I went this afternoon to my first Plant Heritage lecture. I was thinking only the other day that I hadn't heard anything from them about further events, since getting my initial joining letter, then a couple of days ago an apologetic email arrived from the Suffolk group membership secretary, saying that the system for the national membership office to let local groups know about new members seemed not to have worked, and their first lecture of the winter was this Saturday. I didn't have anything else planned for the weekend, and quite fancied a break from hedge cutting, so an invitation to go to a talk on salvias, followed by tea and home made WI cakes was quite handy.
It was a good talk. The speaker had been growing salvias for twenty years, allowing her to judge which ones were worth growing from a decorative point of view, and which ones did well in UK growing conditions, or conversely were weak growers or not reliably hardy. It is a vast genus, with species indigenous to every continent except Australasia and ever increasing numbers of hybrids available, and as she went through her slides I began to realise quite how many I grew myself, or had attempted to grow in the past. By the end of the talk I was game to try a few more, but resisted the temptation to buy any of the small shrubby ones she had for sale, since I didn't have anywhere ready to put them, and had discovered from bitter experience what she confirmed in her talk, that they are liable to die of botrytis in a greenhouse over the winter, especially if the air is less than perfectly buoyant. The atmosphere in my greenhouse in winter is frankly dank, and now I know she exists I'm sure I'll be able to track her down and buy plants next year, if I ever do have space for them. On the basis of her talk and my own past efforts, I'm not convinced that the shrubby South American types are the best choice for our garden anyway.
I did buy a Sanguisorba obtusa with a delightful thalictrum pink flower, to add to my two existing white and one red flowered varieties. I hope it will share their tolerance of the ground going to liquid mud following prolonged spells of heavy rain, otherwise it is doomed to rot. And I bought a useful pair of flower snips and a cut price packet of a hundred plastic labels, and ate a very good and extraordinarily cheap piece of coffee and walnut cake. People were as friendly as you'd like them to be at your first meeting, not stand-offish but not overly friendly as if seeking to convert you to a strange religion, with just the right amount of plant related chat and modest smiles with brief eye contact. I was given the latest edition of the local magazine, which contains details of the rest of the winter's lecture programme, and several of them sound interesting.
I did wonder how the society was structured, as I queued for my tea. It is not like the beekeepers, which as the Systems Administrator likes to point out is a true Soviet, an amalgamation of self-organising groups which are autonomous at the local level. Plant Heritage clearly isn't, since you join at the centre and they tell the periphery about you when they get round to it. Membership fees therefore go to the centre, but there was no charge for the lecture, so how did the local group pay for the hall? And then I thought that actually it was rather nice to be able to turn up for an afternoon's entertainment, and sit in a chair, and listen to a lecture, and buy plants, and talk to people, and eat cake, with no thought or worry about how all of these things were funded or organised.