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Life's Influencers

During a recent walk along the River Dart, I reminisced about the wonderful times of youthful foraging walks with my grandmother. From the moment we're born we're influenced by the most influential people in our lives from our parents and if we're fortunate, grandparents. They provide a vast knowledge of interests, knowledge, passions, and skills that we carry through the rest of our lives. These gifts aren't always immediate, but over time from my own experience I've adapted my parents and grandmother's nurturing and teachings as I mature. My maternal grandmother or Nanna as she was affectionately named, loved her flowers and plants, hedge etc and maintained a small suburban garden that surrounded her bungalow cottage. My grandmother, Edith Anne Tyerman (nee Kitching) the middle child (3rd of 6) of Frances (nee Maynard) and George Kitching (Farmers). Afflicted with health problems during her early years and adolescence, osteoporosis affected her bones in particular below the knee in her left leg. This caused the leg to stop growing and at the time she was told the only option was to wear a "special" shoe with a large wedge heel. However, at 18 she was fashion conscious and couldn't bare the thought of it. At 19 years old she made a brave and courageous decision and opted for amputation below the knee. She lived with a prosthetic leg and with a positive and must-do-can-do attitude towards life, she refused to let anything stop her leading a full life. She was married to my adoring grandfather Harold since the 1940's until his untimely death in 1974.

Growing up in the 1970's and '80's, my brother and I would spend most weekends with Nanna; helping her with the garden, mowing the lawn, cutting the hedge and most importantly the dull bit, weeding. I loved learning all the names of plants, especially the roses with their luxurious and memorable scent; these were proudly displayed in a perfect row beside the drive and in the centre of a lawn. Maintenance was a big part of the rose bushes and required hard pruning after the roses had bloomed through the summer and autumn with much admiration throughout her community in the neighbourhood. The garden calendar would start with green-shoots of snowdrops in January as they popped up through the thawing snow that covered the bare soil around the roses, followed by crocus in late winter and early spring with an abundance of narcissi, tulips and grape-hyacinth (muscari). By May the curious Lily-of-the-Valley was sprouting up like weeds, but with the most fragrant scent, which has stayed with me forever. I'm still not sure why it's so expensive to buy as a cut flower. During the summer months the garden produced new potatoes, lettuce, radish and tomatoes; nothing has ever tasted as fresh as those summer months when we ate salads almost every day. We would also go for very long walks through the local countryside, woodlands and visits to her mother, my maternal Great-grandmother or Nanna Simon whom I named because she had a small white poodle called Simon. Nanna Simon also had a fabulous floral garden, more natural and surrounded her suburban cottage bungalow. A lot more flower varieties grew there than at Nanna's and I remember each and everyone, such as dahlias, hydrangeas, mombretia/crocosmia, clematis, echinops, roses, honeysuckle etc. Going back to the walks we would be taught repetitively what each of the trees and shrubs were and take cuttings for making things such as arrangements for Christmas etc. Her 'artificial leg' squeaked sometimes, probably from excessive walking and my younger brother once said "Nanna, your leg's squeaking again; have you brought the can of oil?"

"No, I haven't", she replied - "But Nanna Simon will have some when we get to her house." My brother sighed with relief and said "Oh good, because I'm not sure your leg will last much longer." We did laugh and laughed for many years after. Although nanna has long gone for more than 20 years ago, the long walks have continued and the practice is engrained with me and today whilst walking along the River Dart, I'll forage for cuttings, berries and pine cones.

Although I didn't spend as much time with my paternal Grandfather, or grandad Joe Brown, we briefly acquainted in his latter years while I was an early teenager. He had a modest urban house with a good size garden that he utilised to the max with fresh vegetables and flowers, including mostly potatoes and prize winning leeks, large chrysanthemum blooms and not forgetting to mention a pigeon loft for his racing pigeons. Grandad Joe continued growing fresh produce since pre-war years, because it was essential during tough and hard times of the 1930's/40's/50's/60's/70's and 80's North East England. I wish my dad had kept the chrysanthemums for own his allotment.

It goes without saying, but my parents have carved an everlasting influence with my knowledge and skills. They too loved gardening, especially my dad. He continued his father's tradition by cultivating an allotment plot with a year round supply of fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers. I've never seen so many sweet-peas like the varieties he grew and he would bring large bunches to the house every day and it was full of the most amazing scent while they were available during the summer months.

They were wonderful times and have provided me with fond memories of an innocent childhood with remarkable life influencers. Not having a garden I don't grow flowers for Bearded Florista, but I can certainly appreciate the effort it takes to produce fresh flowers and today there is a renaissance for an industry of local cutting garden flower growers and we support each of the local farms throughout the growing season between March to October. Transitioning the florist industry towards a carbon neutral practice will involve active influence and encourage local flower growers to increase production and varieties that we've been able to obtain from The Netherlands with ease and affordability. The practice will also involve encouraging consumer change and less dependence on flowers that are not available all year.

Influential consumer guidance could be encouraged by educating what is available throughout the year, season to season. This will help the florist and wedding and event florist industry transition and become fully sustainable for the environment. We need to be pragmatic with all required changes for the future and livelihoods are equally important. There is no magic wand, but the clock is ticking and there are no exceptions for the ever encroaching time frame for saving the planet. Life's influence is a gift we can use to make a difference for all of us.


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