Anne-Laure Chadeyras, Software Engineer and Gardener

I have always been interested in gardening. Very early on, my parents taught me and my brother about how important food is. They made us try everything so that our taste would build itself. My grandmothers on both sides of the family are great cooks. On my mother’s side, there’s a Mediterranean inspiration. On my father’s side, it is generally a traditional French cooking inspiration that prevails. My paternal grandmother has been growing most of her food for most of her life. She’s 96 and still grows an amazing kitchen garden. For as long as I can remember, our parents always told us when we were eating food made with her garden’s harvest. I remember key plants from each of their gardens – in my own garden today, there is (either from cuttings or seedlings) a descendant of each of the key plants that grew in the house where I grew up. So, my love of gardens has always been there and I am so grateful that my parents and grandparents had outside spaces and loved them as they did.

My name is Anne-Laure Chadeyras and I am a software engineer. I started my career in International Project Management, working in Identity and Access Management for an Investment Bank. After two years in Paris, I moved to the London office. I have left that company and now work for Nested.com as a Software Engineer.

My current job was a big change, on many levels. It was my first job after I retrained, my first job as a software engineer, my first job at a start-up, and my first job at a company that isn’t French. When I graduated from Flatiron School’s online Software Engineering program, I thought it would be good to get used to speaking about my final school project with strangers; I asked if I could take part in the London campus project showcase. I knew there would be potential employers there and fellow students who I would be able to speak with – they would help me get a better idea of what kind of job I could get at what kind of company. That’s where I met Nested’s Head of Engineering and how the recruitment process started – everyone I met during the process inspired me and made me think I had found the right company.

I was born and raised in Paris, France. Apart from my travels and a semester abroad when I was at University, I had always lived in Paris, but knowing someday that I would live in another country. I always loved the UK, and when the occasion presented itself, I went for it and moved to London.

Outside of my job, I love gardening – my grandmother’s kitchen garden and my partner’s love of flowers are my main inspirations. When my partner and I started gardening together, I was really into growing food, and he was really into growing flowers and raspberries. Our garden today is a mix of both. Watching nature is also an inspiration. I had never realised how much you can do to preserve biodiversity in a small city garden. With the right plants and a few bird feeders, you can attract amazing wildlife. I also get many ideas from looking around me; simply looking at the front gardens in my neighbourhood gives me great ideas. And, of course, books and the internet are an infinite source of inspiration.

We have a classic English back garden, with a lawn, borders and a patio area with a barbecue. We also have a very small roof terrace that is bursting with flowers and colours. On that roof terrace, there is a tiny greenhouse where I have grown hundreds of seeds (mainly food, but not only). The inside of our flat is another garden, with over 70 plants. Our window sills are miniature gardens, the stairs that lead to the garden are another one, more of a shade garden. And even in the main garden, there are many different areas. Our neighbours find it quite amusing that the lawn shrinks and the borders widen every other month. There is also a high brick wall at the end of the garden that is changing more and more into a live green wall. Wildflowers, ferns, and wild European orchids grow in the wall. What I mean to say is that anything can be a garden, and in all conditions, there will be plants thriving.

In terms of what we are growing, there is variety too. We grow a lot of berries, as they are great in the British climate: raspberries and strawberries mainly, but also redcurrant, blackcurrant, blackberries, and gooseberries. We grow rhubarb, apples, cherries and peaches, and vegetables like courgettes, cucumbers, lettuces, tomatoes, shallots, potatoes, and onions. Finally, we grow dozens of different flowers, but mainly sunflowers, lavender, daisies, rudbeckias, echinaceas, cosmos, climbers like jasmin or clematis, and this year, for the first time, dahlias. We also have a dozen palm trees, but they are young and small as they are seedlings from my parents’ garden.

With the Covid-19 lockdown and the amazing weather, we would spend somewhere around 20 hours a week in the garden. We go every day, but don’t always stay long. In regular times, we spend maybe 12 or 15 hours in the garden every week, sometimes the whole weekend. In winter, we probably spend an hour or two every week. The time we spend in the garden is not necessarily time we spend working; just observing the garden is great. We observe insects, worms, birds, cats, foxes, and everything else that surrounds us.

What I love the most about gardening is that there is an infinity of possibilities. Sometimes, I am just amazed at what nature can do. Plants grow in the most unexpected places, so why not try something unusual? You can collect seeds and cuttings from anywhere; sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t. If it doesn’t, give it another go and try doing something different. The same goes for containers. There are so many that you can reuse from your groceries, for example. You can sow seeds in egg boxes, and once your seeds germinate, simply split them and pot or plant them. Egg boxes behave like fibre pots and will decompose, as they are organic matter. As long as you pierce holes at the bottom of the containers, you can use anything from tins/cans to plastic bottles. This infinity of possibilities is always very exciting and stimulates your mind and body.

