Live radio and the show

Thoroughly exhausted following two weeks of digging, planting, painting and fretting in the blistering high thirties temperatures, it’s now show time, entailing five days of smiling and answering questions about the plants, quilt and bed. Annoyingly the temperature has now dropped 10 degrees and there are intermittent showers- still, at least the plants are happier! There seems to be a time warp between 8.30 and 10AM, as each morning that short window of time in which to water, tidy and grab a quick cuppa disappears! “Welcome to RHS Tatton Park Flower Show 2018, we hope you have a pleasant day. The show is now open” announces a male voice in what feels like five minutes after we arrive every day.

The public are very complimentary, especially about the planting. This is both encouraging and surprising to me since I have deliberately used very common plants, and it gives me a confidence boost. So I AM a good designer! Less flattering comments included “What happens when it rains-the bed will get soaked!” “I suppose she’ll cover it or pack it away” comes the common response. In reality, the bed remains out in the elements and the raindrops run off the shower-proofed bedding, which retains its breath-taking beauty throughout the show.

The top five most frequently asked questions/comments from the public were:

“Is that normal purple sage?” people seemed surprised this culinary herb looks so good in a mixed border as an ornamental.
“What’s the tall pink flower at the back?” “Eupatorium, number ten on the plant list” comes the answer. My husband is well versed by the end of day one.
“Which plants make you sleep?”
“Which plants are good for autism?”
“Why didn’t you get gold?”

The purple sage at the edge of the show garden

That last question further enhanced my confidence and I really must hold that thought when I am doubting my designing skills!

Wednesday is ‘press day’ and BBC cameras spend a long time within the show garden. Tina comes rushing over “I’ve just spoken to the radio Merseyside man and told him you’re from Merseyside, so he’s coming to talk to you!” she tells me “It’ll be great publicity!” Tina is of course quite right and when he comes over we chat about the garden and the autism centre where it will be rebuilt. “Would you be happy to do a live interview tomorrow morning at 10-ish?”He asks “Yes, brilliant!” I enthuse, immediately regretting it!

“After this record finishes we are on air” ‘Perfect’ by Fairground Attraction is playing and he asks me if I know the record-I do and I immediately feel safer in the knowledge that my brain is at least engaged! “I’ll interview you first about your garden, and then Lauren about the show if that’s ok?” Lauren Hall the deputy show manager stands by my side, also terrified about her first live interview
[19/07/2018, Sean Styles – BBC Radio Merseyside]

It’s all over in a trice and Marion gives me a thumbs up. Marion is a work colleague at Liverpool University, and has come to help man the garden for the day. The interview is available on BBC iPlayer and I am forced to listen to it later at home at dinner. The interview had ended with a question about the bee, which had slept overnight in my hat under the bed and had stung me on my forehead during the build. The radio show presenter was thus fed the best line and chortled “That Julie Dunn seems like a nice lady, but I think she had a bit of a bee in her bonnet!” Hilarious!!

“My cheeks ache from smiling” I groan at the end of the first show day. Briony had informed me there was a fine payable to the RHS should there ever be fewer than two people manning a show garden at any time during the show. My husband helped on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and Val and Marion (work colleagues) on Thursday and Jane (a fellow garden designer) on the Friday. My garden was usually manned by one person who had to stand up the whole time. One of my legs became swollen after two days and I couldn’t bend it for three weeks after the show ended! I would recommend 3-4 helpers per day if possible, although I felt as if I couldn’t leave the garden for long as I didn’t want to miss any future garden design opportunities!

“I’ll be bored off my chump by the end of Wednesday!” exclaims my husband “and to add insult to injury you can’t even have an ale!” Jane, by contrast, was seemingly delighted to take on the manning of the garden and consequently Friday turned out to be very enjoyable since I was able to peruse the show. I tested free oils, cheeses, back to the oils (dipping lovely fresh bread into lemon oil is recommended!), sausages and finally, yes, oils again (fig and balsamic?)(I was going to provide the link for the oils company but cannot find them) “It’s a good job alcohol was not allowed, or the Manchester Gin stall could’ve been dangerous!” I reflected.

The weekend brought a couple of possible design commissions, one of which is now underway! The first prospective client was interested in recreating the garden within the grounds of the Georgian manor ‘Shooter’s Hill’ in Shrewsbury, which is used for wedding photo shoots [Shooters Hill] . This would be an amazing job and I really should make contact with the lovely lady who lives there, who spoke with me at length. The second prospective client appeared on the Sunday in the form of Paula and Tony, a lovely couple from Parkgate (where I live) who had fallen in love with my planting. It turns out we ‘half know’ each other as parents of children attending the local primary school. Consequently I took their plea to help design their huge garden with a pinch of salt, since we had chatted at length about our children and having teenagers! However, Paula texted me the same evening and within the following week we struck up a very exciting garden designer/client relationship. I firmly believe their garden could be the turning point in my new career!

Other interesting prospects came via individuals who had worked at/been involved in/ helped to set up what I describe as Garden/Wellbeing projects [knowledgebase] , [Grozone]. Hearing about these projects made me want to give up my current job in science to take part in a remarkably rewarding and forward-thinking area. It occurs to me that I need time to put out some feelers and see what comes back.

Two of the show garden plants at home in my own garden: Calamagrostis Karl Foerster and Verbena bonariensis. Top: my Cercis canadiensis Forest Pansy tree showing off its fabulous late summer/autumn coat.

TIME! Since I have returned to full time lab-work I have spent each lunch hour at the computer trying to build up my new career. The thought of giving up a permanent salary and pension is very scary, thus Part-time could be viable option. I’m not sure what the family think about that!

Next: garden breakdown and full report of the rebuild at Wirral Autism Together!

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