When Caroline said that in a fit of madness, she had booked the 3growbags to give a talk at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, my first thought was a calm and thoughtful ‘WHAT!!?!’ I was overwhelmed with questions – ‘What will we talk about? Who will come? Would we master Powerpoint? Would Caroline behave herself?’ And, most relevant of all, ‘What happens if I curl up in a terrified heap muttering Latin plant names, and dribbling a little?’
But then Caroline, who is also our grimly bossy editor, said I could tell people about the creation of my beloved garden in Normandy to explain the gardening experience I bring to our blog. Well. I can happily drone on for CENTURIES about THAT! So I cheerfully set about assembling about 1000 slides and 40 pages of detailed script.
Being one of the founder members of the East Sussex branch of the Cottage Garden Society, meant that they recently gave us our first opportunity to present our talk to a village hall full of encouraging faces.
We practised the day before, during which my slide pack steadily reduced under Caroline’s dual personalities of non-nonsense matron and Edward Scissorhands. I was still allowed to explain how I turned a grassy weedy wilderness into a designed garden full of perennials, trees and roses.
Laura was always going to go all botanical on us, and she indeed gave us the full ‘Re-wilding the Laurisilva’. Not perhaps as nail-biting as waiting to find out who gets through the dance-off on Strictly, obviously, but even I had to admit a mild interest in her scientific ramblings. And a grudging admiration for her ability to scramble around the vertiginous hillsides of Madeira like a mountain goat – several years ago of course.
Luckily for us, 1. Gardening communities are every bit as nice in the flesh as they are online, 2. Generally anything they do is accompanied by tea and cake and 3. They are unlikely to afford Laura Kuenssberg to lead the post-talk Q and A.
So, I am thrilled to report that, as you can see from the slightly fuzzy photo at the top, we got through it. Contrary to all expectation, we all mastered the pointer-clicky thing, the people at the back of the audience were mercifully quiet sleepers, and most gratifying of all, we actually enjoyed ourselves! Bring it on!
Well anyone who was in doubt that Elaine’s fortnightly Grow-How column was based on first hand experience of hard slog, personal endeavour and passion was definitely put right by the end of the story of the creation of her spectacular Normandy garden. But let’s be honest,(and you could tell everyone in the audience was thinking the same) – you do have to be slightly unhinged to have taken it on in the first place.
But the wonderful thing about horticulture is that there are so many different angles to approach it from. I would no more have repeated drifts of planting than I would fly to the moon; why have more of the same plants when you could use the space to experiment with something new and exciting?
So I was delighted to share my own gardening roots with our lovely audiences, which started on an ecological project on the fascinating island of Madeira and ended with a Chelsea Flower Garden and a lifelong love of sub-tropical rarities.
The endemic flora of Madeira (I had previously explained, slowly, to E and C this meant plants that have evolved in Madeira and were not found growing naturally anywhere else in the world) included exciting plants such as Geranium maderense, Euphorbia mellifera and Sonchus aborescens (a tree dandelion).
Yes they take a lot of tricky manoeuvring of large pots in and out, and required the erection of a larger than average glasshouse to house them all overwinter, but nothing worth having is ever easy, so you are also free to conclude that I may be just as unhinged as my older sister……
When you get Elaine and Laura on their eccentric gardening projects, it’s effectively like watching the Duracell bunny race – which of them will go on for the longest? Although I’d done my best at the planning stage, it was no doubt the question uppermost in the minds of our audiences as they sat through Elaine’s slides of pleached crab apples; parallel perennial beds and general horticultural domination of her French castle, while still reeling from Laura’s photos of 10 foot Madeiran dandelions and gigantic specimens of Herb Robert.
Their relief at realising I, at least, could be depended upon to be an efficient starter, finisher and relatively normal, was palpable.
I was able to describe how privileged we feel to share our love of gardening with you, our blog subscribers, and that the joy of belonging to an online community – new in our lifetimes – was worth the back-breakingly hard task of getting E and L to remember log-ins, understand hashtags or indeed engage with Facebook at any level.
I assume it was this, my contribution, that’s prompted invitations to speak at other gardening clubs next year. It’s a responsibility. I’ve got a lot of work to do re-hinging my nutty gardening sisters before then.
NB: What do you think of the photo of Louise’s Great Plant this Month? Think you’ll love or hate it.
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