Turning over a new leaf

Debbie Bloomfield talks about how she changed from being a computer programmer to a flexible gardener after five years out of work looking after her children.

Debbie Bloomfield was a computer programme, but hadn't worked for five years since her second son was born. She was looking for something flexible as she had no family nearby. When her son started school she was chatting to another parent with a son in the same class. She told the dad that she was looking for a job and mentioned that she liked gardening.

“He asked me if I'd like a job,” says Debbie. She was taken aback. “I thought is this person for real,” she laughs, “especially when he started talking about how flexible the job was. I thought it sounded too good to be true. Jobs like that don't exist.”

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It was true, though. Debbie's fellow parent is Martin Carty, director of the Warwickshire-based Martin Carty Gardening which scooped the top award for micro-employers at the Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Awards.

Martin Carty Gardening operates through a system of annualised hours so gardeners can choose their hours and make up any shortfall if, for instance, their children are ill. Debbie thought she had nothing to lose so decided to give it a go. She started doing weeding and tidying up, scraping moss from flagstones under Martin's watchful eye. After a couple of months she was left to her own devices, although she has since benefited from doing a training course last year. Debbie is a keen gardener in her own home. Inspired by a desire to show her children where food comes from, she had dug a vegetable patch for them.

Initially she did 270 hours a year at Martin Carty Gardening, taking the whole of August off as well as January and February and doing longer hours in the busier spring and summer months.

She has increased that to 400 recently, taking on more hours in the autumn when there is a lot of tidying of leaves, pruning and preparing for the winter to do and doing some hours in January and February.

She works very locally so she can cycle to school in time for pick-ups and drop-offs. Debbie is lined up for promotion in the next few months and will be driving the Martin Carty van around different sites and writing up job lists for other gardeners.

Debbie has also been able to put her computer programming skills to good use. She has set up the company's website and is designing a database to help Martin organise the annualised hours rota now that the company has grown. It's more of a management job and Debbie is looking forward to it. It also means she can do some work from home.

It's now nearly three years since she started working at Martin Carty Gardening and she says she really enjoys the change of career. “I enjoy being outside more than I ever thought I would,” she says. “As a computer programmer I was stuck at my desk.”

She also feels she has learnt a lot about gardening and she has so far never had to arrange for anyone else to pick up her children, now aged seven and 10, from school. If her children are sick she knows she can make up her hours the next day or week. “For Martin, children come first.”

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