Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Standing Up

This post has been a long time coming and won't be that garden focussed but for those of you who ask why I always feel the need to stand up to the bullies here goes...........
Gardens, plants and growing have been my life for as long as I can remember. A yearning to be outside, growing beautiful plants and creating wonderful spaces is my reason for being and I consider myself the most fortunate person alive to be in the position I am, not just doing this myself, but also supporting other people to join in, have a go and celebrate their success. It gives me untold joy to support people and organisations to improve their environments with gardens, be they productive or ornamental, large or small. And the way these spaces change communities, getting them up and active, engaged and excited, is the most humbling and amazing thing. I am, to use a social media phrase, blessed.
But throughout this career have been some very dark periods, all of which have been created in the first instance, by bullies.
Workplace bullying is difficult. It is often wrapped up in conversations along the line of conflicting personalities and comments around ability and the bully knows exactly what they are doing, and how careful the line must be that they tread whilst constantly dripping negativity about the person into the ears of everyone around them. For months I dreaded opening my emails, and regularly received emails telling me I was wrong and he was right. On one occasion these led to a a huge dispute between directors who at that point were seemingly taking sides, and a huge argument in my office, with me there, about how the issue was being dealt with. I dreaded going to work, despite being totally in love with the beautiful walled garden nursery I was managing, because here was someone I had to liase with daily who was trying to get rid of me. To drive me out.
Fortunately at the same time I joined Twitter and looked for other gardeners, and the relief was palpable when I was able to join in conversations, support others to garden and slowly, very slowly, although work was beyond distressing, I began to believe in myself a bit more. I started to run workshops, to have a horticultural life away from the workplace and things felt like they might be ok.
But as with everything, there are highs and lows and a year before I left this workplace I had a serious breakdown. It followed an event where the bully had openly been slating me for being "lazy and useless" when a good pal was in the room, and unbeknownst to me, she made a formal complaint and it was taken to HR, who were so concerned they suggested that the gross misconduct line had been crossed and he should leave. But that didn't happen and  instead he upped the pressure, finding my Twitter account and recounting it to the owners of the business. At this point they knew nothing of the workshops and courses because I had done them in my own time, either at weekends or taking annual leave, but they insisted they stop if I wanted to continue to work there. Very quickly Twitter went from being my safe space to one where I could say very little, despite having closed my account down so tightly that for several months I didn't even allow new followers.
And then I received a call. A call that I thought would change my life. A call to be interviewed for a job where the owner of a nursery had asked to meet me. Someone who at that time I admired was headhunting me! So off I went to the interview, and got the job. And jumped straight from the bullying pan into the bullying fire. Constantly being told you know nothing, being made to feel like you have no voice, that you are useless, that you aren't interested in plants, or gardens, that you are slow, that anyone could do better, that you aren't trusted to water the plants..............
But at this point I knew what was happening. I had seen the bully for what they were. Just that. A bully. I had tried to have conversations, to work harder, to prove myself but after the first few weeks I knew I needed to be brave and leave. The final decision came when I was told that there were concerns about my "severe" depression, which was frankly not correct but more worryingly I knew the information had yet again been gleaned through social media and at that point I took control. They let me go stating non transferrable skills which made me hoot as the skill that I didn't have was driving.  It had been assumed I would drive the owner around in the evenings to talks and events, which had never been mentioned at the interview and which I would never have agreed to. I left with my head held high and at that moment promised myself that I would never be afraid of a bully again.
Why are you telling us this tale now I hear you asking.
What is your point Sara?

Well without going into the minutae, bullying happens on many scales and I have promised to stand up, with a lot of other people, to a particular bully in the city. And I am scared. I want to run away. I am close to tears and I feel alone. My voice feels broken, silenced in fear. I woke up this morning and for the first time in 5 years didn't have an immediate tweet, was afraid to speak my truth.
Name drop alert here, but last year I sat in a garden with Dave Myers and spoke openly about all this. Sadly it didn't make the cut, but he and the entire team were moved beyond words by the strength it sometimes takes to stand up and ignore the negative voices. Horrified that an industry that seems to be all about the environment, making beautiful spaces and being kind to our planet, can be so cruel and harsh. After leaving the last job it appeared it was a well known fact that the person was like this and it soon transpired there was a whole line of people before me that had been through the same. But no one will speak, even years after, in the belief that they signed a confidentiality clause in their contract and they would be honed down on by solicitors and the law. I never signed that clause, but equally I am never going to name names. That would make me the bully and that is something I am super conscious of, but it never fails to amaze me how years later the effects can still be seen in people. It never leaves you. The fear is what remains.
Why am I telling you this now? Because it is my truth and it explains a lot about how important i feel compassion and kindness is. Because I feel like bullies can create huge and unpleasant schisms and that isn't fair on all the people it affects. Because bullying leads to poor mental and physical health that over the years it becomes harder and harder to bounce back from. Because I hate to think that anyone might have been so abjectly affected by it that at times they may too have felt, or feel like their voice is squashed and they are silenced.
Today its Valentines Day and as it draws to an end I have just seen a post from a friend on Facebook asking whether Valentines could be repurposed into a day where we promise to treat people with care and respect in the year to come. So here I am committing to do just that. To lead with kindness from my core in everything I do, because that is the only way we are going to find a kinder world.
And finally, if this resonates with you don't be afraid to get in touch, but also to look at the link below. You still have your voice however much you feel like you can't use it, and someone will help you to speak your truth............xx

