When I was growing up, we looked forward to certain seasonal pilgrimages with great anticipation. In the winter my mother, a true “Julia’s child”,would tow us along to the Williams- Sonoma store to ogle all the culinary extravangances she might enjoy in her own kitchen. And in the spring, we’d almost always make it to Longwood Gardens, with of course a trip to their fabulous gift shop. Whether it was books, seeds or plants, the thought that you could bring a small a piece of Longwood’s magic into your own world was considered with unique reverence. My mother limited herself to only a few indulgences each year and fostered these with great care.

Equally inspired, my father stood at the ready as head groundskeeper. He spent an entire summer hunting and gathering rocks for what I remember as the “summer of terraces.” When people ask me how I got into growing, it’s these early experience of dreaming “outside the box” with my mother, father and Longwood that come to mind.

So, when I called my father in January to tell him that I’d just gotten off the phone with Sharon Loving, the director of horticulture at Longwood and longtime ASCFG member, and that we’d be having our Regional Meeting at Longwood this spring, I was met with a sharp intake of breath and stunned silence. It’s always so fun at any age to surprise your parents. He was speechless. We both wished that my mother were alive to enjoy the moment as she passed away when I was twelve. He knew as well as I that “This was big!” A meeting at Longwood, a dance through through Lilytopia, this would be magic!

And it was! Thousands of lilies set in visionary displays created an incredible venue to host the assembly of the world’s top lily breeders, retailers, designers and growers at the Lilytopia professional symposium. Of particular interest to me on this day was the fascinating history of the early lily breeding in the U.S., presented by Ron Beck of Gloeckner. A horticultural newbie, I’ll admit my eyes began to cross when Arie Peterse of Marklily gave a presentation on lily breeding efforts in Holland; there are so many interesting crosses to look forward to. His enthusiasm for lilies and and the tidal wave of new varieties set to flood the beach was staggering.

Held the next day, our Regional Meeting attracted an intimate assembly of regional and national growers and horticultural gurus from the Mid-Atlantic and across the country. For a new grower just getting into production and marketing, this would have been a particularly inspiring meeting to attend. Thanks to all our speakers—Dave Dowling, Patricia Banner, John Friel,and Gay Smith—for taking the time to share their expertise on growing calla lilies, propagating dahlias, growing grasses as cuts and postharvest treatments. We were treated as well to two presentations from Longwood’s landscape designers, describing their recent construction efforts on their “living wall” wing of restroom facilities and just what it takes, as well as the extensive multi-year planning involved in designing the “Making Scents” exhibit. Our day was rounded out by behind the scenes tours of their production areas where we had a unique look into their composting efforts, propagation/breeding areas, chats with the head of IPM management and more.

What I realized is that, to me, there is really no one person “behind the curtain” at Longwood but many, and their combined efforts create the magic at Longwood that all can enjoy. I also realized that for this event the person that held “the curtain” for us was Ko Klaver of Zabo Plant, whom I am convinced is one of identical triplets. There is no way that he could have been in as many places that I saw him in any one given hour during our two days. We are in his debt for his efforts to cheerlead, organize and deliver this event for us and for Longwood, so Ko, a big thank you.

As a Regional Director, planning a meeting at any time during the season seems a daunting task, especially when your farm is screaming for attention. A special thank you to Judy and Linda who continue to make the process easy. For my small part, I returned to the farm rejuvenated and inspired to a pile of wedding proposals. I picked the one off the top, from an adorable young couple set to get married in September. I had met with them in April and they were virtually jumping off the couch in excitement—ah, young love.

They shared with me their engagement story. The groom wasn’t sure where to ask her but wanted it to be special. So he got online looking for “top destinations” in the country as he dreamed of surprising her. Where else did he choose but Longwood! Neither of them had ever been there, she was ecstatic at the visit and he confessed he was too nervous to enjoy the gardens. So perhaps they’ll return to Longwood in the future, start their new life together, maybe start a garden of their own and dream, be inspired, and share Longwood’s magic as we have over the years.

Andrea Gagnon

LynnVale Studios [email protected]