The land owner, the gardener, the plot and the plants. By Sean Williams

Here is a story I have written that captures some of my difficulties working with the way the ‘work’ in Alternative Provision is funded in my Local Authority. My concern is how children are ‘banded’, supposedly to meet their need  for care and exploration through meaningfully accommodating children in places and spaces.
The problem is, the banding, which  re-presents funding which is meant to re-present need and therefore resources financially the  provision that is allocated to a child   seem to have lost  their value –  economically, and their value (meaning and  purpose) in the sense that the spaces and places in the building and the minds of the ‘commissioned’ are not ever thought about with any degree of sensitivity by the ‘commissioner’.
I think this ‘gap’ (series of omissions) undermines organisational integrity,  and leaves us  in danger of creating  a parallel process of neglect, which I am finding harder and harder to bear.
I hope this is of some interest to you and the readers of the TCJ.
A story about a garden plot, a landowner, a gardener and plants.

A Vision:








So that



Untapped Potential

Cast of the land owner, the gardener, the plot and the plants.

 The Garden/Plot – The Forge and the Contract with our Local Authority

The Landowner – Local Authority/DFE/Politics

The Plants – Children/Pupils/Lives
The Gardener – Headteacher, Governors and Staff at the Forge

Good Intentions….
Once upon a time there was a gardener and a landlord, both joined together to grow some plants in a plot.

The Gardener was pleased and proud to be commissioned by the noble land owner. He was to create a beautiful garden for him to enjoy and the plants to thrive in.

The commission was to create a garden that would accommodate 3 main kinds of plants – a few huge ones that would require extra care and attention but would no doubt have such beauty and complexity he was sure the effort of a gardener would be rewarded  –  growth brings joy after all.

A majority of the plants, the most numerous kind, would require a lot of attention and would cover the plot well, keeping the Gardener happily occupied.

Finally, there would be a few more plants of a kind that would take up space in the garden but would not require much work at all – they’d fit in around the other bigger more vigorous ones as they all established in their places and spaces together.

One other part of the agreement was that the Gardener would help any other Gardener in the surrounding areas with his plants and plot during the commission.

An outstanding vision, all would agree.  A noble intention.

In addition, the plants chosen for this plot hadn’t quite had the best start in life.

Therefore, extra special thought and attention, indeed intention was given to their ‘places’ and ‘spaces’ in the planning stages.

Oh, and nor had the plot had a good start either.  Designed originally for very different plants, no one knew how it would accommodate the plants about to arrive in this story.  The plot was originally stopped being used for ‘other  healthier’ plants for two reasons: it was no longer needed as a plot and part of the plot was condemned and removed because it was deemed poisonous to all plants.

Despite the challenges, both Landowner  & Gardener were confident  this garden could be beautiful. They hoped that by giving the plants a chance to grow and develop together, in the right place and the right space, they could become the right kind of plants to fill their plot. They’d be proud. And the plants would shine.

The Gardener had some experience working with certain kinds of plants and certain kinds of plots. He’d never had his own plot but wanted one to try out his skills and pass on some of what he had gained, when he too was a young plant himself.

The land owner in his nobility had enjoyed playing in a few plots in his childhood – wild and cultivated, small and large. He knew of many outstanding gardeners and outstanding gardens around the world. He’d never grown a plant.

He’d had spent a gap year picking grapes and berries in Australia whilst learning drinking games and how heavy a back pack can be when you have to carry it all over the world with you.

That had been an outstanding experience. So much so he decided never to carry one again. He’d ‘help’ others to do that for him. He’d also help people to garden. He knew he didn’t want to garden.

Together, they knew what it takes to make a garden grow – plots, plants, soil, water and seasons, as well as barrows, buckets and spades to name a few more.

They certainly knew of the ‘parts’ involved in gardening mentioned above, but maybe didn’t know enough about them.
They didn’t even know this was a ‘thing’ yet though, knowing of life and knowing about life are indeed two very different things.

They were confident and ambitious. Driven. This brings success, they were taught.

They had both seen just how beautiful gardens could be.

They could imagine what it might be like to be a plant, in a garden, contributing to the plot, completely as itself, surrounded by good enough conditions to establish, maybe even flourish.

