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The Archaic Profession- thoughts on being an estate gardener…

The wind died down today just as I began seeding some spots on a lawn. Which was perfect because the seeds flew in lovely arcing sheets. Skills, like seeding by hand, seem so archaic now- they just aren’t in the common vernacular anymore.  I love that relationship to the past, often I feel like I am connected to all the estate gardeners that have come before me. Estate gardeners are one of the last professional artists with private patrons who support them, consult with them and even build them work places for them on their estates.  On one estate I work on, we have a garden shed, a lovely little kitchen and a bathroom that is accessed from the outdoors.

And there are so many of us around the world still – older public gardens often have beloved family trees of past head-gardeners who left their personal touches on the gardens they maintained. Often I wonder at other private gardeners, in other countries, who they are – what they do. Around here, I know quite a few, I see them at the local garden centers, on garden tours and we have met through mutual friends, and I generally really like them. I think that is one reason why I started gardening, that I just liked the kind of people the profession attracts. I remember meeting a pair for the first time when I was working at a lovely bed & breakfast, one of the old historic ones with extravagant gardens, and just loving how easy going and funny they were. Actually, they were two guys (a master and an apprentice) which is interesting since by chance, I have mostly worked with women.

One woman, I used to work with, mainly kept a few men on tap to do the hard labor type of work for us which is quite a contrast with the current crew I work on. And I gather our crew has a reputation for labor, someone told me “Oh, that crew- you work really hard on that crew.” I think it’s because we deal with the occasional lawn or tree project, which I gather is not traditionally what the estate gardeners do in this area- those things are usually left to the estate caretakers, lawn crews and arborists. But I don’t mind so much – it’s like getting paid to go to the gym, as long as you are careful not to permanently injure yourself.

Some of the other things I love to do seem to have been lost to the world of nine to five, printmaking for example. But it is coming back as an art now, when I was in school it was easy to get a cheap or free press from a printshop getting rid of their old ones to update to newer technology, now it is impossible because so many people want the old ones. That’s nice, I didn’t like to think of the presses rusting in people’s cellars and sheds.

Illustration too has moved into being a more rare job, I worked for a very short time illustrating court cases. They only hire illustrators for federal cases now because they don’t allow photographers in those courts. So the genera skills are harder for illustrators to gain because there aren’t all the small daily court cases that illustrators used to practice on. Well, of course the court cases exist but they are not accustomed to having illustrators in their courts (I know, I tried to practice in them on my own time).

Mushrooming is not so much archaic (especially in other countries), just not done as much in our (mycophobic?) culture. I was thinking about the 10,000 hours that one is purportedly supposed to put in to master any skill as I was looking at my mushroom book tonight. It had all these pictures, just like the dog books I used to study avidly and I was thinking about how I came to know the different breeds and how I could apply that way of studying to the mushrooms – again developing a passion for one at a time.

But my book has older photographs that are not very pretty so I put the book down after a short while. I have another illustrated book coming for me to our local book store which I hope will be more captivating. Mushrooms are so beautiful in the wild but I think it takes a real artist to capture their subtleties. I have founds some lovely photographs of mushrooms on-line, perhaps I should check and see if those photographers have put out books. Hum… I just did a brief search and didn’t come up with the person I was thinking of in particular- perhaps I’ll look again later. For now, our wood stove is burning merrily, I am starting to feel lulled by it’s warmth, and am thinking I’ll go cuddle up in bed again.

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