Chris Beardshaw proved to be a popular speaker at Ticknall Garden Club’s October meeting. There was a full house to hear what the well-known gardening personality had to say.
He believed that gardening links lives together; giving satisfaction and a purpose to life. He would also show how driving ambition can achieve success against all the odds.
Chris recounted an interesting story which began with an urgent request to visit a garden in Hampshire and ended in its winning a prestigious award at Chelsea Flower Show in 2012. The garden in question was called Furzey Gardens. Chris learned its history when he dropped by one day out of curiosity. Tim Selwood was the current owner who had bought, on impulse, the abandoned site at auction because the setting on the edge of the New Forest was so attractive. It had once been a ground-breaking garden established by the Dalrymple brothers in 1921 and was equalled only by Kew and Edinburgh Botanic in its prestige. They had planted it with hundreds of newly discovered plants from around the world and more importantly kept a written record of every one of them in Arthur Dalrymple’s book. Eventually, they went to Australia and the garden was abandoned.
The present owner, a vicar and barrister, had a burning desire to recreate the garden with the aim of making it a residential home for those with learning disabilities. By the time of the speaker’s visit, the garden had been successfully recreated with narrow winding paths amongst numerous rhododendrons chopped back to reveal ground cover plants. In addition, quaint wooden structures and little thatched houses nestled among the planting which playfully convinced any onlookers that fairies lived in the garden. Tim Selwood had provided a happy and purposeful environment for those who often face difficulties in their lives. However, local authority funding had been withdrawn and he was determined to do something to raise the profile of his venture. His steadfast aim was to create a garden at Chelsea Flower Show to draw attention to his worthwhile adventure. Chris Beardshaw was sceptical that he could succeed. Tim did not have anything near the estimated cost of £250,000. Nothing daunted, Tim put his faith in homemade cake sales, donations and make-do and mend. He even managed to involve celebrities like Michael Caine.
Eventually, after many trials and tribulations and with Chris Beardshaw’s expertise, he did create his garden at Chelsea. All the plants used had been dug up from Furzey Garden and every one of his students was involved in the project in one way or another. It won the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gold Medal, earned recognition for his efforts and restored local authority funding for the venture.
Chris went on to summarise quite briefly the contents of his popular book “100 Plants that (almost) Changed the World”. We serve gammon with pineapple because, as Columbus discovered, the cannibals of Papua New Guinea used it to tenderise human flesh! The potato was first admired for its flowers and the dahlia for the taste of its tubers and only later were the roles reversed. Victorian ladies sipped their tea under the trumpet-flowered Brugmansia as it dripped its nectar into their dainty cups. The humble lettuce was once used for its soporific qualities. Much laughter was caused by the images of Roman nettles being beaten on limbs and buttocks to stave off the cold.
Chris had proved to be an entertaining raconteur who kept the attention of the audience for what turned out to be longer than expected. He had shown how the benefits of gardening are all-inclusive. Plants and planting draw people together and can transform lives.
Even the word paradise has its ancient roots in the idea of a garden in which contentment can be found. He urged all of us to nurture our own patch of garden, however small, as our own bit of paradise.