They knew these plants would all go on to bring life and joy and value in many places and many lives beyond the garden.

And so the creative work of imagining and ‘intending’ had begun and ended.

Now it was time to implement, putting these ideas to practice. The hard work started.

The Implementation….
The Gardener went about filling the allocated plot with the soil the landowner had purchased as his part of the commission.

However, whilst he was gardening, it became quickly apparent that the soil would not cover the plot with enough breadth and depth to be a fertile ground. He let the landowner know he needed more soil.

‘You can have more soil if you have more plants – the land owner said. In the mean time, Carry on,’ the landowner said to the gardener over the phone from his busy office. ‘Then there will be more plants and still not enough soil, because we’ll need a bigger plot and even more soil than I’ve asked for’ said the Gardener. ‘We can review it. Let’s see.’ Said the Landowner.

And the Gardener sensed that there was no we, and the landowner couldn’t see.

The Gardener took up his role and set about gardening. He was also looking, attending, viewing, noticing all that was happening in the plot-   seeing all  along if what was happening – his implementation-  was in line with his intention.  This mattered greatly to the Gardener.  He liked turning plans into a  reality.

In reality, he was testing out what he was able to make happen, planting, moving, digging, cropping, pruning, cultivating and so on. Waiting to see what happened to the plot and the plants as a result of his work. Responding and relating to the plot and plants, he also began to work with other gardeners and other plants – that needed some attention –  outside of his plot. Some of the gardeners wanted him to look after their plants in his plot. He gave it a try.

It became apparent there was too much plot for one man. It became apparent there were too many plants and too many plots and too many Gardeners to look after. And the Landowner seemed not to be helping.

‘Carry on’ said the landowner to the gardener from his home. ‘We can review it. Let’s see’. But the Gardener sensed there was no we, and the landowner couldn’t see.

Although the gardener had doubts about whether he could carry on with the commission, the vision and intent on which he had based his acceptance of the ‘appointment to garden’ drove him – he knew that gardens could be abundant and beautiful, life generating places. He loved gardens and he loved plants.

So, with some skill and an abundance of hope, he continued planting and Gardening in his plot and helping in others in theirs.

More plants arrived and seemed reasonably hardy given their starts. The gardener was pleased to see them. He knew that plants establish in plots given the right conditions, appreciation, patience and time. Some plants from other plots went back to their gardens, stronger. In exchange, the other gardeners gave him small amounts of their soil. It helped him and his plot. Just a bit.

He knew if he worked hard on the plot, worked both wisely and appreciatively with the plants in the plot, and applied what he knew about plots and plants, it all stood a good chance of establishing. He enjoyed the challenge in his work and the rewards of gardening well.

However, time progressed and the Gardener noticed that the plot wasn’t progressing as he had envisioned.

Whilst working, attending, viewing and reviewing his work, day in and day out and year after year – that although the plot was indeed a reasonably big plot, it helped some plants grow well, it was not the plot needed for all the particular plants he had been asked to grow.

Cramped. Constricted. Forced. The plot was not designed for the plants that hated these conditions. The amount of soil was connected to the number of plants the Landowner wanted.  There wasn’t enough soil attached to each plant.  Most plants only grow in certain seasons. Some plants, like the poppy, just will not grow until they recognize that the time and conditions are just right.

He’d noticed too there was still not enough soil in the plot for many of the plants to establish.

He tried moving the soil, spreading the soil, sifting the soil, digging the soil, turning the soil, there just wasn’t enough to spread out evenly or deeply. To cover the space adequately, let alone take in young plants securely would need more, lots more soil and compost and manpower.

‘We need more soil and men’ said the Gardener to the Land lord directly, and not for the first time in this story.

‘I was thinking about putting in a few more plants and taking some soil away for another garden I know, responded the Landowner. ‘Think yourself lucky I don’t. You also have more men than most. Carry on’ said the landowner, optimistically.  ‘Landowner asked the Gardner, is there a way of having more soil, without the extra plants attached –  there is no space in this plot for more plants, it’s soil I need’.  ‘No’, said the Landowner, ‘the only way to get more soil is to have more plants….you get big plants and a very small amount of soil each time you ask….’ We can review it. Let’s see’

But the gardener knew. There was no we, and the landowner couldn’t see.

