International Women's Day 2022

In line with this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, ‘#BreakTheBias’ we’re profiling our talented female gardeners at West Dean Gardens

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Amelia, Volunteer 

Where did your passion for gardening come from? 
I like being outside and I’ve always had an interest in tropical plants. 

What fellow female gardeners do you look up to? 
Kelly as she looks after glasshouses here at West Dean Gardens, including the tropical house, which I am especially interested in and tropical plants. 

What’s your focus in the gardens? 
A bit of everything – I do most things and I am getting more hands-on experience. 

How do you break the bias as a female gardener? 
By having a go at everything, not giving up and putting in hard work. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 
Do what you want to do and enjoy doing. Don’t give up when someone says you can’t do it. 

Chantal, Ornamental Gardener (And Ethel the dachshund) 

Where did your passion for gardening come from? 
I’ve always liked being outdoors and in nature and previously worked in a plant nursery. 

What’s your focus in the gardens? 
I am the ‘Lady in the landscape’, so I do all sorts like mowing the grass, mulching, maintaining beds outside of the Walled Garden, weeding, edging, and pruning the pergola. I also help with the Walled Garden. 

How do you break the bias as a female gardener? 
I am stronger than a lot of men and efficient at what I do. I’m really into machinery and will happily drive diggers and JCBs – machines aren’t just for men! 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 
I wish I’d known more about horticulture as a job option and how vast the horticultural field is. I would tell myself that horticulture is a great career and there are opportunities out there. 

Anne, Gardener – Walled Garden 

Where did your passion for gardening come from? 
My Mother was always a keen gardener, I’d always be outdoors, and once I started working outside, I couldn’t imagine going back to working inside. 

What fellow female gardeners do you look up to? 
Lucy Chamberlain. Lucy is a very knowledgeable grower and gardener working in a private garden in Essex and she does a great podcast with Saul Walker about life as a Head Gardener. 

What’s your focus in the gardens? 
The Walled Garden, fruit, herbaceous borders, veg frames, Kitchen Garden – it’s varied. 

How do you break the bias as a female gardener? 
By not thinking of it as an issue. It’s a job women can do. Women have got very definite skills to offer. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 
Gardening was never talked about as a career. I was a career changer from textiles design. I wish I’d known that I could pursue gardening as a career. 

Millie, Trainee Horticulturalist

Where did your passion for gardening come from? 
Mostly from the women in my life – my Grandmother and Mum. 

What fellow female gardeners do you look up to? 
Vita Sackville-West. Her writing on gardening is inspiring. She held a gardening course when gardening was male dominated, she formed her own thoughts and opinions on gardening. She is continually inspiring for how I approach gardening. 

What’s your focus in the gardens? 
Doing a bit of everything on rotation. 

How do you break the bias as a female gardener? 
Trusting my own intuition, being assertive and knowing I have a place in this field with men and other women. Not being afraid to initiate your own palette of gardening. Challenging existing principles possibly laid out by men throughout history. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 
Start much earlier with horticulture. Embrace horticulture straight after university without worrying what other people think. 

Kelly, Glasshouse Gardener

Where did your passion for gardening come from? 
I grew up with four strong women around me, all of which were keen gardeners. Growing up in South Africa, I learnt about botanical plants. 

What fellow female gardeners do you look up to? 
Alys Fowler and Sarah Raven 

What’s your focus in the gardens? 
Everything in the glasshouses. We grow a mixture of ornamental and edible plants across the spectrum, from exotic, cacti and succulents to the other side of tomatoes and chillies. I’m also focused on maintaining the structure of the glasshouses. It really is a privilege to work in the glasshouses. 

How do you break the bias as a female gardener? 
Cleaning and maintaining 13 original Victorian glasshouses – it used to be looked after by four men, now I have come up with innovative ways to make it achievable, including adapting equipment, tools and machinery, and drawing on the resources of my colleagues and volunteers to help. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 
Have the courage of my conviction and greater faith in what I am capable of.