My First Fling…

Typical planting style
Typical planting style

…of  the Garden Blogging Spring Fling kind of course!

When I told people I work with that I was flying all the way from the UK to San Francisco to meet up with 70ish other garden bloggers and look around gardens for a weekend I got some rather strange looks.  They said San Francisco was  a great city and I would have fun but you could tell that the whole garden blogging side of things was alien to them and if I am honest half way across the States looking down at the huge empty spaces below I started to wonder what on earth I was doing.

I would only actually know one person, Victoria.  I have spoken to a few on-line but not that many so what on earth was I doing spending all that money and travelling all that way?  Would they talk to me, would I be included?  I can do small talk but at work; would I be able to find the courage to start conversations with complete strangers?  Would the trips to the garden be worth all that effort?  Was I mad?  The answer to all those questions turned out to be Yes – although we already knew that  was true of the last one.

After spending two days sightseeing in San Francisco with Victoria we had a gentle introduction to the main event with a cocktail party at a lovely lady, Shirley Watt’s garden.  It was a warm evening and people were in high spirits with many catching up with friends they hadn’t seen for a year.  It all felt quite alien to start with and I felt very self-conscious that I’m not up on sub-tropical planting which is very prevalent in this area.  However by the end of the evening I found myself chatting with a few others in the front room away from the cacophony  of the crowd and feeling for at home.

One of the many images that comes to mind when I think back was the noise that greeted me when I entered the hotel foyer at the start of day  1.  It reminded me of the films you see of migrating geese or swans landing somewhere and the terrible noise they make.  Cries and hugs were  everywhere made louder by the wealth of accents from across the States.  It was quite overwhelming and equally so when we boarded the coaches.

Vikki and Simon
Vicki and Simon

Day 1 involved visiting 3 private gardens and a nursery.  The first garden, which I really really liked was tucked away behind an apartment block.  It was cool and shady and full of sub-tropical planting but also lots of vignettes of reclaimed items and pots of succulents.  Whilst we were in good spirits any ice that still needed breaking was firmly dispelled by a wonderful encounter between one of our party, Vicki, and the resident parrot, Simon.  Simon adopted Vicki immediately and wouldn’t budge but if you sang the words of ‘I am your sunshine….’ he would sing back in a deep lugubrious voice.  It was very funny.  The temperatures increased and by the third garden we had started to hunt the shade although the bloggers from Austin still claimed to be cooler than at home.

San Francisco Botanic Garden at sunset
San Francisco Botanic Garden at sunset

Day 1 ended with a dinner at the San Francisco Botanic Gardens.  We had genteel drinks in the conservatory followed by a three course dinner in a marquee.  I was pleased that there was no seating plan so I could seat with people I had met and not have to introduce myself yet again.  It amused me during the weekend that my description of where I lived became more and more vague ending up as ‘left of Birmingham’.  I was also fascinated by the US bloggers perception of English Gardens.  The consensus was that there are lots of walled gardens with what I suppose we would term ‘cottage garden’ planting.  I tried to explain a number of times that there are lots of styles in England but I don’t think I was persuasive enough to dispel the ideas the gardening media have created.

Bloggers cooling their feet
Bloggers cooling their feet

Day 2 was  to be quite honest a challenging day.  San Francisco and its surrounding area was by this time in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures in the high 90s (low 30Cs).  To add to this the air conditioner on the coach I was on wasn’t working.  Even the Texans were beginning to fade; as they so rightly said at home they wouldn’t be outside in such temperatures.  For me personally the start of the day was a little frustrating.  There was a photography lesson at the botanic garden which was oversubscribed and so the photographer struggled to get across his message and then we went to the headquarters of Sunset magazine which was one of the sponsors.  Not knowing the magazine the talks were of little interest but that is fine since the event is aimed at US bloggers and I am sure if I was organising something similar in the UK similar talks would be included.  We then went on to a large national heritage garden which could just as easily be sited in the UK.  By this time the heat was draining so we were grateful that the owner of the next garden encouraged us to sit with our feet in the pool.  By then I had made friends with a small group of bloggers who had a similar sense of humour and outlook.  One more garden to visit, again more of the wonderfully arranged succulents and quirky reclaimed artifacts and we finally got home.  As to be expected with any event of this type people had made various dinner plans for around the city and I went to dinner with Victoria and Vicki.

