Everyone always asks me what got me into horticulture and being plant-mad… and the answer is definitely my grandparents!
My first memories are of my Nan and Grandad’s vast greenhouses, and plant-filled gardens. I remember orange alstroemeria, Zonal geraniums sat in fancy stone pots as well as much less fancy, chipped “crock” (terracotta) pots, shasta daisies, in short and tall variety! During iris season, we used to spend time guessing what colours the blooms would be too. Did you know the rhizomes of blue flowered types are actually tinged purple??
I soon had a flower patch in my garden at home…
I remember going to plant out one of my first specimens, a trailing tradescantia, which is a houseplant, but that didn’t matter, I was eager to get my patch filled! I went to plant it out and, in typical clumsiness, stood on the plant. This is a sad memory for me, as I vividly remember running indoors howling!
I soon developed an interest in herbs. I think this stemmed from buying Jekka McVicar’s complete herb book. I was fascinated by the fact you could use plants for eating and remedies! One of my star turns was lavender biscuits you know! I also loved mixing up concoctions. This was something that had a bit of a renaissance for me when James Wong brought out his show. I loved mixing up his recipes, even making some of the hand creams, however my breath freshener mix went a bit wrong and all dried up!
I seem to remember beginning to read gardening mags from a teenage stage, but hiding this from any school friends, as I tried to stay ‘cool’! Then, I got involved in the school garden, and when hoeing and weeding it at lunchtimes, and seemed to forget it was in full view of the lunch hall! Oh well… I then went on to sell plants at WI markets with my Nan, as well as plants at the end of my parents driveway!
I neared the end of my years at school, not quite knowing what I wanted to do. I had achieved good GCSE marks in geography, art and English I think…although my memory is hazy now! I seemed to gravitate towards Horticultural College, so I enrolled onto the National Diploma in Horticulture, a 2-year course, which seemed perfect for someone who hadn’t made their mind up and really didn’t fancy university!
The course was really varied… and included subjects from economics to sports turf… and tractor driving to biology! Well, I couldn’t drive a tractor very well (I once reversed over some girders as I faffed around trying to find the brakes) and every time I was in sports turf class I got soaked by the hose, as everyone pranked me!
The subject I loved, and was good at, was the “plant idents”. This was a session where 20 or so samples of plant were lined up in vases and you must name them! This I could do- and quite well…! Plants had always come naturally to me, I seemed to soak in their Latin without any effort. I excelled at this, and it fed my thirst for learning. I pored over books, fantasizing about plants I might never see (although some of which I now have!!). I always marvel when I see meconopsis in real life, as I spent so many years only seeing their glittery sparkle in books.
I also liked garden design and landed some work experience and helping duties with a local designer, which included getting to visit some country homes as his “right-hand man”! However, as I neared the end of my course, I still had no idea what I really wanted to do, and nor did I bother addressing it. Even in the final few weeks, I still had no plan- typical disorganized!
UNTIL… I noticed a competition in the local newspaper… TO BE CONTINUED!