagine the proposal would be received by them………..

”I say, Tarquin, did you put this proposal on my desk old boy? What the hell would we want with a grubby, scruffy, working-class oik like him? No, give him a wide berth old chap. Although I have to say that I quite like his idea. I know,  we could commission one of our own,   get one of our foppish, fringe-flicking types,  somebody who’s been to art college and public school, not a secondary modern, somebody who could  also design some more of those hideous steel structures. Hang on a minute though, maybe we should also throw in a token rough builder type chappie, and let’s make him black, oh, and gay too, we need to be seen to be truly representing everybody, that will help keep the license fee afloat a little longer old boy, it’s sinking fast you know! But do be sure to find one with a proper Cockney accent this time Tarquin,  we don’t want any more of those ‘Dick Van Dyke’ pretend Cockney types you usually get, like that fellow who does the cooking on his scooter and pretends to be one of the lads….. ‘innit’? They’ll see right through that old boy. Yes, and get him to do all of the decking and all the other really hard graft. Meanwhile, we’ll take lots of stock film of our man holding spades and pretending to push mowers, that sort of thing, smear a bit of dirt and grease on him, get make-up to roll his sleeves up and make him look all sweaty, (the ladies will love that!) Oh, and Tarquin, do be sure to give our man a little help from an attractive blonde girl, maybe one of those weather girls might be interested in a promotion? But do make sure she has sizeable assets and make her wear a very tight, sweaty tee-shirt, and get lots of close-ups when she’s bending over, or potting up in greenhouses, oh, and running her fingers through that filthy ‘John Innes’ compost! That will keep the viewing figures up if we have to go head to head with ‘Coronation Street’ or ‘Britain’s got talent’!”

Jobbing gardeners are the black sheep of the horticultural world, probably never mentioned at polite dinner parties peopled by  the arty designer types who seem to have somehow, very slowly, and mostly un-noticed, usurped our traditional working class gardening identity. Perhaps they should take a leaf, (see what I did there?) out of Sir Tim Smit’s book, (‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’). Tim Smit, in case you are unaware, was the brains,  and a lot of the hard graft too, behind the restoration of the wonderful Heligan estate gardens in Cornwall. His motivation was to tell the story of the ordinary working men, the gardeners who toiled long hours in the estate’s gardens, it wasn’t to tell the story of the wealthy estate owners, who were probably sat on their arses in the conservatory drinking sherry. Now, Tim Smit, there was a man who, (unlike many of the media mafia), knew the huge historical debt that we as a country owe to ordinary working class gardeners!   When the media talk about gardening ‘legends’ they usually mean the likes of Lancelot (Capability) Brown, the famous landscape architect. He is known by some as ‘England’s greatest gardener’. (“My arse” as Jim Royle might have said). I bet he couldn’t cut hedges as well as I can. It’s never Fred Hill or Jimmy Jones is it? It’s never those gardeners who are at the sharp end of the spade if you see what I mean? Yes, ‘Capability’ was a great man, no argument here, but the question is who did all the digging for him? Was he, ahhemm, capable?  We need to recognise as a country that we all play our part, and all the great visionaries, like Brunel the engineer with his bridges, for example, always needed the grafting workers to build their dreams.

Everybody knows that we jobbing gardeners are out there, but the media  ‘air-brush’ us out, like inconvenient  U.F.Os on a N.A.S.A. photo.   Even the B.B.C. weather forecasters, (cue the nice middle-aged, middle-class, bearded bloke in a tweed jacket, with leather patches on his sleeves), get in on the act when they say, “There’s a bit of heavy rain coming in tonight, so no doubt all of you gardeners will be very pleased to hear that”. Oh really? Will we really Mr B.B.C. bloody weatherman? Is there really no doubt? Are you quite sure about that? Well I, for one, won’t be pleased to hear that, because it will mean that I will lose precious time to service my twenty five plus gardening clients, and as a result of that I will lose time, and money! But of course when the television weather reporters use the term ‘gardener’ what they are actually referring to are what I would call ‘hobbyist gardeners’, basically those who do gardening for the fun of it, who are of course, in the eyes of the media, far more important than us mere professional gardeners who are actually doing it to put food on our family kitchen tables!

Don’t get me wrong I have always enjoyed certain gardening shows on the television,  (if I haven’t fallen asleep in my arm chair after a day’s real gardening graft), including ‘Gardeners World’,  and even, on occasions, yes, I will admit it, ‘Ground Force’ too. I have learnt a lot from the likes of Titchmarsh,   Klein, and yes, even Monty Don. Monty is a mere hobbyist gardener himself, but in fairness to him I think he certainly seems to know his onions, oh, and his radishes! Most of the T.V. gardening shows focus on ‘expert’ pundits showing the viewer how and when to do a particular gardening job, but I have yet to see even a little feature showing an ordinary jobbing gardener toiling away at the real ‘pit-face’, or perhaps I should say on the ‘potato patch’ of gardening.  Fair enough, I understand and respect the preponderance of ‘R.H.S.’ trained specialists hailing from Kew or Wisley,  but why must there be so many ‘arty-farty’ designer shows on the box, (and that’s not just on the B.B.C., to be fair), and so many of them  hosted by hyphenated,  fringe-pushing,  pretentious types, who we all know don’t know squat about gardening, and never  really get their hands dirty? They operate in ‘Blue Peter’ mode, having somebody who knows the right way up to hold a spade, with proper muscles of course, doing all the serious digging for them off camera!

We jobbing gardeners, running around in our little red Honda pick-ups and our old Volvo and Mondeo estates, are all doing the real stuff day in, day out, and season after season, and many of us are by now actually pretty bloody good at it! Jobbing gardeners are frequently the most knowledgeable of all gardeners, and in my experience they are definitely the most entertaining, earthy characters.

So come on B.B.C., and the rest of you, let’s see a series based on the life and times of a jobbing gardener, you could always put it on one of your ‘specialist’ channels and fill it with working class clichés if it makes you feel better. Maybe you could add an ‘ironic’ ‘Chas and Dave’ sound track. Those that don’t want to see it could always watch channel four and see yet another gardening wannabe from art college designing something really ugly in stainless steel to stick in some Hollywood actresses garden in  south Kensington.

The author at work, (2012, Tintagel), on one of his many gardens!
The author, Mark Anthony Wyatt, at work, (2012, at Mystic Surfers in Tregatta), on one of the many gardens in his care.



Constructive comments below are very welcomed. Glowing praise even more so. It’s how I know that you have been here. Offers of highly paid writing gigs, though highly unlikely, would be lovely too. But just for the record, all spammers can just go and **** themselves.

All written work by Mark Anthony Wyatt, Bude, Cornwall. July 27th, 2015.

Note; Any written work, music, images or videos that Mark Anthony Wyatt has created, remains his personal intellectual property! But any other images, videos, quotes etc., that were NOT created by me remain the intellectual property of those who created them, and NOT me!

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