Bloggers at lunch - day 3
Bloggers at lunch – day 3

By the last day I felt as if I belonged and had known people for years.   I was sad to say good-bye to Layanee who I had fun with comparing my British pronunciation with her Rhode Island ones.  Then I good humouredly muttered around the first garden with Dee who was also hot and unappreciative of a cactus garden in the ridiculous heat. I had nearly given up on day 3 as I had felt so unwell the night before due to the heat but I had been persuaded that I  shouldn’t miss it as there was a very good colour garden.  Boy were they right – I have never seen such an explosion of colour, it was like a get up and go injection and lifted my heat baked spirits completely.  By this time it was becoming apparent that the bloggers I had hooked up with had expected me to be shy and retiring, oh and patient!  As if – by the end of the day it was suggested that I should change the blog name to The Kick Ass Gardener, a notion I am still pondering.  I ended day 3 in the hotel restaurant with 5 others discussing which garden we had liked best and why.  A predictable choice for discussion I know but it was fascinating to see how each person viewed the gardens and I felt that their approaches such as whether the garden served its purpose were slightly different to the UK approach – the word ‘lovely’ was not used!

More bloggers at lunch - day 3
More bloggers at lunch – day 3

I ended the weekend sad at saying goodbye to so many fabulous new friends.  Despite the heat which got to everyone we had seen something like 12 inspiring gardens which I will probably include in later posts although my head is so full I don’t really know where to start.  We had laughed and taken the mickey out of each other, we had argued over gardening preferences, we had talked about our families, our  dreams, our  struggles.  I felt welcomed and included right  from the first day.  The organisers Kelly and Andrea had all done an amazing job working around unexpected issues such as the heat, the logistics of getting round the Gay Pride Parade, cancelled flights and the uncertainties of the  BART strike.  The garden owners provided endless amounts of water, ice, food and even the use of a swimming pool.

Even more bloggers at lunch - day 3
Even more bloggers at lunch – day 3

Several of my new friends asked me if I thought it had been worth the long journey and cost.  I would without doubt say absolutely yes for three reasons.  I saw some wonderful gardens the  style of which I am unlikely to see in the UK; I made some great friends who I hope to stay in touch with and travelling halfway around the world on my own, negotiating connecting flights etc has  given me the confidence and appetite for more travel.  I intend to go to another Fling either next year or the year after so as the ex-governor of California would say, “I’ll be back”.

 

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24 Comments Add yours

  1. Fling has flung, Helen, and now you are officially a Patient Flinger. Cheers, till next time!

  2. What a great synopsis you gave of your trip. Glad you felt welcome here in the US even if the temps were so high. When we traveled to London a few years back, we felt very comfortable in the city. But, the next time I head your way I’m going to want to see more gardens than cities. 🙂

  3. What a fantastic thing to do Helen. Great challenge, great experience. I have been following your blog even though I have been in my Zen Den for a while. Will re emerge soon.

  4. Cathy says:

    Thanks for such a lively account of your fling, Helen – I am so glad all your travelling fell into place and you found your niche within the bigger group. It was a brave thing to do and you should be proud of yourself. Great to meet other garden bloggers, particularly ones you have conversed with as part of that blogging, and I look forward to hearing more about the gardens, although I am sure you will have lots to tell us about your own garden now you are back home. Welcome back!

    1. Diana Studer says:

      this post leaves me with an impression of a butterfly bursting out of its chrysalis – looking forward to seeing your wings spread in flight! (PS you are a far far braver garden blogger than I am)

  5. zora read says:

    It sounds like you had an amazing time and saw some amazing gardens. I have been on some dressmaker bloggers meet ups in England and if your meet up was similar i bet you had a fantastic time. I am looking forward to reading your posts on the gardens you visited. I know when temperatures are that high it is very difficult to function normally so well done you for persevering. The photos are great.

  6. An excellent summary, but I’m kind of upset I missed the parrot singing “You are my sunshine”.

  7. Wonderful replay of this past weekend’s events. Great to meet you and chat a bit on the bus. Simon must have been tired, he didn’t sing ‘You are my Sunshine’ for our group.