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

#britishflowers 2018

Those of you who regularly read this blog will not be one bit shocked that I am about to talk about British Flowers. It is a regular post in my year of posting and every year I promise to do more to support the British Flower growers with whom I talk across many social media platforms.
Small production has a special place in my heart, not just of flowers but generally. Farmers, makers, flower growers are all amazing people, fighting for their industries and supporting the local economies of small towns and villages across the country. I have long yearned for my own patch to grow, and whilst my own career has seen me walk a different path, this dream is one I hold dear and hope to make reality at some point.
All these photos were taken at Common Farm Flowers in Somerset by my dear pal  Andrew Jones

However, it is at this time of year that is becomes particularly poignant as we see the florists on every high street and online gearing up to send out a million roses, all brought in from flower farms across the world in places as far away as Africa and South America. Covered in chemicals, they barely even look like the garden rose we know and love but instead always remind me of a cartoon rose. Sometimes they even look as if they are a little dog eared around the edges, with their long, straight stems and inability to open properly. Last year there were some studded with fake diamonds. They will last fleetingly, and briefly be a reminder that the special person in our lives has gone to the effort of buying a gift, but do these chemical ridden roses with their huge carbon foot print really say I love you?
Stunning, jewel like Anemones

They are a part of our consumer habit. Just like the food we throw into our trollies in the super market, we know deep down that the claims made about them are untrue. In the same way as we know that a certain chains so called farms are just a marketing ploy to make you feel as if you are making ethical decisions, so the flowers we buy are the same. The idea that they are expensive at this time of year means they must be ok? And yet year on year we hear dreadful stories in the press about the reality of these equatorial flower farms, where mainly women work long hours in hot and enormous polytunnels, where mists of chemicals are often sprayed whilst they are in the houses and with little or no personal protection. Always there is an outcry and yet still the high street and online florists struggle to buy enough to get through the day. It's as if we know, but feel compelled but he greater force, the force that is consumerism.
In Africa Lake Victoria, bordered by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya and once supporting the livelihoods of 30 million people in those countries, is dying. Choked by algal blooms it is widely believed that some of the reason for this is the huge flower farms surrounding it, as they allow run off from chemical and fertiliser applications in to the lake. But the demand from the west is so huge it continues whilst keeping the workforce in those countries in poverty and ill health.
Soon to open double tulips that are scented!

And it is because we are consumers and we can do nothing to counteract that. Or can we? Can we fight for a world where we are at least ethical consumers? Where we know that when we give a farmer or a maker our hard earn money rather than it disappearing into an off shore account to be given to a shareholder, that that money supports a family and a community.
And the answer is yes we can. By supporting local veg box schemes, community supported agriculture, local farm shops and farmers markets, we can of course make more ethical choices. By buying through online markets such as Fresh Range and Farm Drop we can avoid the supermarkets and ensure we support great local producers. And although it might appear to be more expensive, by committing to great produce, from great producers who care about the food they are growing, whatever it may be, we will commit to less waste and ensure we get the most from the food we buy. Ask yourself how much you throw away from your supermarket shop each week? A simple menu plan and shopping list will stop this. Trust me. I know. It's how I shop and our bill is always more if we end up in a panic shop in the supermarket.
Stunning Ranunculus

But back to flowers!. There are no flowers in season I hear you cry. But there are I cry back at you. Narcissi, tulips, ranunculus, anemones and more are all flowering like crazy and available right now. it may not be an easy thing but ask your local florist what is UK grown and refuse to buy from the Dutch markets, which are the bottle neck between the large foreign growers and our high street and online stores. Or look at the British Flower Collective, Flowers From The Farm, both of whom can find you your nearest florist that supports our UK growers or your nearest flower grower so you can buy direct. And if that's not enough you could look on websites such as Common Farm Flowers and buy beautifully grown British Flowers direct by mail order, to be delivered to your love wherever in the UK he or she is.
In the UK we spend £2 billion per year on flowers and at least 90% of that is for flowers that are flown in from abroad. Our British growers are mainly running their farms to agro ecological standards, just as small food growers do. Not only are they supporting themselves and the communities they are surrounded by, but they are also supporting our world, our environment and all the other creatures that we share the earth with. There are no algal blooms at Common Farm but there are earthworms, slow worms and the bird song is orchestral. Flower farms across the country are doing the same, creating a better world for all.
Wonderful spring blooms

Recently I have found my voice wavering. On social media I have been told I am wearing rose tinted glasses, looking back to a time through romantic eyes. That I have no idea of the pressures of family budgets. That I should be quiet. Sit down and say no more. For a while I felt silenced by the haters. But in the last few days I have remembered the voice I have and why I need to use it, and I will support small business for as long as there is breath in my lungs. We must begin to celebrate those who work on the land, or with their hands, creating beauty all around us. We must support them to move forwards, as a movement and in doing so lead lives where the really important things, family, community, eating together, kindness and love are what are seen as the important things in life, rather than the newest gadget. So why not start by saying I love you this year with a bouquet grown with love, kindness and hope?