National Congress 2014 hosted by Hume Camellia Society

Canmews Spring Summer 2014Canmews Spring Summer 2014“Why are you all so old?” I remember feeling quite confronted when this question about delegates at the International Camellia Congress in China, in 2012, was put to me by a local news reporter? Did we really look so aged? What reply could be honest and informative and maintain the dignity and integrity of our delegates? I did my best to explain that after retirement from regular work and when children became independent, many Australians take up opportunities to travel overseas and, at home, devote more time and resources to gardens.

Far simpler to answer were questions from a reporter at the International Congress in Spain this year: “How did you become interested in camellias and why did you decide to come to this congress?” I recalled from my childhood the old and beautiful camellias that grew alongside my aunt’s house in Toowoomba, Qld. And, of course, I travelled to Spain to experience more of the friendships and fascinations that I enjoyed in China. My participation in the recent Australian Congress in Canberra, Capital Capers, has set me thinking about the role of the Camellia Society, including the annual congresses, in our lives, in particular what they offer an ageing population.

I should make it clear at the outset, of course, that I do not see horticultural interests as the exclusive domain of older people – there are inestimable individual and community benefits in encouraging gardening interest in young people and facilitating opportunities for people of all ages to work together. Nevertheless, many of our members are enjoying retirement years and the benefits of gardening for older people are well documented. Capital Capers, I believe, would score highly in any appraisal of a healthy ageing activity.

Canmews Spring Summer 2014
Firstly, the program and location provided opportunities for social interaction – connecting with established friends, renewing acquaintances, meeting new members from all over Australia, linked by a common interest in growing camellias. As important as any physical activity, the ageing experts tell us, is the accompanying social activity. Chatting over breakfast or dinner at the Eaglehawk Resort, or at lunch in the marquee at Tulip Top Gardens, sharing coffee and cake ably prepared by the bus driver or enjoying company and conversation as we lunched on a Lake Burley Griffin cruise – this program ticked all boxes for social interaction.

The opportunities for physical activity, more or less according to interest or inclination,Canmews Spring Summer 2014 were also well provided for. At the developing National Arboretum, a climb to Dairy Farmers Hill was rated Grade 3 for its rocky, steep and uneven terrain. The 360 degree views of the Arboretum, surrounding countryside and sprawling Canberra suburbs more than amply rewarded the effort involved. On the other hand, a gentle stroll to the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion, also offering sweeping views, or an inspection of the co-located National Bonsai Collection catered for those preferring lighter physical activity. The National Botanic Gardens were also well chosen: an opportunity to explore the track to the Telecom Tower or to keep to lower levels to enjoy wattles in glorious golden bloom or to watch honey eaters darting in and out of shrubbery. And at Tulip Top Gardens, the low level beds of tulips and pansies were stunning and easy to explore while a short climb to the lookout afforded glorious ‘top down’ views of flowering blossom trees.

Canmews Spring Summer 2014Continuing to learn and to be challenged is considered vital to healthy ageing. Again, the Capital Capers program excelled and, in many respects, was inspirational. Visits to two private gardens showed what dedication, perseverance, knowledge and steady work can achieve. Although different in their presentations, these two corner block gardens displayed the best of springtime blooms, alight with the colours of camellias, magnolias, bulbs, annuals, blossom trees and shrubs. As befits truly passionate gardeners, the owners were welcoming and most generous with information, suggestions and tips on how they have achieved their spectacular springtime shows. In the context of outstanding work at the E.G.Waterhouse Gardens and its award this of International Camellia Garden of Excellence, Dr Stephen Utick encouraged delegates to utilise technology to explore these gardens further. In a similar vein Lynette Gleeson and Wesley Gleeson were commended for their use of technology in making the beauty of camellias, and assistance in growing them, accessible through the development of the Camellias Australia Website.

Canmews Spring Summer 2014
There were other moments of inspiration on Capital Capers: learning from the Chief Executive Officer of the National Arboretum about the courage and foresight of those who saw the potential for a lasting thing of beauty to grow from bushfire ravaged pine forests, the sheer beauty of a hall filled with stunning camellias, spring bulbs, hellebores and other blooms at the National Camellia Show, softly playing classical music drifting through the trees at Tulip Top Gardens, and Dr Utick’s humble acceptance of the Walter Hazlewood Award and the moving tribute to his father and others who had influenced his love for camellias. Denise Di Salvia’s review of camellias that had survived the testing conditions of rural New South Wales encouraged us all to have confidence that many camellias will flourish against all odds, other will ‘pass away’ but can be remembered for the joy they gave in their lifetime.

Canmews Spring Summer 2014

I think it possible that the very able organisers of Capital Capers did not consciously consider the needs of an ageing population when they devised the program we all enjoyed so much. Perhaps they did! In any case, they planned well and set a benchmark that many other organisations and events could emulate. Equally important, gardeners and camellia lovers of all ages could find satisfaction and enjoyment in the program. A challenge for our societies and branches might be to find ways of encouraging greater participation by younger people, alongside our older members, achieving benefits for both individuals and the community.

Janet Whelan, Camellia Society Tasmania

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