For the first time tickets for the Dinner had been sold via Eventbrite, so thanks to Jennifer Alsop for setting up this handy booking technology; the evening was off to a good start. People even had a reminder on their phones of what they'd chosen to eat. What technology couldn't help with was the mad traffic, backed up from Kew Bridge Road, and gridlocking every side road and possible cut-through. Sparkle Ward, former Journal editor, and I (current one) went together, Sparkle in possession of the vital lapel name badges, so intending to arrive long before the guests. We ended up littering the car on the roadside and carrying a monstrously heavy box of Journals the rest of the way. Luckily there was somebody behind the Jodrell Gate willing to let us in, which cut a corner. Far more serious was the fact one of the main courses was held up, causing backstage anxiety with caterers NakedNosh – anxiety which, very professionally, wasn't conveyed to the guests.
Silke with students
Sparkle Ward meeting and greeting David Hardman
When we did arrive, Sparkle went effortlessly into 'meet and greet' mode, welcoming and handing out name badges. People gathered in the Gallery room of Cambridge Cottage and drifted outside, chatting and mingling. It was lovely to see so many younger people – a table of 12 students – who seemed to enjoy the evening as much as the more established folk.
Acting Chairman Rob welcoming guests to Annual Dinner 2023
Delectable food from NakedNosh
Alan Stuttard with Stewart Henchie
Indeed, come the speeches there was a great sense of the merging of generations, of working together but also of passing on the mantle from one to another. Rob Brett, Acting President, welcomed everyone, and then took a moment to remember the very sad passing of Graham Heywood, who died very suddenly in January.
Remembering Graham Heywood: Stewart Henchie and Wiena Ward
Speaker Dr Tim Upson's speech was aimed at encouraging those just setting out on their horticultural careers. He reflected on his own 'journey in horticulture' which led to his curator and directorship of Cambridge University Botanic Garden, which was kicked off at Kew. Recalling his interview for the Kew Diploma he said a question about African violet propagation was asked by Stewart Henchie – who was present at the Dinner this evening and did indeed recall interviewing Tim.
Tim's recurring theme was seizing the opportunities offered by a career in horticulture – from his own opportunities to write and publish, to the opportunity to launch others on the horticultural path. It being Chelsea Week, in which he had shown the Guild's patron Princess Alexandra round, he said he relished the Young Horticulturalists' Breakfast: "It took me back to when I went to Chelsea for the first time but didn't feel part of the show. So it's important to me in my role at the moment that young horticulturalists from around the world have a special visit to the gardens and meeting the designers. One thing I've learnt is not only to take opportunities but also to give opportunities to others too."
Speaker Dr Tim Upson
On the horticultural path
The George Brown Memorial Award presentations were made to two people this year, introduced by Chris Kidd. He read out the legend engraved on the George Brown lectern – 'For furthering communication and diplomacy in the true spirit of the Kew Guild'. Tony Overland, past President, had been nominated by the late Graham Heywood for his inspiration and wisdom, for his almost singlehanded laying on of the Grand Dinner over several years, and, as Chris Kidd said, for his "advice on progression of the Guild from a Kew Guild which has worked well for 130 years into one which we're trying to make, which will work for another 130 years."
Jan and Tony Overland
Tony Overland receiving George Brown Memorial Award
The second George Brown Memorial presentation was for Cyril Giles, who sadly was not well enough to attend the Dinner, and so was represented by his son, Shane Hayward-Giles. Chris said: "Cyril studied horticulture on the south coast, came to Kew in 1960, and after that went to Borneo, a difficult environment. During that time he collected material and sent it back to Kew, notably orchids, and he had an orchid species named after him."
Shane passed on his father's thanks and made an amusing speech in which he described part of his father's life when over 3,000 specimens were sent from the tropics to Kew.
Shane Hayward-Giles receiving George Brown Memorial Award on behalf of Cyril Giles
Chris Kidd introducing George Brown Memorial Awards
Meanwhile the raffle was taking place – the prizes many and gorgeous and carried out cheerfully by Josie Lane – and coffee and chocolates were handed out. The meal, provided by mobile catering company NakedNosh had arrived only slightly behind time because of that traffic, and every course was decorated with edible flowers. There was even a cake, ceremoniously cut by Tim Upson, which as Rob Brett said, nobody really needed after the delicious meal but which was there to celebrate the Guild’s 130th Anniversary.
Raffle organised by Josie Lane
Cake arriving for Weina, Sparkle and Richard Ward
Something else of note was that there were as many as eight past Kew Guild Presidents present, so Chris Kidd rounded them up for a photograph.
Eight Past Presidents at Guild Dinner 2023
While it's very often the case that it is only at the Dinner that people meet in the year, it was particularly good to see people with whom one had only communicated via Zoom. Seeing the whole of somebody, instead of just the talking mugshot a screen provides gives so much more of an insight into what makes that person tick.
Meeting and mingling
Meeting and mingling
The fact so many people lingered for a long while afterwards said everything about the excellent occasion it had been.