Arriving in the USA

I’m finally back posting on this blog again. I have been absent for over a year because I have been in the thick of a two year Diploma programme at the Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden Wisley, committed to doing another blog diary which unfortunately remains private - but at some point I will be posting some highlights of my time there and will be referencing things from there I’m sure in other posts.

I am currently the GCA/ RHS Interchange Fellowship at Longwood Gardens. I will be here for 1 year and is an amazing opportunity to work in another prestigious garden of exceptional quality and standard, and be able to travel around different parts of the USA related to my horticultural interests. I am hoping that now that I am in another well resourced place and that I don’t have coursework to do on top of full-time physical work and training, that I will have more time and space to explore these interests further and to really utilise these resources. I will also be pulling in experiences and thoughts that I have had before in relation to these. I am interested in how human culture and nature can work closer together, so I would like to see as much nature landscapes as possible - biomes that are unique to this country and cannot be seen in Britain, to explore the cross-cultural influences between the States and Britain and to see actual prairie and steppe vegetation and observe just how close design trends are to the actual habitats. I will also be looking into the role of community gardening, approaches to sustainable & urban horticulture, plant diversity and production - as part of understanding the current culture of horticulture and where it is heading. My dream is to run a horticultural school that involves art and business, and I would like to look at different educational set-ups and approaches to help give me ideas of how best to set up something like this.

I arrived in the States on the 27th August. I was met with the most amazing and overwhelming welcome from three GCA ladies who had come all the way from Chicago to Philadephia International airport and helped me settle into my new home for the year at Red Lion Row where students & interns live too.

From left to right Carole Sandner, Marianne Bestler, me, Betsy McCoy a GCA member local to me (in Delaware) who we met later and Celine Lille - vice chair of the GCA Scholarship committee.

My accommodation for the next year

The view outside my house at The Row

Just to compare and put into context a little - Wisley has around 40 acres of intensively gardened areas and 200 acres of land in total around the area, Longwood has around 200 acres of intensively gardened areas and just shy of 1077 acres of surrounding land belonging to be them. Wisley experiences approximately 400,000 visitors a year, Longwood has approximately 1.3 to 1.4 million visitors a year.

My first week at Longwood was an induction one - helping me to get familiar with the place and how it works there. It included CPR training, poisonous snakes (pit vipers Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake) to be aware of, tours to the deep dark depths of their boiler room - the operational heart of Longwood and a test in driving Longwood work vehicles that involved serpentining backwards around cones as part of an obstacle course.

The boiler room

The prominent message that Longwood gives out is that the skill of the hand creates the beauty, that every guest should have an extraordinary experience, and that their growth is about the continuity and well-being of their staff as well as their visitors. There is a lot going here, from a $90 million restoration project of their fountain garden to 86 acres of meadowland to explore. Photos below of the fountain garden from when I visited with my year group at Wisley in 2015 to where it's at now and an artist impression of what the garden will look like when it's finished. I admire how clever Longwood has been about not hiding the restoration of this site, but has made a point of it being on view with very good interpretation of what's going on, so that it's almost whetting people's appetites as it develops. It comes as no surprise to me that there it has aroused a lot of interest from the public and there have been talks and tours accompanying it. People are interested in the process as well as the finished product. Even the clever Nightscape light show that they have here in the evenings at the moment is priming people to get interested in coming to Longwood after dark and gearing them towards the time when the fountain garden will be completed and I am sure be putting on the most spectacular fountains and fire shows.

For me Longwood is like a modern day Versailles and aims to create great stories to tell. It is a garden that seems very different from my interest of the ecological, naturalistic and ethnobotanical, but actually Longwood embodies the height of human culture and this is integral and part of the cycle of my interests. I am fascinated by how far humans has pushed and can go with the cultivation of plants and horticulture and how they use these skills here for the purpose of delighting and enthralling other human beings. As well as general frequent posts, I will be focusing on and looking at specific aspects of the garden - for example the students gardens, the design of Robert Burle Marx, the meadows, and interesting plant combinations etc.

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