More time passed. Maybe weeks maybe years.

But time passed for the Gardener’s experience to accumulate and patterns to be seen by eyes that could. One pattern the gardener noticed was that the landowner was not always the same Person each time they spoke. He had noticed that There was no sense of ‘we’ and it seemed that none of the landowners could see, hear or respond to the needs he identified in his plot or his plants. Strange, he thought given the job of the landowner – meeting special (not ordinary) needs in vulnerable plants.

It became apparent to the Gardener, by looking, living and relating to both the plot and the plants that not only was there not enough soil, there were too many plants for the size of the plot. Very few were able to grow in the way the Landowner and the Gardener had imagined. This was a sad experience for the gardener. He loved cultivating life. It just wasn’t happening in the way he knew it could.
There was still not enough soil nor space for all the plants to grow, develop be seen or understood in this plot.

‘Carry on’ said the landowner, once again. ‘You have the plot, you have the soil, you have the plants. You only have three kinds of plants to work with and we’ve planned where they will go. You even have some tools. Any Gardener knows what to do with that. Keep going. Then We can review it. Let’s see’.

But the Gardener knew, there was no we, and the landowner couldn’t see.

‘Landowner’, said the Gardener, ‘you’ve been incredibly generous, indeed you have. We have a vision, we have an intent, we have the tools and the plot and the three kinds of plants to work with.

Yet by working here for many years and many seasons, I’ve discovered that we’ve a plot that’s too much for one man.’

‘I’ve discovered too that It’s a plot without enough breadth and depth of soil for all the plants to grow in the way we hoped they would – That makes it a plot that is not fit for its purpose, the purpose of safe growth for all.

‘Landowner, I’ve also discovered that we’ve got plants that are individuals – not three kinds but many.

That and too many plants for the plot, plants without a space in a plot cannot root, cannot stand tall, cannot stand proud.

I pride myself on creating and maintaining the conditions for growth and development. This is so important to me.’ I am a Gardener through and through.

‘These plants will get blown around. Lost. Who knows how or where they will root if we cannot plant them as we intended?’

How do I safeguard them from such an unrooted, violent existence? How do I help them establish in the world without enough space, without enough attention with out enough soil to nourish and develop them in the first place?’

‘Landlord, as I discover what the conditions are for safe growth, and see that we do not have them here, I feel like I’m losing the plot altogether.’

‘Carry on’ said the land owner. He could neither hear nor see the meaning behind the Gardener’s pleas.

‘I have seen what plants and gardens can be and I’ve seen what good gardeners can do’ said the land owner.

I’ve been one myself for a while, in Australia, I picked grapes and berries that were outstanding and learned that I would never ever carry a heavy ruck sack again. I have spent my life helping others to carry them for me. And to Garden. I was good at filling punnets with berries and grapes. I’ve done it and so can you.’

The landowner continued. ‘I insist that the plants are all to be accommodated, there are only three kinds and you have the ways and means to make it work.’

‘Just work harder. When you know more, remember more, you’ll be able to do more. Carry on’ he said. ‘Then we can review it. Let’s see’ . But the Gardener knew that there was no we, and the landowner couldn’t see. Knowing, remembering and doing preplanned activities were not the same as sensing, experiencing and discovering for oneself what is possible. This was a difference that the landlord had never been able to discriminate or integrate into his world view.
More trouble came.

The gardener discovered that many of the plants that had been chosen by the landlord to be nurtured – in and of themselves could be great specimens – but they did not work together in the plot.

They didn’t support each other to grow, but competed. Some attacking and some being attacked. They weren’t as resilient together as they could be alone. Their needs were in some ways similar and at the same time necessarily different. He spoke to the landlord.

The landlord liked and understood similarity. He’d got quite far and done a lot with what he knew and remembered. He liked what he’d done, knew and remembered. He never considered what he didn’t know or couldn’t remember. He’d never been taught about that kind of exploration or discovery. Furthermore, it felt unsafe, so he couldn’t even think. His boundaries were  closed to any possibility of creative change.

