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Posts tagged 'garden'

Women in the Garden

11 March 2017

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and with the shops filling up with cards and flowers it got us thinking about the relationship between women and gardening. I suppose it’s a bit like food – the top chefs tend to be men, but it’s the women who do most of the cooking in the home. A straw poll of the top garden designers, head gardeners and TV gardening celebrities will probably reveal that the majority are men. Think of Dan Pearson, Fergus Garrett, Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh. But in millions of households across the country it’s the women who are doing the everyday work of looking after the garden.

Any gardening magazine will tell you that three-quarters of its readership are women. Garden centres are full of products targeted at women. Genus sells five times as many of its gardening clothes to women as to men.

In the garden traditional gender roles still hold sway. “I mow the lawn, the wife weeds the beds.” “If it’s a machine with a motor, it’s his job.” I wonder if this is a legacy of the age-old practices of pre-industrial farming. In a village in Africa where I have spent a lot of time, women are responsible for the home garden, the patch of land close to the house where they grow vegetables and also for the cultivation of rice, the staple food. The men control the production, and therefore the proceeds, of cash crops such as peanuts, cashew nuts, oranges and mangoes.

I’m quite fascinated by this subject so I’ve been hanging around Waterstones lately looking for books on women and gardening. Here are a few I found: Virgins Weeders and Queens: A History of Women in the Garden by Twigs Way, 2006; Gardening Women: Their Stories from 1600 to the Present by Dr Catherine Horwood, 2010; and two published in 2015: Women Garden Designers: 1900 to the Present by Kristina Taylor; and First Ladies of Gardening by Heidi Howcroft. All these books tell the story of women busy in the garden, active behind the scenes, and struggling to find a voice in the male-dominated institutions of the gardening world

Last Wednesday was International Women’s Day so minds were focused on the role of women in world affairs. Currently there are 15 female heads of state, a paltry 10% of the UN membership, but nevertheless a number that has been increasing steadily and three fifths of these, nine in total, head up European countries. In every walk of life, women are winning the fight for equality step by step, inch by inch.

So, all you women gardeners, now that spring has arrived, start mowing the lawn and get practicing with the strimmer and the hedge cutter.

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Nettles: the new must-have garden feature?

2 September 2013

Nettle and butterflyTraditionally thought of as weeds, nettles are apparently receiving a warm welcome in some gardens. One online nursery is now selling nettles for £7.99, claiming that all of their initial stocks have been exhausted by eager shoppers.

It seems gardeners are now choosing nettles because they attract wildlife. Nettles are apparently especially popular with urban gardeners because the plant is part of the diet of caterpillars. By feeding caterpillars with nettles, gardeners can attract Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies.

And if the wildlife angle isn’t enough, nettles can also be used as a foodstuff for people. Historically nettles have been used in teas and soups as an herbal remedy for centuries. High in vitamins A and C, and minerals such as iron, potassium, manganese and calcium, nettles offer a number of beneficial nutrients. However rather than eating the stems raw, gardeners are encouraged to use nettle leaves to makes teas or soups. And making sure that all harvesting and handling takes place wearing sturdy gloves!

Whether this new interest in weeds as garden plants is sustained, only time can tell. However commenting on the demand for nettles by gardeners, expert Chris Bonnet said, “Some call them weeds but we don't want to hurt their feelings. After all, a weed is only a plant in the wrong place.”

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Gardening – a spiritual experience?

21 August 2013

pebble with messageIn her 1913 collection of poems, Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote,

The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God's Heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth

We loved this poem enough to add it to one of our Pinterest boards and it also inspired us to investigate the role of gardens in various spiritual and religious traditions. This is what we discovered:


According to the Bible, the world began in the Garden of Eden (also the inspiration for Gurney’s poem) and placed Adam and Eve in charge of tending it. Life in the garden was said to be idyllic as man and God walked together in the cool of the evening.


The Japanese rock garden has become a spiritual discipline for Zen Buddhists. These small, walled gardens use rocks, gravel, water, trees, bushes and moss to represent mountain and water scenes. Japanese rock gardens are designed to imitate the essence of nature, thereby serving as an aid to meditation about the true meaning of life.


Islam also attaches a religious importance to gardens, using them as a place of rest and relaxation. During visits to Islamic gardens, Muslims are encouraged to reflect on their faith, the surrounding serving as a reminder of the life in paradise that awaits them. The Qur’an, Islam’s holy text, regularly references gardens to reinforce their use as a glimpse of heaven.


Chinese Taoists have used gardens as a way to reach enlightenment for over 2000 years. Followers of Taoism use gardens to disengage from worldly concerns and instead contemplate the unity of creation. Tao gardens are designed to evoke the idyllic feeling of walking through a natural landscape. In this way adherents can fully appreciate the harmony between man and nature. Gardens typically include water, rocks, bridges in addition to flowers and trees.


Hinduism takes gardening a step further by venerating certain plants. Tulsi basil, for instance, is believed to be an incarnation of a god, and is therefore the foundation of any Hindu garden. The plant is also believed to keep the mind healthy and free of worry so that worshippers at temples, which also tend to be surrounded by gardens, can concentrate on the gods.


Rising out of the heavily populated city of Haifa in Israel, the Bahá’í Gardens are built along 19 terraces up the side of Mount Carmel. At the centre of the garden stands a gold-domed shrine marking the final resting place of the Prophet-Herald. The garden is a place of pilgrimage for adherents of the Bahá’í faith, and is also specifically aligned towards the city of ‘Akko which holds a sacred significance.

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