How the WI inspired me to turn a 'Grain of Mustard Seed' to Gold
In the Autumn of 2004 our monthly newsletter announced a competition to design a Show Garden for the WI to stage at the 2005 RHS Flower Show at Tatton, to mark the 90th Anniversary of the WI.
All eyes turned on me – sometime gardener, horticulturalist and garden designer - so I thought I'd better have a go! So far, so good, but a garden design needs a brief. I hardly knew where to begin until the obvious dawned on me - 'It's in the history, stupid!' Somebody helpfully passed me a copy of 'A Grain of Mustard Seed', which gave me an insight into the ethos of the WI at the time and the sequence of events that started it.
So I sat down to write my own brief: It began "On 16th June 1915, an Englishman, a Canadian woman and a group of local ladies met in a summer house in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychchwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Anglesey; the result was the establishment of the first Women's Institute in the United Kingdom".
It was no accident that the WI started in Wales. Those who understood the need for a women's organisation in the countryside recognised that fertile ground for this radical development would be among the relatively free-thinking and traditionally non-conformist people of Wales who were also suffering greatly social and economic ills. The centre of agricultural expertise at Bangor University provided an anchor for the movement and nearby 'Llanfair PG', provided the pioneering women and the meeting place.
My garden design was based around that Summer House and included culinary as well as decorative plants. It was decided that elements from all 4 short-listed designs would be included in the Show Garden, so it became a truly WI-wide project. This was reinforced by the NFWI Executives and staff who attended the planning meetings. And if that wasn't enough, the NFWI had astutely obtained the participation of Sam Youd, Head Gardener at Tatton, and his team of volunteers.
The final design retained the representation of the Summer House, so the spirit of Llanfair PG's first meeting was firmly at the centre of the garden. Artefacts of yesteryear were also included to invoke a period feel, but the garden was ultimately brought to life by a riot of culinary and decorative plants.
The RHS Judges obviously appreciated it and awarded the WI's Show Garden of 2005, a RHS Gold Medal. For me personally, it was a lifetime achievement, having won a Silver Medal twice before.
Like most WI members, I could write a long list of what I have gained from my membership – friends, companionship, new skills, ideas, insights, and other benefits that come with membership of an influential countrywide organisation. But being able to tell people I'm an RHS Gold Medallist has to be the crowning glory. Thank you, the WI (and that means all of you)!
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