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The Chelsea Flower Show – the employment garden

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What has the world’s most famous garden show got to do with employment? The connections are less tenuous than you might at first think. No, it’s not the concept of garden leave. Neither is it the fact that the entry from the first black Gold Medal winner, Juliet Sergeant, is named after the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It’s not even the association with Chelsea’s all-male judging panel and workplace gender diversity (or the lack of it) in senior positions. No, what I see at Chelsea and in gardens up and down the country, both big and small, is a reflection of the workplace, and what makes them great or not so great places to work.

I see the workplace as an employment garden with just the same dimensions. There are the leaders (trees) who tower over the flowers and shrubbery, giving perspective, a focal point, shade when required, and breathing life into their domain and beyond by converting CO2 into Oxygen.

And, of course, the workers that are the backbone of gardens, and they come in many shapes and sizes:

  • The flamboyant peonies and wisteria that shine bright for a short period and then fade into the background
  • The annuals, who not unlike some millennials, are only here for a season
  • The weeds that grow and multiply with ease, and need to be exited sooner rather than later
  • The climbers and creepers that get to their destgardenination by various means
  • The evergreens that are dependable and come into their own once Autumn arrives
  • The wide variety of graduate trainee seeds that are potted and grown in the greenhouse until they are ready to be planted in the wide world of the garden
  • The exotics and mobile workers that come from far afield that adapt and thrive along with English flora and fauna
  • The lawn, green and forever growing, and a necessary staple of support
  • And the roses – the fragrant stars of the garden that keep giving on every level.

Like people and workplaces, there’s an element of design in making a garden work. It’s true that nature plays its part, and random seeds are blown from nowhere to set up home in the garden without a helping hand. We love these but they are few and far between. Generally, plants are high maintenance (some more than others) and need to be chosen carefully, with an eye to the other plants in the bed, to see how they will work together; they need to be nourished, and each year they require appraisals, which could entail pruning, staking, mulching or replacing.

Truly spectacular gardens have diversity. That’s not to say that a bed with a single variety might not dazzle: anyone who has ever seen lavender en masse cannot fail to be impressed but its one dimension does little to help the ecosystem, and fails to deliver on multiple levels.

But it is the nurturing and time investment that pays dividends. Take roses for example, when they arrive from the nursery as bare root plants, they are nothing more than thorns, stem and roots without anchors. At first glance, there is very little promise in these specimens. It takes a seasoned gardener, or careful reading of the many gardening books, to bring them on to be the stars of the show.

And the similarities don’t end there. The garden is dependent on the weather – in some years there is a drought (recession), and in others rainfall and sunshine arrive in equal measure (boom time). The rules about where and when to plant, and what soil type works with what plant, operate in just the same way as workplace policies and procedures. I could go on and on….

So why does the comparison matter? Simply, if you want a garden that is a thing of beauty, full of diversity, highly productive, fragrant, with seasonal interest and balance, while being a magnet to wildlife, and a net contributor to the environment, then it takes proactive management, hard work, investment and an understanding of nature and nurture. If that’s not your objective, you can opt for something less. You could always pave the space over with concrete, or just leave it alone. Who knows, you might get lucky.