The landlord knew of difference, but didn’t really know about difference or how to accommodate it, let alone experience it. He wasn’t prepared to know more or explore more or experience more because he already thought that he knew, remembered and did it all, such is the paradox of being certain about knowledge, and not appreciating others experience and difference. This made him quite anxious – but he didn’t know this or recognise it in himself. This was a disappointment.

Difference and similarity are both necessary and real experiences – well understood by anyone who has ever tried to garden.

Some plants require space. Some need shade, some need light. Some need different kinds of soil, some need deeper soil, others just need to be kept in a gentle spot, like a greenhouse to stand a chance of growing to their full potential at all.

It can be harsh out there, growing up. We are all both similar, and different.

Some of the plants like the Oak tree that had started to grow were to become much bigger and needed much more than this plot alone could give – the plot just was not enough for this one tree, let alone all the others.

Nothing grew in its presence. It needed to be moved somewhere else. Things lived on it and in it but couldn’t live near it – it took up too much light and space.

Others like the orchid needed to be moved to a greenhouse – where conditions could be made just right. Conditions that could never exist in the plot. Dandelions, they grew almost anywhere, no matter what. The landowner didn’t want dandelions though. And had never seen a greenhouse in his life. He knew they were expensive and could break.

The Impact…

One kind of plant however, was growing in ways like no other. All over the plot.

This was a thorny, viciously prickly plant and it began to take over, growing faster and stronger and more powerful everyday, able to grow in the harshest of conditions it left less and less room for any thing else, making the plot harder and harder to work – scratching, cutting and jarring the Gardener, drowning out the other plants and overcoming them with its own growth and needs.

This was a surprise to the Gardener as this was never ever part of the vision or intention. It certaainly wasn’t a feature of his implementation. How had it got there? No one knew. It was a mystery.

Now, using his energy almost solely to heal himself instead of working on, in and with the plot and plants, the Gardener, with the growing Oak tree – that couldn’t be moved – and the thorny plant –  that was climbing over everything else, was sure that he was now losing the plot and control.

‘Landowner, We’ve got a problem. Things aren’t going as we hoped. I need help moving a tree, and help with a vicious prickly plant that neither of us intended to grow. ‘Carry on, The landowner said. We can review it. Let’s see’ . But the Gardener knew that there was no we, and the landowner couldn’t see. Or didn’t want to.

Slowly, steadily and then seemingly all at once, the energy from the plot and the Gardener disappeared. The hope and life that had been part of the original, beautiful plan was no where to be seen.

The mature balanced nourishing garden they envisioned was just not there. No Space for all, no conditions for growth and not a single sight to be delighted in.

The Gardener conceded. He had finally lost the plot.

Yet, the land owner remained optimistic.

From his office, and his place of nobility, all he could see was the garden he wanted.

He insisted that he knew best and demanded that the Gardener continue to work without any understanding or regard for the Gardener’s experience or reality.

This reality or knowing was his connection to nature. His experience of both what works and what doesn’t. His love. His suffering. His creativity. His reason. His view.

By now, the Gardener realised that to be joined in this reality by the landowner was only wishful thinking. The opposing forces were too great. The land owner’s ‘optimism’, concealed ‘omission in the commission’. Lack of communication. Lack of understanding. Lack of resource. The lack, including a lack of reason, were crushing him. Collaboration, creativity, understanding and meaningful communication was non existent.

He neither had the energy nor the words to share with the landowner what he could see all around him. He was grief stricken and numb.

He felt defeated and helpless. He sensed that by now he had no means nor hope of convincing the landowner what was happening in the plot. And now it seemed the loss of life and loss of possibility in the plot, was a loss he felt in him. He had neither the means nor the ways to achieve the ends they had envisioned.

Exhausted and disappointed, he realised that he had lost the plot for good when the need for more soil went unmet, the need for less plants went unmet, the need to recognise that some plants cannot grow alongside others went unmet and the need for a better way of deciding which plants could grow where under particular conditions went unmet, he fell into despair.

Reflective, he started to wonder if anyone had ever really held the plot safely in the first place?

Eventually, and sadly – perhaps predictably to some of our readers – there was now indeed no room in the plot for anything except the prickly, viciously vigorous plant to survive. And yes readers now even the Gardener had lost his way too.

