How many hearts were a-flutter at my local horticultural society recently? Impossible to tell. With our — how shall I put it? — well seasoned membership, enthusiasm is shown by attendance, rather than demeanour. But, going by numbers, it was regarded as quite a coup to land a talk by Tom Hart Dyke.
Tom, renowned plant collector, shot to national prominence in 2000 when he finally emerged from nine months’ captivity in the Columbian jungle. To this day, he and his travelling companion, Paul Winder, have no idea who their captors were, nor what they wanted.
But it was certainly terrifying. Informed one day that they would be executed the coming evening, Winder spent the day in prayer, while Tom — “I wasn’t going to bother Him upstairs” — distracted himself by planning his ideal garden. And it’s this garden, changed very little from the original plan, which now supports the family estate at Lullingstone Castle in Kent. The whole experience, though, has had a deep and lasting effect on the family, and The Times has a a touching interview with Tom and his mother, Sarah.
Tom caught the gardening bug when he was three and his granny (much revered and often mentioned) gave him a packet of carrot seed and a trowel. His passion for his subject is immense and one is left in no doubt of how “amazing” and “fascinating” he finds the plant world. Such is Tom’s eagerness that occasionally one fears that he’ll run out of breath before running out of sentence. Occasionally he does.
The World Garden — “my Columbian dream” — aims to show the origins of many familiar plants. Wild varieties make up the central displays, in beds shaped like the continents, while corresponding cultivated varieties are ranged around the edges of the two-acre walled garden. Every winter a fifth of the garden is dug up and moved into shelter.
This year it wasn’t enough. While I was mourning the loss of a single potted myrtle, our cold, wet February wiped out over 1000 of Tom's plants, including (as he alarmingly put it) the entire Canary Islands. Tom seemed sanguine. It all contributes to our knowledge of the plants and over the years he’s made interesting discoveries of what is and isn’t hardy and, with his seven volunteer helpers, lost plants are quickly replaced.
And transplanting isn't all that's been happening. Last weekend, not content with one World Garden, Tom unveiled the World Garden in Miniature, very cute and featuring alpines. You can read more on his entertaining blog.
Tom's engaging writing style also gets an airing in his weekly column for the Gravesend Reporter, which has a nifty e-edition, although their page counts are a bit off and you might have to turn the pages, rather than use the search facility, to find him.
The next event at Lullingstone is the Flower Festival on 6th June, but you can visit Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays until 26th September. For more, see Visitor Information. In the meantime, the slide show below gives a flavour of the World Garden, and the video a preview of Tom's Hot and Spiky Cactus House.