I clapped unusually loud (and long) after his introduction and even tried my best version of a whistle that no one in particular could hear. This was all because I was quite excited to hear Lloyd Traven, one of this country’s premier plants people speak.
I even marked it in my calendar, months prior, when I learned he would be in town for the FarWest show. His subject, “How to introduce new plant varieties” was well beyond my current scope of knowledge but it didn’t matter. He was here and I, up early and by sheer luck, had managed to secure the best seat in the big hall.
Still, I felt a pang of nervousness for him. There were people from all over the country as well as Canada gathered. Gardeners and plant professionals were seated, some of them with their own hard-earned reputations and it was just Lloyd, off in a quiet corner waiting to speak.
I momentarily imagined what I would feel had I been in the same position as him. Heart beating, palms awash in a slippery sweat, I could easily envision being a bumble of awkward blurts and pauses.
But Lloyd instead confidently strolled off the stage and wandered people-level. Perfectly comfortable with his mature, well-tended beard and trademark tasteful Hawaiian shirt he exuded an air of expertise without saying a word.
“I once named a farfugium “Wavy Gravy” his deep voice commanding attention from even the back of the room. “ I loved that name. I think there might have been a bit of ego when I named it but almost 50 years ago today I was sitting on the grass at a little festival called “Woodstock”. (Wavy Gravy was an entertainer and famous Peace activist at Woodstock I learned later.) Lloyd brought no notes.
And he was funny too.
My mind wandered back to the day before when I had been in charge of a garden center tour bus of 50. I had grabbed the microphone to deliver several simple instructions on what they could expect.
Instead, I had gone into a long drawn out story that I had mentally rehearsed in the morning and when I came to the end of it, I promptly forgot the point of it all. The embarrassing picture of expectant faces on the bus, all seemingly waiting for the punchline that never came, I’m confident will be part of my personal slide show across the sky when I leave this earth.
In a way, I wish I had the booming confidence of Lloyd. I wish I could tell entertaining stories. I wish I was less nervous. I wish I was more funny.
In a way, I think it’s very much like gardening. There have been times when visiting other gardens I wish I could grow a particular perennial better or train a shrub into a more unique shape or put plants together in a way that’s more striking or thought provoking or restful or energetic. At times I wish my garden was more colorful or more organized or more full or further along. I wish my houseplants seemed happier or more robust or even that I could keep one alive a little bit longer.
Gardening, in other words, can be a humbling experience.
And it’s in that very nature that I think it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences in life too. It’s just my belief here, but deep down in every gardener and gardener want-to-be there is a seed of pure optimism. With a tweak here or there, with a bit more patience or better watering, plants in the garden can grow as well as we envision. Often times its with just one single plant success that we can hang our garden hat on until our confidence takes deeper root.
Another famous gardener once told me that how he explained his success with growing plants was this: “I’ve just killed more plants than you. Keep going.”
Currently, I’m still in the afterglow of Lloyd’s talk. I’m not really sure if it’s his amazing plant knowledge and experience that I envied most or was it his confidence in his own skin or even if it was his entertaining public speaking.
I know I’ll never be a great Lloyd. But with that inner gardening seed stirred, maybe even cracked open I know I can’t get any worse.
Like a good gardener, I’ll keep trying.
Bio: Jonn Karsseboom gardens in Tualatin and checks his email often. Write to him: [email protected]