  8. Great synopsis Helen. I’m so glad you found the fling worthy of your travels. I really enjoyed meeting you… sounds like many others did too! We all know Portland is next year, and Toronto after that… might we anticipate the UK version one day…? I’d LOVE to come visit and see the diversity of gardens y’all have over there 😉 DISCLAIMER: I’m not a native Texan, nor a southerner at that, but I’ve adopted the contraction for “you all” to reiterate your comment on listening to the various accents from across the States. Feel free to adopt it for your new Kick Ass Gardening Blog…

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Andrea
      You arent the first the mention a UK version although I wonder how many US bloggers would want to make the trek and how would we choose what gardens. However, if you are in the UK give me a shout and I can show you around a bit

    2. Diana Studer says:

      What about Meet at Malvern (with Gail and Frances)?

  9. Thanks for posting this story. I’m glad you had such a good time. I hope to go to the Fling one day; the finances didn’t accommodate a trip to SF this year. Love the bit about Simon!–back in the 1990s, I had an elderly relative who owned a parakeet that would wheezily whistle the first few bars to the “Jeopardy!” theme song (a quiz show), but “You Are My Sunshine” beats the stuffing out of that. 🙂

  10. Leslie says:

    It was wonderful to meet you Helen! The British perspective was an added bonus and I can’t wait to see your kick ass transformation even if it is aspirational at the moment.

  11. Jamie says:

    Wow Helen, glad to see you’re having such a great time. We loved San Francisco when we visited in 2011 and hopefully we’ll make it back sometime. I’ve never actually met another garden blogger, despite doing it for 5 years now. Must do something like this one day!

  12. Annette says:

    Only goes to show how good it is to go out and broaden your horizon, making new friends, leaving your comfort zone, well done! And I’m sure your garden gave you a happy welcome when you got back 🙂

  13. I am so pleased you had a great time, despite the heat, that would have finished me off. I expect you took lots of photos of the gardens visited and hope to see them on future posts? Now you have conquered distant solo travel maybe there will be no stopping you! X

  14. Pauline says:

    It sounds as if you had a wonderful time, good for you going all that way by yourself! I will look forward to your posts about the garden, its good to see gardens that are so different from our own.So glad our temperatures don’t get that high, I would have flaked out!!

  15. Jennifer says:

    What a wonderful trip. I live on the opposite coast way up in Maine. Thankfully hot here is anywhere near 25C which is about 85F. We all start to quiver and get mad. Our gardens are beautiful but those lush sub-tropicals would be dead in a week – frozen at their roots. I too love to travel and this sounds just like the kind of thing I would like to do. But I would rather see English gardens – especially those that aren’t cottage gardens! I want to go to Christopher Lloyd’s house. Bad. I’m glad you had a great time and I must say the heat in SF was unusual. So glad you liked your trip and isn’t it amazing how much open land is here in the US?

  16. So great to see familiar faces! Thank you, Helen!

  17. Tim says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences “over there”. I don’t know how anyone can cope with the heat, I’m sure I would never get used to it. Anything over 65F and I start to wilt.

  18. So sorry I missed it and a chance to meet you Helen. I hope to go to Portland next year or Ontario the year after as that is but a few hours away by car for me. I loved hearing your thoughts on the whole event.

  19. Alison says:

    Oh, I do hope you make it to Portland next year. I think you’ll love it even more, now that you’ve broken the ice and met some of us. My first was Seattle, and I think you’ve captured the essence of being a newbie really well in this post. I remember that wall of noise, I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t stay in the lobby at the Seattle hotel (it was a very small lobby).

  20. Good for you, Helen. It’s certainly a long way to go, but it sounded a lovely idea when I read that it was coming up. Glad you took up the challenge and have given the rest of us some vicarious enjoyment. Thank you.

  21. Hoov says:

    I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to meet you, Helen, (there were so many attendees!) but I am glad you enjoyed your visit to California with our great variety of gardens and gardeners. I enjoyed reading the account of your trip and seeing some of the gardens through the eyes of someone from a very different climate. After reading this post, I’m almost glad I was ill the second day and missed all that heat!

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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