Somewhere Lost in the plot was a vision without a sense of reality. A garden with No soil. Plants left with no meaningful place or space and systems with no understanding of where to put them or what they need. No shared sense of space, place or purpose. Creativity, diversity and life had gone.

One day, still full of optimism and expectation, the landowner sent his inspectors to come to see the plot. They had an outstanding vision.

Sadly, as you the reader are already aware, the plot contained nothing the landowner nor the inspectors recognised to be good. Nothing anyone would consider to be good at all.

The inspector was disappointed. The landowner was disappointed. The gardeners who had left their plants to be looked after were disappointed. The gardener was not disappointed. He knew the garden they had imagined was not there.
The landowner could not bear the thought that he had lost the plot.

‘YOU HAVE LOST THE PLOT’ the Land owner raged at the Gardener.

The gardener, exhausted and stuck, grief stricken and numb tried to explain to the landowner, all he understood. He said: ‘Although noble landowner, you included the right ingredients for the garden in your vision, when creating the plan to realise and implement the vision, landowner you had not understood the relationship necessary between the parts.

A relationship between a landowner, gardener, plot and plant. The ecology that’s created when these things are ‘related’ to each other with care, sensitivity, Insight and attention matters most. Above all.

‘How we relate to all these parts has the power to bring life or kill it,’ he said.

‘Each of these ingredients including care, insight and attention is required for life to flourish. They must come in the right combination in the right way. This is hard to plan for, but must happen. The spirit of review must be as a discovery, not a repetition, criticism or judgement.

Such is the responsibility of adults who care – they collaborate and discover, sense and feel as well as judge and plan, together’. He said, with tears in his eyes.

With this, just like that, the Gardener had realised that neither the Landowner nor himself ever really had the plot in the first place.

‘Can people who never really have ‘the plot’ actually make one that turns out the way they envisioned?’ He thought out loud.

It’s not that either party hadn’t listened, he thought, nor that either hadn’t tried – it was just that neither had understood fully the implications of trying to create a plot when neither party had the task of creating a plot fully held in mind.

The landowner had no way to hear this revelation. He hated it. He personalised everything.

He couldn’t bear to hear the realities of the Gardeners experience.

It frightened him, it was so different to what he thought – For a split second he thought he himself was losing the plot. That could never be the case. He was noble, righteous, virtuous, good.

Nonetheless, this news was a total shock to him. He was enraged. Terrified even. The beautiful garden was just not there.

Nothing he had imagined nor intended had occurred.

The Impact upon him as the reality struck was huge. He felt a ruck sack returning to his shoulders. The burden of responsibility too great. Sickened.

This required very special measures he thought.

He picked up the shovel, and smashed the Gardener to the ground. Killed. Stone dead. He had no idea why he had trusted such an unskilled, undermining, lazy and terrible Gardener with his vision our his plants.

Things became clearer.

He knew better for next time, he consoled himself. ‘Let’s see’ he said. ‘I’ll review it’.

But we know he could only repeat it. And there was nothing left to see.

Both the gardener and the landowner had lost the plot whilst none of the plants ever really had their space or place in the mind of the landowner let alone the plot.

The Gardener was dead. The plants were dead. And the vicious, thorny prickly plant was most abundantly alive.

Still, ever optimistic, having only momentarily lost the plot, and clearly for very good reason, as the gardener evidently had no idea whatsoever how to garden, the landowner consoled himself: ‘that gardener needed to be removed’. The landowner had done a good thing. No more gardeners like that on his plots planting, he has learnt his lesson.

The landowner knew many many gardeners. He had seen many many gardens. Big ones. Outstanding ones.

He’d find a good Gardener soon enough and he’d have the garden he wanted in no time.

‘You just need a plot, plants, soil, a few tools. And a vision.

And someone to cut down those thorns’, he thought.
Life would go on. … he just needed the right Gardener, someone a bit more thorny he thought.

Yes, and some magical beans, they grow everywhere and anywhere just when you need them, he thought. Pleased again with his work. He felt lighter as that rucksack slipped off his back, lined up for the next Gardener, he relaxed and poured a glass of blackberry wine, made from the thorny, viciously prickly plant on all his plots. Perfect he thought.


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