by Andrea Whitely
It was a conversation I would have several times. “So how is it that you are here in Pasadena?” one lady asked me. “I’m here for this.” I replied. “Really?” she exclaimed, “All the way from Australia?!” And so it went. To be a First Timer at a GWA Symposium is one thing but to be a First Timer from Western Australia is quite another.
How hard could it be, right? I’ve had a successful radio program, I‘ve done loads of public speaking gigs, launched books, travelled the world, run multimillion dollar businesses. Get in there girl, I thought to myself. So after settling in at The Hilton I headed over to the Pasadena Conference Center where I received a bag of welcome goodies and a pocket badge with a large blue cloth sticker saying “First Timer.” There was no hiding the fact that I was the new kid on the block here.
Next I attended the First Timer’s Reception and, boy oh boy, was I made to feel like a long lost relative. No sooner had I walked in the door and headed towards the bar (always a good place to start when you don’t know a living soul at a function) than I was enthusiastically greeted by a happy lady with a pocket name badge adorned with what seemed like a jewelry box of badges. She was none other than Denise Schreiber, who I later found out is as close to royalty as one gets at GWA. I was made to feel so welcome! Denise made a special announcement at the end of the formalities and I was asked to come up to the microphone. Luckily I am neither shy nor retiring and shared my great pleasure at being able to attend this Symposium. After the presentation people came up to me and welcomed me personally, business cards were exchanged and the room was filled with a wonderful buzz of anticipation and excitement.
It soon became evident that this Symposium was going to change my life. When you attend one of these events you expect to gain knowledge and insight and that I did in spades (pun intended). As a landscape designer and garden writer you can spend a lot of time in isolation, just you, your laptop, and your thoughts about the gardens you’re creating and writing about. Here I discovered a whole world of people who do what I do and are as passionate about their respective crafts as I am. At every session break fellow plantaholics were talking excitedly like small children in the playground on the first day back at school about plants and plans, talks they had just attended, and their visions for the future. Yes indeed, gardeners are perhaps the most optimistic of all professionals when it comes to planning for the future.
During the Symposium we heard from a lineup of impressive speakers. Woven into the sessions was a fabulous event called Table Top Talks and a two day exhibition of products and plant information. We also traveled by bus to visit such wondrous places as the Los Angeles County Arboretum, The Huntington Art Library, and three delightful private gardens. Everywhere we went there was a sense that we were there to do important work to disseminate the joy and importance of gardens and gardening in the everyday lives of the communities in which we live.
What did I actually get out of this significant investment of time and money? Since returning home, I am supported by an incredible network of contacts from GWA who mentor me in my endeavors. Sometimes it’s just a “Like” or a quick comment on Facebook or Twitter but other times I receive lengthy private messages. I am no longer working in isolation. I have met garden writers, TV stars, radio personalities, landscape architects, horticulturists, plant growers, lawn specialists, bloggers, photographers, educators, and even a Tree Whisperer.
My trip to the GWA Pasadena Symposium has had a major impact on my career. I have launched my new website. I have ramped up my social media presence. My new blog is up and running and has a solid following. I have written numerous articles and am now working on a book with a dear new friend from Arizona. My landscape design business has never been busier and my branding has had a huge shot in the arm with the enthusiasm injection. I have a renewed confidence about the work that I do. Was it worth travelling all the way from Western Australia? YES it was!
As you have probably realized by now, I’m a convert. I have paid my subscription and submitted my GWA membership application, joined the Facebook group and am saving hard for #GWA16. Listen out for me – I’m the one with the funny accent but no blue First Timers badge. See you all in Atlanta!
Meet the Author
Andrea Whitely is a West Australian based Garden Consultant with more than 20 years experience in garden related pursuits and is currently running a boutique garden design, implementation and maintenance business. She has written for many magazines and writes for Hort Journal. She is best known for her appearance on 720ABC Perth radio, public speaking across Western Australia and her association with Australia’s Open Garden Scheme. Andrea is a member of the Horticulture Media Association and Garden History Society.