One of my friends, met on the train during my commute to work, suggested we check out a meeting of the San Diego Horticultural Society, which is held once a month at the Del Mar fairgrounds. In my mind I pictured 20-30 local farmers and growers, sitting around talking about soil, and bugs and water issues, but even though it sounded boring I said I would tag along, as long as we went for fish tacos before. We headed down there about 6:00 pm and found the parking lot filled with close to 100 Cars and more entering the lot right behind us. The betting place must still be open I said, still assuming our meeting was going to be forgettable.
We walked up to the entrance and stopped short. There were at least 300 people milling around tables filled with every imaginable category of plants and cash was quickly changing hands. What in the world was that bizarre looking bloom, I wanted that! Look at that passionflower. I’ve never seen that color- the blooms always remind me of Little Shop of Horrors.
A woman stepped up to the microphone and announced the meeting would begin in 10 minutes. The crowd scurried around to make last minute purchases or to find a good seat. By this time another 100 or so more people had arrived and there were no chairs left- so people were perched on tables, railings or on the red carpeted stairs.
Our speaker tonight is Pat Welsh, a local gardening expert from Del Mar and the author of too many gardening books to list here. Everyone broke into applause and there were even a few hoots and hollers.
An older woman, looking a bit like a cross between Katherine Hepburn, perhaps a decade or two before On Golden Pond, and more than a bit of the infectious attitude of Meryl Streep’s “Julia”, headed towards the front with a strong confident stride. On the table nearby were various gardening implements and at least a dozen cymbidium orchids many in bloom and all with multiple spikes.
She put on the wireless mic with help from her assistant, and stepped up to the first pot. She laid it on its side, made a fist and pounded on it to loosen the roots from their plastic prison “free at last” she exclaimed! It was a remarkably violent act and particularly coming from a woman who, at first glance had appeared to be frail. The roots released their hold on the pot with this assertive guidance and plopped onto the table, orchid bark skidding across top and the empty pot bouncing onto the floor. Don’t worry, she said, I have one or two more of those at home, and the crowd roared.
I was given my first plant forty years ago by a friend, she said. I fed it. It grew huge, full of dark green leaves, but never bloomed. Fact was, I had too many trees. Someone told me cymbidiums need sun, enough of it to make their leaves turn kind of yellow. So— BANGO!—Down came those trees!… Well, maybe not EXACTLY in that order, she said with a grin. But whatever!…. Now my cymbidiums bloom their heads off!
She placed the plant with its roots tightly bunched around the bark on a wooden cutting board. She picked up the long handled hatchet from the table beside her, swung it over her head and let the blade slice the plant in half, cutting off a gorgeous bloom and a spike or two that weren’t quite mature yet. Several audience members gasped (including me) at her seeming disregard for the gorgeous bloom and the emerging spikes that would never have the opportunity to bloom now. Others laughed and applauded and I looked around with curiosity at this unusual woman, and this eclectic crowd.
There were high school kids and senior citizens. Men and women, boys and girls. An aesthetician’s dream, most wore skin that had grown up outdoors, basking in the sunlight and they all looked marvelously healthy and happy and calm. Some members were dressed very casually, although some of the women had dressed up and applied makeup before they headed here for the meeting. There were couples and small groups of people who had obviously known each other for years.
One thing all of us had in common was a passion for living things, gardening and nurturing; plants, butterflies and birds. There were those who just simply had to know the botanical names and common names of every single plant. There were collectors on the hunt for a new specimens for their portfolio of orchids, protea, or succulents and there were those, like me, who sought plants that had strange or interesting shapes , colors, blooms, leaves or limbs or those that bore unusual fruits like passionfruit or pineapple guava, and who could care less about the proper names.
I am a very visual person and buy what intrigues or pleases me by its scent or taste. I buy wine by the design of the label, the personality of the winemaker or the taste. I look at and embrace plants the same way and as with all my passions, over the years it was excessive, exciting and deeply rewarding.
I haven’t been to a meeting for a long time but I have kept up my membership and attend some events, and tonight I go again to see the infamous Pat Welsh, and be reminded once again why I love gardening and the people who share that special bond. Many years of experimentation have rid my yard of what was once a ho-hum landscape and given me a beautiful retreat that although small, brings me endless pleasure.
By Sharon J Corrigan
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