It proved to be an entertaining hour. Chunks of what he said were not new to either of us, but his technique for clipping topiary was much faster and neater than mine. Hold one blade steady, guiding it to form the shape, and move the other blade to cut against it, was his advice. I'm not quite sure how topiary got into the mix, as most of the talk was on green gardening techniques and the talk was promoted by a group called Greener Sudbury, but he started off as a tree surgeon and part of his message was to always use sharp cutting tools, be they shears or the blades on your lawnmower. His epiphany against the practice of tree surgery as a full time occupation came when he was walking around the Windsor Great Park, admiring the specimen trees there, and realised he could not stop himself from mentally calculating how to fell and section every one of them.
At home we already practice most of the green techniques he advocated, having trees, ponds, long grass and lots of flowers, trying to avoid having bare earth and cramming plants in to bursting point, and doing as little digging as possible. Where I mainly fell down was in my failure to grow my own vegetables, but that's not because I don't like the idea in theory, merely that in practice I haven't managed to find the time to mend the broken beds, clear them of weeds, sow them and then keep the crop weeded and watered until harvest. Some years I have got to a later stage of the sequence before failing, other years I haven't even attempted to start. I know that home grown vegetables are nice, it's just that cultivating them takes ages and there are only so many hours in the week. The ornamental garden is visible from every window of the house and is my passion. If I gave it up to grow vegetables instead, the amount we would save each week on buying vegetables would not pay for even two hours of a skilled gardener's time to keep the rest of the garden in good trim.
Something I did already do, and get right albeit at a glacial pace, is to make my own compost. As of this moment all of our bins are bursting at the seams with garden debris, free of weed roots and more or less free of weed seed, plus green kitchen waste, slowly and magisterially rotting own to nice, crumbly garden compost. They would rot faster if we put the lawn clippings in, but the Systems Administrator doesn't do that because they are full of weed seeds. The lecturer would like us to use the compost on our vegetable patches so that the minerals contained in them, harvested by our plants from our own soil, could be recycled and taken up by our food crops and eaten by us to the benefit of our health. He might be on to something there, since I think I've read that organically grown crops tend to contain more trace elements, and selenium, molybdenium and the rest of them are supposed to be very goo for us in small amounts. On the other hand home made compost does wonders for the borders. It is an entirely theoretical choice in any case until the time when I manage to try again at growing vegetables.
I fear I won't be using the wool and bracken base potting compost produced in the Lake District. He passed a bucket of it around the auditorium and it felt lovely, and apparently in use the wool slowly decomposes and feeds the plants with nitrogen, while retaining moisture. The snag is that it costs ten pounds for a thirty litre bag. I still feel bad that my normal compost contains peat and is contributing to the destruction of peat bogs, but I would feel less bad about it if I didn't know that peat is still being burned in industrial quantities in power stations.
The chap is called Darren Lerigo, and he is entertaining in a light-hearted way, to be recommended if he crops up at a garden club near you.