As some of you may have noticed from my many enthusiastic Instagram’s of oversized courgettes, I really quite like gardening. Given the point of this year is trying everything that I thought there was even the slightest chance I might like to do, I got in touch with a Garden Designer.
I spent a drizzly day working with Anthea Harrison - of Anthea Harrison Garden Design - up in Stansted village for career number 16. I had no idea Stansted was anything other than an airport, but it turns out it’s a beautifully quaint village on the Hertfordshire-Essex border, where you can’t hear a single aeroplane.
The morning was spent in a client’s garden, a large project that included extensive construction work, as it was being totally re-designed. It was very close to completion when I joined so I helped out with some of the planting, training some of the clematis’ and titivating (a brilliant word) some of the bushier plants. As with farming and forest school teaching, I really enjoyed the physical nature of the work and the chance to get a bit muddy.
The level of botanical knowledge needed (and my total lack of it) quickly became apparent as Anthea and her colleague mixed the Latin for at least twenty different plant species into general conversation. I spent a fair amount of time pretending I knew which exactly which plant and its properties they were talking about – I had absolutely no idea. Once I’d figured it out, I often realised that I knew the plant by sight, but it was known as ‘that tall prickly pink one’ in my garden. Anthea’s extensive knowledge of botany was to be expected given her career choice, though I found the prospect of learning everything about over 600 different species incredibly daunting. 10 per week for the best part of the year would do it – the perfect job choice for someone with a shockingly bad memory…
As it started to rain heavily that afternoon, we headed back to Anthea’s office and she talked me through what it’s like to be a Garden Designer in a bit more detail. Most start with a year’s diploma at a horticultural college like Capel Manor and then start building a business. The entrepreneurial and business side appealed, as well as the more obvious outdoors-based, creative and innovative aspects
We then discussed the design process, from initial consultation with a client, through to finished award-winning garden, explaining the computer aided design (CAD) programme she uses to design and create technical drawing of every aspect of a project. Anthea also talked me through how much went on in the background that the client was rarely aware of and how closely the Garden Designer works with other contractors, both from a design perspective as well as project management.
Garden designing is Architecture Lite. After working with a speaking to Anthea, I saw how many separate and highly specialised skills a Garden Designer needs to get a job done, and any assumption that this is a ‘housewife hobby career’ would be totally misplaced.
Looking at the list of career traits I’ve drawn up, I was surprised how many boxes were ticked – this is certainly a career I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did as I just wasn’t aware beforehand how intellectually challenging it could be. Things like problem solving, creativity, innovation and non-desk based work were more obvious, but the variety of project-based self-employment also brings variety and personally adding value.
The more I’ve thought about the ‘making a difference’ box for this career, the more I see how (in some circumstances) it could be included. Yes, you are providing a service for an almost exclusively luxury product, but on the flip side, you are spending your time creating something of living and bio-diverse beauty which clients will enjoy for years, if not decades to come. Anthea also highlighted the work she has done with the public sector to re-design public areas in town centres, showing an entirely different side to garden designing. Creating beautiful public spaces which contain plants rather than concrete can be used to encourage local communities to spend more time together and in nature. Green spaces have been proven to improve mental wellbeing and help to build sustainable communities.
This is one of those careers that I would never have considered if it weren’t for 25before25, let alone actually going out and seeing how it’s done. In so doing, it has challenged my assumptions and led me to a career that I think I’d genuinely enjoy. Whilst it may not be a job for my 20s, I can certainly see myself retraining to do this in later life. Garden designing is a career which combines both the left and right sides of your brain - technical and creative – and best of all, it’s outdoors.
All images © Anthea Harrison Garden Design