The secret society of the Scottish estate gardener is a little know subject that I shall now offer, at risk to my personal safety, a little insight.
In days gone by, an apprentice gardener would be carefully vetted and chosen by the estate factor, more commonly known as the "wee laird" or " the lairds sooker". Once employed the new boy would be handed down a simple bonnet as uniform, from a previous worker. These bonnets always showed signs of wear and alterations as a result of being passed down over the years from employees with different head sizes. The bonnet would have to be worn at all times and failure to do so always resulted in summary dismissal.
During the first two years the new boy would be given such tasks as emptying the estate septic tanks by hand to prepare compost for the greenhouse hot boxes.
Once two years were in, the apprentice would then be handed down a uniform simple flat cap, again for another employee who had moved up the ladder so to speak.
No longer the new boy, the apprentice gardener would now be allowed to handle dung unsupervised, be taught the art of trampling and turning over the compost heap, and the luxury of staying all night in the greenhouse during winter, having to stoke the boiler every hour to ensure the correct temperature was kept.
After completing his apprenticeship, the journeyman gardener would be presented, by the Lairds wife, a new, dark coloured eight piece cap.
This entitled him to be shouted at by the head gardener without delegation, and the privilege of cleaning tools and equipment, and the head gardeners wellington boots, (inside and out) and properly lining the insoles with straw during the winter months.
Only after reaching the age of fifty five could the journeyman gardener reach the heady heights of Head Gardener. This involved a secret initiation, followed by a public celebration of the award of the "Scone Bonnet". This bonnet, always oversized and exclusively made from Harris Tweed, would be presented, almost like a Knighthood, by the Laird himself, with a speech in old Scots Gaelic.
Here is a quote from the history of Harris Tweed:
Waulking the Fabric
Waulking has two important effects. Firstly it cleanses the cloth and eliminates excess lanolin, oils, dirt, and other impurities. And secondly, it makes the material softer and thicker.
Originally this was done by literally ‘walking’ (i.e. treading) the fabric in water, perhaps treated with a proportion of URINE for its ammonia as a cleansing agent. But don’t worry, nowadays the process involves nothing more than pure water.
Because of the ancient preparation of the tweed, the head gardener would now always be affectionately referred to as " the big piss head "
Many of Scotland's estate gardens open to the public still adopt this little-known practice, and tradition, so any of you who are lucky enough to visit these beautiful locations in full bloom, always look out for the man with the big Harris Tweed bonnet, and ask him " are you a big piss head" spectators will always find the response amazing.