Well, I suppose the good news is I’ve gradually worked my way from the C to the B List as a garden speaker. For comparison’s sake, I think this is about the equivalent of a porn star getting a minor speaking part in a real movie. So I’ve gone from presenting to “no Latin names, please” garden clubs in church basements for a Dixie cup of lemonade and a piece of cake to some high octane conferences and industry events where everyone is there, you’re quite sure, to judge you. I’ve been going to some of these events for over 25 years, learning plants and my craft from speakers like Bill Hendricks, Tony Avent, and Michael Dirr. True A-list guys. I’m not in their league by any means, but it sure is a kick to play in some of the same stadiums.
I’ve already spoken or will at several exciting gigs this winter, including the OSU Short Course and the CENTS Show in Columbus, a conference at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and a conference at the Taylor Conservatory just outside of Detroit.
I love speaking for groups, from these big conferences to the small garden clubs. Every one of them brings an opportunity to meet new people, visit gardens, hear other speakers, and renew my passion for plants and gardens. And, of course, it’s a huge honor just to be asked! So I hope I don’t sound ungrateful when I bring up a certain, recurring issue that is the bad news to the good. Columbus, Indianapolis, and Detroit in January, February, and March. Hey, wake up Florida! Any chance you could use a garden speaker this winter? Arizona? Maui? Fiji? Bali? Even Tennessee? If you do, two important things. I’m cheap, and I will bail on any of these other gigs. In the meantime, I’ll be the one lone car fishtailing north on the freeway this winter while every other car crawls south.
If such ironies are the bane of garden speakers, they are nearly the equal for gardeners. Being invited to gardens I want to see in the winter is about the same as being confined to hard labor in your own garden in spring. As if chained to a pillar. This seasonal tidal wave of garden maintenance prevents us from seeing anything other than our own garden. Glorious though that might be, wouldn’t it be grand to see a few others? Instead, the years pass by while we toil instead of travel, fix instead of photo, and choose sweat over sipping wine in the overly expensive outdoor cafes of world-famous botanical gardens. With gritted teeth determination, we eventually get to these places, but not until the dog days of summer where blistering heat and soul-sapping humidity turn trudging through a tired garden into a proverbial “botanical death march.” Not much different, I dare say, than finding yourself trying to imagine the bountiful and bodacious beds of annuals and tropicals that Irvin Etienne at the Indianapolis Museum of Art gamely suggests he’s going to plant in four or five months while a shockingly relentless wind tries to flash freeze your appendages while you gaze through frozen tears at an icy, muddy blank space in the dark the night before the symposium.
I’ve always suspected but now I’m convinced, this is doing it wrong. It is time to fix this problem. I can’t do much about when symposiums get scheduled, but my own garden will no longer hold me captive each spring. I don’t care if I get all my work done at the right time of year or not. If I’m mulching in the winter, fine. If I’m dividing in summer, so be it. Plants are more resilient than my time. Or, at least, that is what I’m choosing to believe. I know that moving the bulk of my garden work to winter and summer will come with its own peculiar misery, but that’s a fair tradeoff for keeping those fleeting and precious spring and fall weekends free for seeing more other places.
So, here’s a guarantee. This year, I will visit those alleged woodlands of trillium in April, and I will skip like Julie Andrews through Longwood and Chanticleer in May. Vancouver Island will get crossed off my bucket list, or I’ll die trying. And these things, these convictions I just expressed, you just know they are exactly what will be scrolling through my mind as I stand with my teeth chattering in the cold as Irvin gamely goes on and on about his tropicals while a snowdrift builds up against my legs at a worrying rate of speed in Indianapolis wind this coming February.
Scott Beuerlein is a Horticulturist at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, working primarily on educational symposiums, trialing, and outreach. He is Chair of the Taking Root tree planting initiative and President of the Cincinnati Flower Growers Association. His home garden, after four years of editing, is only now recovering from years of crazed collecting and over-planting.