Beating the stigma around gender and gardening

Over the years we have seen a positive shift in the tolerance and perception of gender and sexuality. Now, in 2018 and especially in the UK, either gender are able to express their passions and carry out their hobbies without too much discrimination. This makes a stark contrast to the society we knew thirty, twenty or even ten years ago.

When it comes to the world of plants, there have been many famous male botanists across history. Leonardo da Vinci, though not famed for his green fingers, had a keen interest in nature and created many botanical drawings. Famous British botanists have included Joseph Banks, Arthur Roy Clapham, Stephen Hales (I could go on). So why did we suddenly begin to view an interest in plants as a non-masculine trait?

Drawing of a botanical study by Leonardo da Vinci
Drawing of a botanical study by Leonardo da Vinci (Credit: leonardodavinci.net)

When I was young, I always kept my love of gardening separate from my schoolmates. I spent weekends pottering in my own greenhouse, always shrouded in deep secrecy. My school life and home gardening life never collided.

I’m sure any plant loving readers still shudder when they hear the word ‘pansy’. The last time they heard it was probably in the playground, as an insult. To me, the way they grabbed that innocent plant name and used it to hurt me really summed up how those school bullies felt about my less-than-masculine weekend hobby.

Pansies: Gender and Gardening
“I’m sure any plant loving readers still shudder at the word ‘pansy’”

As I moved through my school years, gardening and horticulture were seen as a much lesser career, too. I don’t think the careers advisor had ever had someone wanting to work with plants before, at least not a male. And, I certainly knew they were also making a judgement about my sexuality at the same time, whether they said it out loud or not!

I got to thinking about whether times have changed. I often admire how society encourages individuality in the younger generations. We’ve moved forward from the sheep we had to be when I was young. Is our changing society allowing people to choose the careers they really want, whether that’s in finance or flowers, and without any whispers about their gender or sexuality?

Pansies: Gender and Gardening
“I often admire how the younger generations are encouraged to be individual”

The world of horticulture is full of some of the most unique and individual characters you could ever hope to meet. A love of plants stitches our community together. As you delve further, you find we all have that common history of growing up as the underdog, hiding our plant love – until now! That melancholy link often explains the tightness of the community too. Alas, the world of social media gave many a lifeline, realising there were plenty of others like them!

It seems a love of plants is no longer ‘feminine’ and shameful. Minds have opened. Floristry courses now have their fair share of male participants. Likewise, there are female hard landscapers, who can probably lift more patio slabs that I could ever hope to! Times have changed and continue to do so.

Pansies: Gender and Gardening
“I no longer live in fear of planting up my Pansies!”

We can now be proud of our chosen career. In fact, people are interested and fascinated by my choice to work with plants, and the unique experiences that affords me. There are no longer any taboos around having a love for plants. I do wish my eight year old self was around to see this! I no longer live in fear of planting up my Pansies!

Have you experienced discrimination when it comes to your love of gardening? Or have you seen a change in the way society perceives gender and gardening? Share your story in the comments, or tag me on social media! I’m on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. This is a great post Michael.
    I am 51 and though my geeky interests led to trouble at school which has left scars I am proud to have followed my own path anyway.
    Some branches of gardening, at least in the working class North, have always been very masculine interests. I am thinking of specialised areas such as cactus and alpine growing but also going back to my father’s and grandfather’s generation where growing and showing chrysanthemums, dahlias, gladioli and vegetables were quite accepted male pursuits – at least among older married men. Perhaps it is because a man’s allotment was somewhere he could be trusted to escape from the family for a few hours at weekend and it wasn’t the pub!
    Whilst I have never been especially masculine (all my friends are women) I do refuse to conform to stereotypes. I may be the only man in the world to have been to a weightlifting session at the gym, an Alpine garden show and a Manic street Preachers gig on the same day.
    My wife works professionally in horticulture and it really is a very diverse profession these days. One of her very masculine colleagues is a youngish former chef and keen surfer and frankly a magnet for women. They have just taken on a young male apprentice who has been growing and selling cut flowers since he was eight!

  2. Ali says:

    Loved this post. I find there is a lot of judgement that gardening is for older people, and is boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. I applaud your life choices!

  3. Dean says:

    Great post Michael and I totally agree. Gardening is for everyone, young or older, male or female and regardless of our sexuality. Thankfully attitudes have changed, in the main, particularly with our younger generations – thank goodness. Ps, love your shows on QVC, more please.

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