#SixOnSaturday: Smashing the patriarchy…one formal lawn at a time

Although I regularly report back on my week at Waddesdon Manor, I realised a few days ago that I haven’t yet featured my internship in a #SixOnSaturday post. So to mark the fact that this week felt a bit like the start of a new phase, here we go!

This was the week in which I started to gain a little bit of independence and, by extension, became a bit more useful to the gardening team! As you might imagine, it’s simply not practical to move around grounds as large as those at Waddesdon on foot so the gardeners (and other teams on the estate) use small utility vehicles called Gators, which are a bit like a cross between a quad bike, a golf cart and a very small tractor.

On Tuesday morning I had a very quick training session – ‘That’s how you start it, that’s how you make it go, drive round in a circle in that field, that’s how you stop it and turn it off’ – and now I can do things like fetching and carrying tools, and dumping waste at the compost heap.

On Thursday I ended up having a Gator and a radio (again, vital for communicating across such a large estate) to myself, and it felt like I’d somehow become part of the garden team and not ‘just’ an intern.

(I should point out that at no point over the last last seven weeks have any of the gardeners made me feel like ‘just an intern’. They’ve all been supremely welcoming, supportive and encouraging!!!)

The other fairly significant development this week was that I was also ‘trained’ on my first Waddesdon mower! I should point out that these mowers are a bit more involved than your average Flymo, and the mowing situation is a bit more complex than the suburban back gardens which had been my long and short of my experience up to this point!

Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday a little team of four mowed round the young oaks which line the drive to the front of the Manor (bottom middle in #SixOnSaturday image) – most of the mowing here is done on a ride-on machine; we were doing the hard-to-reach bits – the areas of grass which surround the formal planting in the Aviary (main pic, pre-mow!), and the corresponding areas in the Parterre (middle right and above).

Both my time here at Waddesdon and in other contexts suggests to me that there’s still a (largely unspoken) assumption that gardening tasks like mowing and hedge-triming are ‘boys jobs’. So it felt genuinely significant to me – and to a much more experienced female colleague, when I shared my reflection with her later – that for most of Wednesday, there were three women mowing one of the most iconic areas of the garden at Waddesdon. And part of me hopes I was the only one that noticed.

On Thursday I got to work in an area of the garden that I’ve not spent much time in so far. It’s a sloping area which runs away from the Parterre known – possibly only to the gardening team – as Red Lion Steps (you might conceivably be able to figure out why…) which is gradually being replanted to make the most of its sunny, warm micro-climate.

The sloping beds already contain salvias, dahlias (which overwinter quite happily in situ), cordylines and bamboo. My job was to weed and then add groups of libertia grandiflora and kniphofia which had been laid out by a colleague. There have only been limited opportunities to actually plant stuff so far, so I do try to make the most of it when the opportunity presents itself.

That will all change next week though when the new Parterre bedding arrives and it’ll be all hands on deck to get that in…

And finally, this was also the week of my first bit of properly social time with a few of the team. Five of us decamped to the estate pub after work on Thursday and spent a lovely 90mins just hanging out. Just a non-alcoholic G&T and a coffee for me; the drive back to Leicester when we dispersed rather precluded anything stronger. Next time…!

Head to The Propagtor‘s blog to see what’s going on in other gardens in the UK and beyond! And happy gardening!

Louise

Twitter and Instagram: MySecretGard

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