By Jim Bishop.
As this month's column marks the start of our 21st year and my 4th year as president, I thought now would be a good time to look back at what the Horticultural Society has done for me and some of my memories of the organization. To help me recall, I looked back at our historical archive, mostly of photos. I'll bet you didn't know we have an historical archive. It has been stored safely at Ida Rigby's home for the last few years and had lots of information until about 2005, when digital photography and online became the dominant means of sharing photos. However, it would be a wonderful task for an energetic volunteer to scan it into an electronic format so we could share it with a wider audience (hand up, anyone?).
But I digress, a few things stood out for me in looking through all those photos. First, we've had a lot of great events and members in the press over the years. Many of the faces are very familiar and still actively involved in SDHS. It brought back memories of some very special speakers. I wasn't able to attend all of the special speaker's presentations, but remember how excited I was when Christopher Lloyd, Penelope Hobhouse and Felding Rusher spoke. I knew them from their books and PBS but never imagined meeting them. Today, and perhaps rightly so, our horticultural superstars tend to be more local, though some like Debra Baldwin and Amy Stewart have gained national fame.
Second, all those events took a lot of time, effort and volunteers. In some ways, I think the internet has made organizing and publicizing events easier. However, it has also created a lot of competition and had significant changes on the publishing industry. This is especially true for things like plant books and magazines, where today you can find a treasure trove of information about a plant online in seconds. An iPhone is lot of easier to take to the nursery than a big stack of books.
Fred Meyer's Amaryllis Greenhouse on an SDHS tour in the 1990's
Third, gardens and gardening have changed. Looking at pictures of earlier events, there were a lot of lush green high water plants, especially perennials, maybe some tropical plants and only rarely a succulent. That all seems to have changed, and maybe it was just a coincidence, about the time we had Patrick Anderson's succulent garden on our spring garden tour. After that you start seeing succulents in almost every garden photo. I remember going to all those early meetings and being inspired to try lots of different plants that the speakers talked about. I had a perennial phase, a non-hybrid tea rose phase, an English rose phase, a South African bulb phase, a grass phase, a salvia phase and many, many others. Today, I still have remnants of most of those obsessions somewhere in the garden.
When I first toured other people’s gardens via Hort, I remember thinking; no way could I ever do this. I could however put together a springtime flower-laden high maintenance garden, but was impressed by all the sculptural, rare and unusual plants that others grew. I tried new things in the lab of my own backyard and learned from my successes and failures. Today, and largely influenced by Hort speakers, writers, plant vendors and the plant forum, my gardening style is based on what is sort of rare and unusual, yet easy to grow, and looks good most of the year.
Fourth, it was amazing to think of all the people that have volunteered over the last 20 years. For most of the first 10 years, I did my best just to make it to meetings. Most of the people I knew at meetings were the plant vendors. I already frequented many of their nurseries and as my garden filled up, I would scout their tables each month for something new, rare or unusual. Many got to know me and suggested plants I should try. I also remember Susi and her enthusiasm. She was always encouraging me to volunteer, get involved, or attend an event. Eventually, I did start to volunteer and worked as a greeter at several of the garden tours. I met Bill Teague at a Fall Garden Show when I helped with the plant sales. Gradually, and slowly, I met more and more people...but it did take a number of years. I'll tell more of the story in subsequent articles, but in 2009 I joined the SDHS Board as a one year term Member at Large. At first I was a bit nervous about it, but quickly started to feel comfortable. I had no idea at the time all of the people I would get to meet and work with and that it would change my life forever with a much bigger focus on people and less on plants. Who knew?
So why not begin writing your Hort story today I hope I’ve encouraged you become involved, volunteer and make some new friends.