On Thursday, May 5th, I drove down to right north of Philadelphia for the inaugural Andalusia Garden Symposium at Pen Ryn Estate and the Andalusia Historic House, Gardens, and Arboretum. The event was organized by Kristin Biddle, a cousin, and I met my mom, aunt, and other members of our family there where we shared a table for the morning programming.
I’d never been to a Garden Symposium and wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but as an avid (albeit imprecise) gardener I was excited to find ideas, inspiration, and hopefully some advice on how to turn a not-so-inspiring wasteland of grass into something truly alive. Lucky for me, I got all that and more.
Xa Tollemache, a gold medal winner in the Chelsea Flower Show, spoke on how a good garden communicates a journey. When designing, a garden should nod to the architecture without being enslaved to it. “If your garden looks good in winter,” she said, “your half-way there.” I muttered to myself, “then I have a long was to go!”
Ceramicist, photographer, and flower-grower Frances Palmer emphasized the importance of a relationship between the things we grow and the ways we spotlight them, and Annie Novak, author of The Rooftop Growing Guide, reminded me to take the notes nature gives. If something doesn’t want to grow somewhere — Stop. Planting. It. There. It’s not working for a reason.
For me, the most inspiring speaker came last. Fergus Garrett is the head gardener at Dixter in England, and trained under his mentor, Christopher Lloyd. In the words of our friend Tim, Fergus pushes everything as far as it can go, testing the boundaries of practicality in a way that is simultaneously immensely powerful and fragile. Like snow sitting high up on a mountain slope, the risk of an avalanche competes with sheer beauty for your attention, and that tension is glorious. I aspire to evoke similarly perfect imperfection at our home, Eden Hill.
After the talks, we made our way to one of Ben and my favorite places on earth: Andalusia. We visit a few times a year as I sit on the Family Committee, but I don’t think I’d ever been able to catch the wisteria in bloom. I just barely made it this year, and couldn’t help but capture the moment.
Gardening is labor, it’s art, it’s practice, it’s imperfection, and it’s perseverance. It’s a really wild thing to do, honestly, trying to tame a landscape — be it a vegetable garden or a window box — to do what you want. Rarely does it work out exactly as you imagined, but I think that’s all for the better.
As I plant lettuce and seed wildflowers, we’re also bringing locally-grown herbs into the store to pair with terra cotta pots by our friend Jess of Firehouse Pottery Co. I love pairing an aromatic herb with one of her cottage pots, and then giving it all a boost with our planter feet.