It is easy to see why the Garden Topics Group has a long waiting list. If you have spoken to Sheila Austin, the group leader, you will know she exudes enthusiasm for most things, but gardening above all, and you can’t help but be swept along by it; the whole group seems just as enthusiastic. When I visited Sheila the first thing we did was go into the garden – what a delight: it is filled with pots full of a multitude of varieties of plants; there are a few shrubs along a fence and an area where Sheila takes cuttings (members may have bought some of them that she brings to meetings to sell in aid of the Air Ambulance). The pots stand on areas where a few stray seedlings have set; these won’t be weeded out and destroyed but when large enough will be potted up and used.
The group meets monthly in various members’ homes. The host provides refreshments and the group members arrive with a cutting from their garden, a flower perhaps, or interesting leaves and they will discuss these items whilst the host arranges them in a vase for display and has the pleasure of keeping an attractive arrangement. They usually walk around the host’s garden chatting about the various plants, exchanging ideas, touching, smelling and doing all the things that gardeners do except they don’t do any kind of physical work at group meetings. At each meeting Sheila provides a pot of cuttings, a plant or some seeds (fluffy poppies, gazanias) and they hold a raffle, once again with the proceeds going towards the Air Ambulance.
Sheila is well organised and has a folder for each month into which she puts articles from gardening magazines that relate to that month. For instance in June she has an article from Gardeners’ World June 2006 that tells us we need to shape up our flowering shrubs and take action against rose pests, that now is the time to take fuchsia cuttings, sow biennial seeds, to treat moss in our lawns – the list goes on and we haven’t even touched upon vegetables. To the gardener these jobs are a real pleasure but to others, a chore. One U3A member invited the group to visit and advise on how to tackle his garden – not to work I hasten to add! They were treated to coffee, cake and biscuits and went around the garden passing on their good ideas, so it would be interesting to see if their enthusiasm has been spread to this non-gardener.
They also have outings and visits places such as Hyde Hall, Beth Chatto’s Gardens, Perrywood Nursery, and Harry Brickwood’s Orchard Cottage at Rayleigh.. They have had a group luncheon in a member’s home for which Sheila devised a competition. It sounds such a jolly group to belong to.
Going back to the waiting list – there are enough people on it to form another group but a leader is needed – without leaders there wouldn’t be a U3A! Sheila is willing to help anyone who would like to start a second group and told me how much she enjoys running the group, the pleasure she has gained from it, and the friends she has made – she has been the Garden Topics Group Leader since the Burnham U3A began!