by Ros Evans

The Garden Group forms one of the more popular groups within the Edinburgh University Women's Club as reflected by the large membership, averaging between 30-40 members, and the real enthusiasm generated for the group's activities. The Autumn term has two meetings with invited lecturers, and the same applies for the Winter term. The Spring term, on the other hand, has the 'Bring and Buy' plant sale and the excursion to the garden(s) of choice. All the activities are well attended but of them all, the plant sale with a slap-up afternoon tea and the all day excursion are the most popular. Annual membership was £1 for many years and has only recently been raised to £3.

The makeup of the committee which changes every 3-4 years has, to some extent, determined the emphasis of the talks given and consequently a wide range of very fascinating subjects has been covered. Many lectures have had an historic emphasis: historic garden design, historic gardens both here and abroad, the history of herbal medicine and its application in modern medicine, historic garden books, and the history of the Scottish garden scheme. More science based talks have included GM plants, DNA technology as applied to plant species identification, and climate in relation to plant growth. But the majority of the talks have been by plant enthusiasts who maybe specialise in a particular species. For example, 'Just another hydrangea', or sometimes, commercial growers such as Beryl MacNaughton of Macplants, or Stella Rankin of Kevock Garden and Nursery. The most recent talk by Alan Romans of Cupar on 'Potato growing in Scotland', not the most inspiring of titles, had the audience gripped by the story of Scotland's role in the history and development and commercial growing of the humble potato. From the logistics point of view the chairman of each lecture usually has given a big sigh of relief when the lecturer expressed their wish to bring their own projector, so that the sometimes temperamental projector belonging to the club did not have to be used.

The 'Bring and Buy' sale remains a high point of the year's activities, as well as providing an income for the group's activities. It is always held at the home/garden of one of the members, but as car parking becomes more and more of a problem, is increasingly being restricted to those living in areas where parking is still possible. Despite the fact that everyone's gardens are now full to overflowing, and we basically already have been buying each other's plants for the last three decades, there still seems to be a good market, and somehow, some new plants turn up which need to be tried. Over the years, the gardens of Joan Whitby, Isobel Simpson, Mary Stewart, Hazel Woodruff and Margaret Forrest amongst others have been particularly productive. The funds raised from the stalls have varied from about £50 to over £100, and on a couple of occasions, a donation to the current world problem area (Kosova was one) has been made possible. The afternoon tea is a particular joy, given the current emphasis on the evils of obesity.

The excursions are also a high point, and many really lovely gardens within a day's reach of Edinburgh have been visited. Some visits have been to National Trust gardens, some have been to gardens belonging to the Scottish Gardens Scheme, and more recently, there have been visits to country gardens belonging to members of the Garden Group, where the hospitality has been much appreciated. One particular visit remembered by a former secretary was to a Perthshire estate, where the head gardener showed us round. The Rhododendron ravine, the copse of Japanese acers, and the huge, ancient Yew House were particularly memorable. This estate was sold to a Sheikh shortly after our visit, and has been closed to the public ever since. A recent visit to Perthshire took in an interesting garden belonging to one of our members, and the old family estate of the Haldanes of Gleneagles. It was a pleasure to see this beautifully situated garden being restored and developed. We were also fortunate to visit the wonderfully diverse garden of Sir David and Lady Smith near Balquidder. Indeed it is this diversity and differing layouts and planting schemes that our members continue to enjoy.

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