Time does funny things when one is away. What felt like it would be a long stay is nearing the end. It is early Saturday morning….some ambient music (“Plumes” by Loscil) is playing on my laptop as I give this a try. (I’ve not often done “trip diary” types of blogs, and will finish this and give it a good read before - and if - I publish it).
Epic Tomatoes came out very late 2014, and sent me on my speaking adventure immediately after - so this is the 5th year of hitting the road with my gardening stories. (Time does do funny things, because it seems impossible that it’s been 5 years.) Despite averaging 20 events each year, this particular trip - speaking at the big Home and Garden show - is the most extensive in terms of time away, and number of times on the stage. I really didn’t know what to expect….some questions that I pondered on the plane flying here - “what would the stage be like - location? projection system for my slides? acoustics? typical audience (or not)? what would I do in between? how will I keep my energy and enthusiasm while giving two talks per day, alternating topics? Did I order too many books? Do I have enough seeds with me”….just a small sampling of what was whizzing around my brain.
My schedule was pretty packed, on one hand, and pretty relaxed - depending upon how one looks at it. There was a local TV spot on Thursday morning at 8, then talks at the show at noon and six. Friday - talks at noon and six. Saturday (today) - a talk at noon, then an Uber to Bowood Farms garden center for a talk at 2, then back to the show for a talk at 5:30 - then a chance to meet my friend Keith and his wife (first time in a LONG time; he lives in KC). Tomorrow - one talk at noon, then to the airport - then my own bed tomorrow night. Whew.
But that’s just a schedule - the experience that has been filling in those days is what is making this a very special trip with marvelous, indelible moments. So, following is what this has felt like, rather than what was on my to-do list.
Just after landing in St Louis on Wednesday afternoon, my host, Ellen, picked me up at the airport and brought me to the hotel, which is just across the street from the Show. Ellen has been just wonderful - she has been managing this show for a long time, and it is apparent that she has things well under control, including making her speaking guests feel informed and comfortable. I got a chance to orient myself on Wednesday - load my talks onto the laptop, meet the AV man Bobby, check out the stage (away from the noise and bustle of the show in a corner), marvel at the video quality of the projection screen (my slides just pop off the screen), find the place for snacks and bottles of water, locate my books and seeds sent ahead. After that I was free to unwind from the flight, grab a bite to eat, refine and finish my talks and run through emails.
This kind of show starts slowly and winds up as the weekend approaches. The format leads one to feel quite relaxed; I showed up an hour early on Thursday morning, got wired up for sound, set seed packets and handouts on seats, test ran the slides - then just ambled around the show. There were no announcements, and no one introduced me - the informality reduced the stress, so when the time approached and people were gathering, I just eased from chatting to audience members to moving into the material. My area has about 90 chairs, and the show was very quiet on that Thursday noon time, but 20-30 folks found their way to my container/straw bale talk and we had a great time. Some books were sold and signed, seeds taken, cards handed out, new gardening friends made. It was a nice start!
After grabbing some lunch and taking some time in my hotel room to unwind (as in nap!), it was back to the show for the Thursday night tomato session. I was delighted to find most of the seats filled, an enthusiastic crowd of interested, and interesting, gardeners, and the overall energy was just great…more books sold and signed, more gardening friends made.
Friday was more of the same, except that with each talk, more seats were occupied. I am now rationing my seed packets a bit, because I want to have them last until Sunday. I think my book supply will end up being pretty spot on. Today - Saturday - will be a bit more of a test of my stamina, as noon (strawbales/containers), 2 (tomatoes, with a dive into home breeding), and 5:30 (tomatoes), then time with my friends, will make a busy - but undoubtedly very quickly passing - day and night.
I saved the best for last….the quality of people that are attending my talks or stopping by to say hello. Many ask if I was the “guy on TV Thursday morning”, or “the fellow on that PBS video (the Growing a Greener World episode - Joe Lamp’l, if you are reading this, LOTS of people are watching your show). I’ve had nearby vendors or staff that man children’s’ gardens or work at the arboretum pause for extensive chats on all sorts of gardening topics. The conversations with my talk attendees before or after end up going everywhere - each of our youths, our pets, the weather, gardening in general - but the common factor is that everyone is simply so nice.
In all of my time doing this sort of thing post-Epic Tomato release, events like this create a bubble of gardening joy that educates (all different ways - I learn as much from my audience members as they learn from me). My events have never - not once - veered into any of the topics that are causing such deep divisions in our country today. I am so thankful for having the privilege to participate in this these types of events, and for the joy, peace, unity and community that they provide. It gives me such hope.
So, I deeply thank all of those who make the effort to attend one of my talks - not only here in St Louis, of course, but any of my events, past and future. Some have asked me if I ever feel burned out. Hardly….in fact, just the opposite. I feel energized, renewed and encouraged.
(PS - well, I finished it, read it - and decided to push the button and publish…so here it is!)