‘A change is as good as a rest’, or so the proverb goes. As one who is ill at ease when relaxing and always on the go, I can only hope this Victorian sagacity continues to prove correct as I embark upon the greatest challenge of my life.
For the last 26 years, I have worked for John Lewis & Partners, a well known British department store. Starting in the Dress Fabrics department selling paper patterns, I made my way through Kitchenware, Menswear, Gifts, China & Glass and Womenswear at various levels of management. From the branch in Reading, I advanced to head office where I worked for the Head of Intelligence gathering information about our competitors. All was strictly above board, but this job gave me a fascinating insight into retailing. This unique experience developed my enquiring mind and writing skills: every report was seen and signed by the chairman of the ‘Partnership’, who was the only Partner permitted to write in green ink. I moved through Promotions, Product Development and Packaging before landing my first job as a buyer. In that role, I was fortunate to preside over a series of categories including upholstery, gifts, games, home fragrance, gift food, hampers and, of course, Christmas. My head told me that I should stick with the business until retirement*. My heart muttered in disagreement, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, but never emphatic. When a sweeping restructure was announced in January, my role was made redundant. My heart finally found its voice. With a little reassurance from some very wise friends, I chose to listen.
So it was that last week I left the company that’s kept me solvent for more than half of my life. It would have felt like a bigger step, had I not lived with the idea for ten months already. I was fortunate that during my long notice period I was able to make plans for the future. I share those with you now, because you and this blog have played a big part in forming them.
I started writing The Frustrated Gardener in 2012, just prior to the Olympic Games in London. It was intended to be an exploration of social media, an escape from work and an adventure into the world of gardens and gardening. I had lost a work/life balance and any sense of worth beyond being a ‘Partner’. My degree in Landscape Management was already sixteen years old and I felt disconnected from my first love, gardening. The project worked and soon I had a clue about writing and communicating. My garden fuelled my writing and my writing fulled my gardening, resulting in a body of work far greater than I had ever imagined. I started to wonder whether my blog might lead to something and, sure enough, it did. I gained followers and found myself in magazines and on the television. So far, so good. Then came an allotment, my amazing partner John (aka The Beau) and, finally, an opportunity to change the course of my career. It did not take long to decide what to do.
I have always felt that garden retailing is lacking something, especially in the online space. Many websites push tools, seeds and plants at those in the know with very little guidance for those less knowledgeable or confident. Advice and inspiration are generally accessed via books and nowadays social media. There’s a lot of information out there, some of it good, some of it lacking, but, rarely is the product and know-how brought together in one place. With my new business, Dan Cooper Garden, I want to correct that by lining up the very best garden products and accompanying them with expert advice and engaging inspiration. We all have too much stuff and too little time to be buying badly and feeling our way forward in the dark. I hope that through Dan Cooper Garden I can do all the hard work for my customers, giving them the time to enjoy their gardens as much as I enjoy mine. And I’d like to bring a little bit of my flair and love of colour to the subject too: life’s too short to be neutral. I want to create an outstanding resource for garden lovers that’s useful, beautiful, responsible and trustworthy, something I believe will be unique and engaging.
If all goes to plan, dancoopergarden.com will launch in early spring with content only, followed by a fully transactional launch a month or so later. The scale I am reaching for will not happen overnight. Content takes a long time to create (guess what I’ll be doing for the next three months) and like many start-ups, I’ll be funding the project myself. The prospect is thrilling and terrifying in equal measure; there’s nothing quite as motivating or sobering as knowing you could be bankrupt in twelve months. Fortunately, I have the support of my family and friends, including the extraordinarily talented Marianne Majerus who took the photographs featured in this post (presented in high resolution so that they can be fully appreciated) and Lewie Evans who continues to work on the brand identity for both Dan Cooper Garden and The Frustrated Gardener. Here’s a sneak peek:
So, what will become of The Frustrated Gardener? Fear not, it will continue, along the same lines that it does now. The blog will be getting a makeover when Dan Cooper Garden launches and there will be clear links between the two websites. However, The Frustrated Gardener will always remain an independent and personal endeavour, reflecting me, my garden and my views. Importantly, it will not be used to promote my business, preserved as a place for me to reflect, enlighten and occasionally let off steam: I imagine there may be a few ups and downs to share in the months ahead! The Beau will continue to post alongside me whenever he has the time.
Although I am only four days into the job, I have a strong sense that those Victorians had a point. I don’t feel the need for a holiday and I wake up every morning raring to go. I feel happier and more motivated than I have in years. The boss is a bit of a slave-driver, but I only have myself to blame for that.
If you have any comments or feedback on my plans, I’d love for you to leave a comment. After all, I am hoping I can persuade a good number of you to be my customers one day soon 😉 TFG.
*some of you may recall Project Dahlia, which was my plan to travel around the world visiting and writing about gardens. This would have formed part of my ‘Long Leave’, a benefit awarded to Partners with over 25 years’ service. Partners’ jobs are kept open and they are paid fully for 6 months whilst taking time out to recharge their batteries. Due to the pandemic, I was unable to avail myself of this reward, so it forms part of my redundancy package. In turn, it will fund my fledgling business. Perhaps one day, if I am successful, I can resurrect Project Dahlia and take The Beau on the trip of a lifetime.