There are many challenges and opportunities for growing a garden in London. The first challenge is the foxes. London is known for its fox population; our local foxes are beautiful and healthy, but sometimes they get a little bit too playful or decide to have a fight in the middle of our flower bed or kitchen garden. We also lose a few plants every year to snails, but I guess it’s a good thing as they are an indicator that your soil isn’t polluted. Another challenge is space. We have been dreaming of an allotment for a while, but it is impossible to get one around where we live. The waiting list opens once every ten years or so.

However, space is also an opportunity here; people who are into plants and gardening make the most of what they have. You sometimes see amazing front gardens that are less than 10 square metres. Because plants are growing more and more fashionable, there are more and more garden centres opening, and that means that there is a greater probability that you will be able to find a specific plant specimen somewhere around London. I believe the growing popularity of gardening triggers creativity and awareness of people’s surroundings and raises environmental questions too.

We’ve done a lot of great projects with our garden. As our neighbours said a few years ago, it is beautiful seeing a garden come back to life. I also think that seeing what you can do with just a few pots and a pack of sunflower seeds gave some of our friends’ ideas for their garden. And the more people who are inspired to do something with plants, the more we will be surrounded by beautiful nature. Over the years, I have also collected a lot of seeds. Every time I get a plant out of a seed I collected myself, I am amazed. A few years ago, we planted about 30 sunflowers that we had grown ourselves in the middle of the wildflower meadow that grew in our local park. We did it at night so people wouldn’t know about it until they bloomed. It looked amazing and people loved it. I suppose our Sunflower Operation was successful!

We have an infinity of future goals with our gardens. A garden is never finished; it is a living entity that grows and transforms itself. There is something we would like to do and I have already started sowing seeds for it. Just across the street, there used to be 7 ornamental cherry trees growing through a concrete area. The council decided to remove all the concrete and make it a green space. It was planted in the autumn and it is starting to look really nice. We’ve been looking after the area along with some other neighbours; every time we are there working, people stop and thank us for doing it, telling us how much joy it brings them daily. This place has the potential to be even more beautiful and we’ve decided to do something about it. So that’s one very concrete goal.

I do see similarities between gardening and my current occupation. As a software engineer, you never have just one way of doing things; the same goes for gardening. Just as all engineers have their preferred ways of doing things and feel strongly about some processes or concepts, the same goes on with gardeners. There is also a strong community around both activities. Gardening and engineering also require a lot of patience, a lot of experimentation, and are perfectly suited to life-long learners.

Gardening has been a benefit to my technological career. I believe that to be productive in your job, you need to take a break sometimes. And taking a break to garden is very simple home-working. Even a short time spent gardening has the ability to make you feel good, physically and mentally. With a garden, just like in your job, it is important to look at the big picture, as well as looking at individual plants/areas. Gardening has taught me to be more patient and to look carefully to see the smallest changes. It has also taught me that, sometimes, it’s healthy for yourself to take a step back and let things happen, even if they are beyond your control.

My best piece of advice for anyone interested in gardening is to open their eyes and research their plants. People speak about having a green thumb, but gardening is all about having a green eye. You can learn and achieve a lot by simply looking at what’s going on in your garden. For example, some people tend to over-water or under-water their house plants. But with a look at them and their soil and a bit of research, it is easy to know what to do. I think it’s also important to say that gardening is available to anyone, beginner or not. After all, we were all beginners at some point, and there are many things that you can do without technical equipment. Also, remember that many objects from daily life can be reused for seedlings or as containers.

There is always more than tech. Although we are surrounded by technology, there is so much more than just that. People often assume that people in tech are always available, always online, and there seems to be a very fine line between work and personal life. In my experience, tech or non-tech people consider that we only are what we do. When I say that I am an engineer, it is not rare for people to assume writing code is all I do. Our passions give us perspective, our passions give us ideas, and our passions bring us joy. We have the ability to create by using our tech skills and our passions. I really believe that the tech world is enriching itself thanks to our passions. And our passions are enriching themselves thanks to tech. And the more we share, the more the world will see us for what we truly are. Because no matter how much we love our jobs, we bring our true selves to work. The time we spend doing what we love is never a loss for tech. The happier and the more open-minded we are, the better tech there will be. Finally, sharing our passions is a way to reinforce the sense of community that is already present in tech and make it even more genuine.

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  • Momo

    An inspiring article. Well done!

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