on the top shelf of an Edinburgh garden superstore.
December 16th, 2014 § 2
December 10th, 2014 § 0
My first term as a new horticulture student ended Friday, and I am a strange mixture of relieved it’s over, proud of myself for surviving, and excited to get back to school. The last six months were some of the most challenging I’ve ever lived, beginning with the decision to leave my beautiful farm in Virginia and move to a foreign country where I knew no one, all to try to learn something new at age 35.
And I am happy to say that I have indeed learned a lot, which really came into focus when I received the most recent issue of my favorite magazine, Gardens Illustrated. This British publication is so lovely that I’d actually splashed out on an international subscription when I was still living in the U.S., and it is no understatement to say that the writing, photographs, and knowledge contained within its pages influenced my decision to study horticulture. When I got a U.K. address, one of the first things I did was subscribe to Gardens Illustrated here. My first issue arrived last week, and while paging through it I was amazed to see that after three months of studying horticulture, I am reading a completely new magazine. What’s changed? I’ve learned a new language.
Latin. That language no one speaks but everyone said, while I was growing up, was “just so helpful” for understanding what seemed like everything in the world. As a young student I didn’t study Latin, yet I managed to grow up and become a semi-literate member of society who garnered a fair share of bylines without anyone knowing my secret linguistic deficit.
And then came the first week of horticultural training, and into my hands was thrust a list of 25 plant names. In Latin. That I had to learn to identify from live material and name. It Latin. I swallowed hard. The gig was up.
Before I had time to panic the class was herded outside on a high-speed zoom about the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, trailing our sprightly and quintessentially English head of education as he pointed out each of the plants on the list and where they grew. All while spouting even more Latin.
The class stood beneath a tall tree that had just about dropped all its buttery yellow autumn leaves: Kalopanax septemlobus. Our teacher picked one of the tree’s leaves up off the ground, counted the seven lobes out loud, and tossed it on the ground, scoffing, “It must be broken.”
And off we zoomed to the next plant on the list.
We did this every week with a new list of plants, and one of the things that’s most amazed me about this transition is that I am actually able to learn and remember all these new plant names. In Latin. Which brings me back to reading my magazine, where, because it is a reputable horticultural publication, all plants are referred to by their Latin names. Today, when I read down a list of plants and came across Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens,’ which was just on my last exam Friday, I almost leapt from my chair out of sheer joy of recognition and understanding. Now I know that rather complicated name refers to the relatively prosaic little black mondo grass that edges municipal plantings everywhere. And which isn’t actually, technically, a grass.
For the first time in a life spent loving plants I am learning to call them by their real names. This might not seem like a lot, but one of the major benefits of binomial nomenclature (two name—there I go with more Latin, somebody stop me!—the first being the genus, second species) is that if you know the genus to which a species belongs, you are well on your way toward a basic understanding of the fundamental characteristics of a plant whether you’ve seen it or not. How handy!
Before I began my course, I used to kind of just gloss over those Latin plant names, as one tends to do with things in foreign languages one doesn’t understand. But now, for the first time in my life, I have begun to read and understand this language. And it’s a whole new world.
November 26th, 2014 § 1
I miss writing in this space, and have many stories to tell. However, my return to higher education has hit me like a lead cudgel and it’s been all I can do to just stay on top of my assignments and exams, all whilst navigating the zillion challenges attendant to plopping oneself alone in the midst of a foreign country.
However, I wanted to post a few photos showing where I am two days a week, at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. All day Tuesday I have work experience, in which I spend four weeks at a time shadowing different professional teams at the gardens and doing what they do. Everyone has been great to work with, and I have to pinch myself that I get to help care for such a beautiful and respected garden. Then I am at the gardens again all day Friday, when I have horticultural practices all morning. It’s a very hands-on learning day where we’re again working with garden staff—some of them the best plantsmen in the world in their areas—on all sorts of learning scenarios. Friday afternoons is plant recognition, when we learn morphology, taxonomy and take high-speed walks through the garden with the head of education as he points out everything we have to learn for weekly identification tests…in Latin.
These photos are from last April, when I first visited the garden as a tourist having no idea that in six months I’d be working here…even though when I walked through the gates my first reaction was that I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Strange how we dream our lives into reality, isn’t it?
The Chinese hillside. The Botanics is very active in China now, with many staff going on lots of seed-collecting trips and bringing material home to Edinburgh for propagation.
The John Hope Gateway cafe and reflecting pool. To the left is an area planted in the perennial/meadow style, which in April is not doing much but looks fantastic in the late summer. On this deck was an outdoor display of the International Garden Photographer of the Year photos, which I had written about here last February, never expecting to see the prints in person.
The alpine yard, which is a miniaturist fantasy with all these gorgeous tiny little plants flowering in rock installations. The British love their alpines—I am working on some theories as to why but need to do more research.
So while I have not been tending Bonafide Farm, nor writing on this blog, I have been here in Ediburgh, at the Botanics. The first term is over at the end of next week, and I hope then to catch up on some writing here. Until then, I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!
October 30th, 2014 § 11
I know it’s been nearly two months of silence here on the Bonafide Blog, but just wanted to pop back in to say that I will now be writing from Edinburgh, Scotland!
I moved here in early September, arriving on my 35th birthday, and have since been studying Horticulture with Plantsmanship at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Scotland’s Rural College. It’s been a long-held dream to study plants in the U.K., and I am really excited to be doing it at one of the best places in the world for the study of horticulture.
It’s been an absolutely crazy two months, during which my world turned upside down. I was pretty sure I’d shut down the blog. But now circumstances have evolved so that I will actually be doing some farming in Scotland, so I plan on writing about that here as well as the odd observation or two about expatriate life. I may even get around to exploring all the lessons I learned at Bonafide Farm, as promised.
To everyone who wrote asking about Tucker, he is safe and sound living the good life with my parents just a short drive away from the old Bonafide Farm. He is enjoying his new home, where he has a full-time canine playmate, and of course the love and attention of my parents, who are wonderful with him. My kitty is there as well, and all my chickens found good new homes with friends. I’m not going to say it was easy to leave them all, but every creature is well-taken-care-of and happy.
Thank you all for your lovely comments on my last post. I didn’t really know so many people were reading and finding what I wrote useful and inspirational, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear all the nice things you had to say. Thank you for reading, and I hope you stick with me for the next iteration of Bonafide Farm. More to come, very soon!