So. I’ve mentioned before about the shockingly abysmal wages offered in Horticulture. The fact of the matter is, if I didn’t truly love this job and working with the people I do, I would leave it in the morning as I could be just as comfortable on the dole, probably more so, as my back wouldn’t hurt.
I wonder if partly why wages are so rubbish is the fact that gardening is viewed largely as a ‘hobby’ job. Horticulture is a conflicted industry suffering from a crisis of description. On the one hand, professional gardeners are viewed as purely manual labourers and working class Northerners, On the other hand gardening is a high-brow domain full of kudos if one is of the design world, or if one entered the gardening profession via an inherited family bloodline (upper middle classes or aristocracy).
The trouble why wages are frustratingly low for those of us who have decided to work as professional gardeners, is because on the surface, our jobs are easily taken by retired professional volunteers who want a bit of limelight at dinner parties when they say they work as a ‘gardener’ at Sissinghurst (or where-ever). The reality being that they swan in, do a bit of dead-heading and over-weeding while the professionals do indeed, get lumbered with the donkey work… and probably mop up all the stuff that is missed.
In a recent edition of Country Life I read an article about the phenomena of WRAGS. Now, let’s be honest, Country Life has a certain level of readership. The WRAGS scheme is exactly what pees me off about how the industry works. Wages are kept artificially low because of the endless supply of wealthy, retirees who fancy indulging their love of gardening by having a ‘change of career’ which is apparently the new name for ‘hobby’… and what employer wouldn’t be overjoyed to have the chance to pay even less than normal to have their gardens tended on the pretence that they’re giving people (affluent females primarily), valuable skills.
The industry needs to take a look at itself. Employers say that there is a skilled gardener shortage and whine and bemoan, yet turn a blind eye to the fact that wages are SHIT. Where is the incentive? What are trainees meant to think when they’re trying to survive on €350 a week while a boundless line of WRAGS trot in the gate, fresh out of bed from an owned home, with a nice fat pension (or husband) to support them through their ‘studies’.. It’s a fucking joke really. Either the industry wants people who dedicate every waking hour to being incredibly knowledgeable, experienced and gifted horticulturists, or they just want people who are happy to learn about the top of the iceberg, but not be able to maintain the solid foundation of it.