Monday, 13 January 2014

What's in a name?

Quite a lot I think.

I am a gardener. And a writer although I don't write much these days. And a flower provider. And a florist because that's part of what I do, not because it's what I trained as. And I grow flowers. And I lecture - currently about flowers and gardens, formerly about journalism.

But I would not call myself a grower because to me that is something more special, that speaks of years or decades or generations of dedication to growing flowers (or anything else). I have complete respect for those traditional growers who are still running flower businesses several generations in. There are quite a number of you remaining out there, thank heavens, producing beautiful blooms. And there are a few newbies too, doing a great job.

There is also a whole new crop of small scale flower growers, some even calling themselves flower farmers, so what's wrong with that? Probably nothing, it just doesn't seem to sit easily with me. On Farming Today recently there was a discussion about smallholders who called themselves farmers and how that sat with them and their communities. There wasn't any particular conclusion except that some very small scale farmers, or smallholders, seemed to be fairly self sufficient and sold surpluses to make money so were living from their plots, but perhaps they didn't need to live off the land in the same way as an old-fashioned serf of the soil needed to. The new breed of smallholders perhaps had come via a different route with different options. So although they worked hard and took themselves seriously, there was the implication that it wasn't ultimately quite serious.

Perhaps it's nothing to do with anyone else's labels but because my father was a farmer so I grew up on a farm, which was a serious business. When I was growing three acres of flowers intensively in Herefordshire alongside the garden, I never thought of myself as a flower farmer, though I know some other people did. If anything I think of myself as a gardener. And in fact I am much more of a gardener than a grower or a farmer because I don't heed too many rules, I love irregularity rather than uniformity, I enjoy seeing what happens rather than being entirely in control of my patch - though I do my best. My father, the farmer, always rather sneered at gardeners because he thought it implied a gentler edge than farming with hints of the dilettante.

It hasn't been a gentle experience, building up the cut flower business, I'm sure I have worked as hard as any farmer and just as long hours. But, almost without exception, I do not think that many of the new crop of British flower growers are flower farmers. Some are perhaps not gardeners either. There are differences, there are.

And while thinking of labels I got to floristry. I don't think of myself as a florist either, though in many ways I obviously am. I used to have a number of trainee florists coming for a week's work experience to help with weddings or events, or simply to explore working with home grown blooms. One in particular sticks in my mind. She had won all the top awards all the way through Floristry School and was nothing if not supremely competent. When faced with our flowers she treated them exactly the same as if they were flown-in ramrod-straight chemically-preserved imports. Each bloom was stripped to within several inches of its life, they were all laid out individually in stem lengths and colours along the work bench, already looking rather startled, then they were very competently tightly positioned together to make a hand tied bouquet. A stiff, unnatural hand tied thing. Something that looked as if it had come from Interflora rather than the field. It was extraordinary and revelatory. To my eye the beauty was demeaned, rather like a gorgeous fresh faced young girl covering her face with layers of masking make up, but the trainee florist obviously was thrilled and thought it beautiful. I guess it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it is one reason why I don't call myself a florist.

Perhaps it would be most satisfactory to come up with a whole new and more descriptive label.

No comments:

Post a Comment