Be careful what you wish for…

For years now I’ve heard people telling me how good it is for your mental health to work in gardening but that’s not strictly true, sometimes it can destroy people. I’ve seen a few people brought to the brink of suicide by bad employers and/or pressures of running their own business. Gardening as a hobby is wonderful but when you work in it it can be frankly traumatic at times, and I’m sorry to be writing this but I’ve found myself having to be silent about this for too long.

Often when estate gardening you are working for a private employer with zero protection via a HR department and frankly the sort of people who have the financial acumen to employ staff rarely feel the need to know employment law, even if they do they rarely apply it in a way that is fair. After all in their eyes its their money, their estate, if they don’t like you or you object to being treated badly there is going to be another mug desperate to leave where they are ready to fill your boots. You are very expendable once you stand up for yourself.

If you are running your own business those problems can be applied tenfold as now you haven’t just got one employer you have 10 or 20, some of whom don’t understand cash flow, the fact you have to pay peoples wages/vehicle maintenance costs etc. Who will delay paying you that £50/100 quid cos its not a lot but if 10 people do this in quick succession it can mean you go bust!

There are wonderful supportive places with excellent managers, I’ve been very blessed to work in these places and I will be eternally grateful for them. I’ve wrongly made assumptions that sometimes bigger organisations would be less inclined to the bullying culture that can be endemic in some places. This kind of behaviour comes from the top down and it takes a manager with a strong backbone and a strong sense of ethics to combat this. Sadly its often those that enable and support this culture that survive. I’m not going to point fingers at anyone here as frankly it doesn’t take a genius to work out which employers might have issues. Most places that are that bad are sensible enough to pay people off and in these days the use of gagging orders is applied liberally. 3 months pay is the norm as by then the employee cant bring a court case…. but yes, gardening is good for your mental health…. unless you face being homeless and jobless through no good reason.

I know people who got sacked for asking for payslips, who were bullied out of jobs they had done successfully for 5 or 6 years, winning awards etc just because the management changed and they wanted people they chose put in place. endured sexual harassment, comments about their underwear etc. Bullied because they stood up for another worker who was being bullied because they were autistic, People who’ve had to endure employers having screaming fits at them. Bad references out of pure spite, you name it. Ask any full time gardener about what they have had to endure just to do the job they love, out in all weathers, rain or shine, just to provide beautiful spaces for everyone else.

The pandemic made us value these beautiful spaces but in a lot of cases it isolated those undervalued people further. So honestly before you consider a career in horticulture, be careful what you wish for….

8 Replies to “Be careful what you wish for…”

  1. This is so true and it is about time someone came out and said it. It can be brutal out there when not only your job but also your home can be taken from you …… well, just because. Follow the jobs being posted by the recruitment agencies and you see the same jobs being advertised on a regular basis.

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  2. I think you’ll find the same issues in any creative field. Everyone feels they have a right to be a critic. If you make it look effortless you lose your value. I gave up on working in the field I’m passionate about for those reasons. I hope you find a way to make your own truth.

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    1. agreed but horticulture seems to be the field we as a society push vulnerable people into and its not safe for them… or perhaps any of us judging by the responses

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  3. A beautifully written and important piece ! And something I’m wary of, having seen similar experiences in other fields.

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  4. Wow! I’ve come across these behaviours in other fields, but I hadn’t realised they were so widespread in horticulture. As a self-employed, jobbing gardener, I’ve been lucky with my clients. Most have been lovely – I’ve even had some that insisted on giving me more money than I asked them for every visit! A few have been awkward, but manageable. I made the mistake of doing some work for a national estate agent. They didn’t pay me, so I took them to the small claims court to get the money. For those of you who are self-employed, this is worth considering for non or late payers. It’s easy, doesn’t cost much, and you get your fees back – just make sure the person or company you’re taking to court has the wherewithal to pay up. For employees, I think the position is so bad because for decades we’ve had governments who have degraded protections. One thing I would say is that it’s up to us all to work together to counter these problems. It’s no good complaining about bad treatment if you’ve always voted for the party that’s on the side of the employers (you all know which party I mean) and refused to join a union!

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  5. Is there a union for horticulture professionals? One would seem to be needed.
    I’m sorry to hear about these behaviours/experiences, Lou. But I commend you for speaking out.
    Bad employers will get away with whatever they’re allowed, unless people speak out and oversight/regulation/pentalty is brought to bear on the sector.

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