…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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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”.