WOW! What an evening it was! Who would have thought that I would be invited to attend the 80th birthday party of garden design icon, John Brooks.
I had never even met the man until this evening and learned first-hand that he is a delightful and jovial individual. It was a night to remember, and one for the books. So here's a brief, and hopefully enjoyable written record.
It is 4 o'clock and school has officially ended. The party doesn't start 'til 6 o'clock and as it's just a 10 minute walk away several us of decide to stay at the studio working on our projects until it's time to go. I have come prepared for staying at the school afterwards which means I brought a blouse to replace my daytime sweater. (Although I could have, and maybe should have, dressed a little classier).
I go downstairs to change in the bathroom and as I pull the bag off the blouse which is on a hanger, I realize this thing has not been ironed. A strong "new-shirt" crease runs right along the back horizontally. I was embarrassed for myself for 5 minutes, then decided, "I will just act like it's not there and smile. Maybe nobody will notice." Even if they do, what can I do about it? It's a better option than the sweater.
Six of us arrived just before six o'clock - we leave our bags and coats in the first room to the left and ascend the staircase which doubles back before we are met with trays of champagne. One has two glasses of orange juice as an option. I take the option.
Being punctual to the party, there are only a few other people in the room besides John himself as we excitedly (well, I am excited, but of course keep composure) - meet the man of the hour. John is warm and inviting, asking us each where we are from and a bit about our professional backgrounds before coming to the school. He is gracious and genuine, laughs easily.
The crowd thickens, the champagne starts to flow while black and white uniforms float around with platters of delicious hors d'oeuvres. Maybe scrumptious is more appropriate.
The room is full of luminaries of the design world and it is my chance to meet them. I decide I better go make the most of the night and separate myself from the group. There are introductions to be made, people who's faces I am not familiar with, but whose names are a big deal in the world I favor. I wonder...whom is who?
Borra Garson of Authored Apps - a gentleman who says if I think of an app that garden designers or gardeners need - to please let him know.
John Lawson of Alitex: Greenhouses, Conservatories, and Orangeries - a lively fellow in a green jacket and a big smile who builds/installs greenhouses all around the world. A useful contact for the future I am sure.
Tamsin Westhorpe, editor at The English Garden magazine - who is very nice and very enjoyable to talk with. Most of their readership is from the States!
Juliet Roberts, editor at Gardens Illustrated - (I think this was my second most exciting meet of the night!!) "Is it your voice on the BBC GI Podcasts that I subscribe to!?!?" "Yes, it is!" She says to send her an email, she likes to follow the careers of designers, etc. Will do!
Stephen Lacey, writer at The Telegraph and a garden designer himself. He has also authored several books. He is delighted I am from Utah, and therefore a Mormon - he had just seen the Book of Mormon the week prior. We have a lively encounter which ends up with his glass of champagne on the front and back of my blouse. "It does't stain."
Cleve West, award-winning garden designer - Regretfully we don't talk much. I am not sure why. His work is so stunning.
Andy Sturgeon, award-winning garden designer (Most exciting meet of the night?) - considered one of the best there is he was twice voted one of the top 10 garden designers in the UK and has 6 gold medals and best in show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. And that's just the beginning!
There are a few more names I hear but don't remember. My phone is downstairs and I have nothing to take notes with.
(I was so looking forward to meeting Luciano Giubbilei - he was on the list, but never made an appearance).
As time wains the crowd thins, glasses are emptied, and we are encouraged towards the door. We make our way in and out of the cloak room and in the shuffle I am having a conversation with garden designer Anthony Paul (remember him?!)...something about next time...planting...spiritual...connection...(sounds good!)
It has been an overly-delightful evening and the only students remaining from the school are myself, Graham, Sarah and Rachel. A late dinner is voted on unanimously. The first place we try, the Botanist, has a hour-too-long wait. We try the restaurant across the street. As we make our way in, and inevitably out..we bump into the lovely character whose drink ended up on my blouse! Stephen Lacey and Andy Sturgeon are also looking for a table!
We join parties and jointly head to a well-known Italian restaurant (so of course I can't remember the name) - and wait for a table for six.
It's almost midnight and three courses have been served and I am more than full...of food and happiness. To share a meal with these professionals and have real conversation about gardens, plants, design, the industry, what's happening here and there and who's doing what and where...is so enjoyable. I have hungered for this type of interaction for years and now I am living it.
The tab is paid and out on the sidewalk we split into three groups...Graham and Sarah head to Sloan Square, Stephen walks his own way and Andy, Rachel and myself make our way towards Victoria station. Eventually Rachel turns right while we stay straight on. It's just me and Andy Sturgeon talking about why I came to the Inchbald while walking the midnight streets of London.
We arrive to the station. "This is where I go left." And before he heads inside to catch the train back to Brighton we ceremoniously say goodbye, "See you soon."