Women do inspiring work: we need their voices to be heard
On International Women's Day gardener, writer and presenter Rekha Mistry introduces the women who have inspired her and explains her route to horticulture
Today we mark International Womens Day. A day we celebrate all women across the world. I recently visited my parents who retired back to India some 12 years ago. I hold the highest regard for my mother and she will always be my biggest inspiration in gardening. But whilst holidaying in India, another woman really inspired me.
I stayed at a remote farm-stay in the Aravali Hills of Udaipur, in the state of Rajasthan. Krishna Ranch is owned and run by an amazing couple, Francine Rothuis and Dinesh Jain. The day to day runnings of the gardens, fields, livestock and the kitchen hub is diligently overseen by a slim statured and very jolly, incredibly strong woman, Narani Gameti. Neither her loving husband Udaylal nor any of the staff dare to cross her as she assigns tasks for outdoor and kitchen duties. I soon found out why. The strength in the voice that bellows from this woman is not to be challenged. Even the farm animals are seen to oblige.
Ambition shouldn’t be just a thought. It is motivation for greater good.
During our many conversations, I discovered she regrets not being educated further, as she was married at a young age. What she feels she lacks in academic fulfilment, I believe she makes up for in her long tenure at this farm, with her hands-on gardening and husbandry knowledge. During my stay she taught me about numerous ways of companion planting. She was surprised I hadn’t heard about some of them. She also shared how certain green manures play a key role in organic soil management. Also how they’ve practiced crop rotation for generations to help minimise pest and disease. But most importantly, she looked me straight in the eye and said “we must ALL save seeds”. She said it was the biggest and most vital key to not only a great garden success but for human existence too. How true are her words! These were just a snippet of the topics we spoke about.
I was a self taught gardener too. In order to further my gardening knowledge I attended horticultural college. Narani, on the other hand, learnt on the job and with her hands on approach, was simply reciting her knowledge as the norm from days gone by. For such a simple woman, as she calls herself, she holds a wealth of knowledge. As my mother always says: never judge a person by their status in life or appearance. In this world, there are so many women like Narani who just need an opportunity to be heard.
I say to each and every woman: You have done great inspiring work that needs to be heard. Share your story.
The one thing I took away from this stay is that my noble horticultural heroes like Gertrude Jekyll, Vita Sackville-West and Princess Augusta may hold great horticultural titles and paved the way for women in the western world. But I truly believe women around the world like Narani who also hold a wealth of knowledge and should also be recognised and celebrated too.
Many of my family peers still wonder why I went into gardening. In Indian society, horticulture is still not seen as a profession to pursue, unless of course its got to do with becoming a botanist or scientist or if there is some kind of computer engineering involved! For many it is still regarded as just a weekend pastime hobby. I broke away from this norm. I let my heart steer my ambition path, not family chatter.
My horticulture and garden media journey began as a second career. Gardening was a passion I wanted to follow from a young age. As I mentioned, in the Indian society, it’s a taboo to ‘get your hands dirty’. Together with my husband’s support and our children’s encouragement. I took the leap and went back to school. Horticultural college opened my eyes to greater possibilities. Opportunities and positions don’t just fall at anyone’s feet. You have to go out there to get them. And on many occasions its even harder as a woman. But we females are a strong breed of humans. It was up to me to reach out. My allotment gave me the freedom to express myself. I shared my journey on social media platforms. Found my voice and shared my gardening thoughts. I was soon heard.
On many occasions its even harder as a woman. But we females are a strong breed of humans.
Now I write for several established magazines and work as a presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World too. Soon after I completed my Horticultural Diploma I got the opportunity to work as a professional gardener in one of London’s prestigious gardens, Inner Temple Garden. Nothing in life is easy. A lot of hard work goes behind what is sometimes only seen as amazing snippets of our lives. To be honest, I never thought an author lived inside me. With the publisher by my side, that vision was realised too and we published my first book Rekha’s Kitchen Garden. This is not the end. My garden and kitchen journey continues.
Ambition shouldn’t be just a thought. It is motivation for greater good. I say to each and every woman, you have done great inspiring work that needs to be heard. Share your story with us today on International Women's Day and inspire the future women of the world with your work and words.
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