I was a docent before I became the Executive-Director. The former position is volunteer work, so the job does not endanger the family’s tax bracket. But the fringe benefits are significant. Incalculable, in fact.
Demands of my position mean I don’t lead tours much anymore but the desire to share the Dunn is ever present. It can be ignited without permission at lightening speed. That is what happened when I discovered a South African couple planned to visit on a Saturday morning tour.
South Africa is a double sweet spot for me. It is a land of famed biodiversity, (third-highest level on the planet). The country, alone in the world, can claim an entire floral kingdom. The Cape Peninsula National Park has more plant species within its 22, 000 hectares than the whole British Isles or New Zealand. The place is the rock star of plant life for garden lovers.
And in 1996 my husband, Bruce, and I visited South Africa for two months. President Mandela was the newly minted leader of the country mending itself after the apartheid era. The air was fresh with excitement. The Afrikaners who were our hosts were pleasant, unstintingly hospitable, and proud of their land. It was an interesting visit.
So when I saw the names, Hedy and Jeffrey, show up in the tour log with their South African email address, I was shanghaied. I wanted to find out how these presumed garden lovers viewed our Olmstedian Eden. Coupled with this impulse was a need to pass on the generous welcome extended by their countrymen of my long ago visit. Somehow, I needed to find out if they were being treated as kindly here in the Pacific Northwest as we were in South Africa.
Janet, the scheduled docent was waiting for the Saturday morning tour group with a large smile and stories for the visitors when I arrived. I had an unseemly urge to muscle her out of the way that I quashed by snapping up Hedy when she arrived in the driveway. I peppered her with questions about gardens in South Africa.
“Yes, Babylonstoren is worth the visit. You cannot spend too much time in Kirstenbosch. It is not possible,” she told me. “Take a big bag to that one, she said pointing to the list I had. “You can pick the fruit while you are there.”
I hadn’t noticed she looked hot. “Can someone take us back to the bus stop after the tour,” she said. “We took the bus from our hotel but the stop is quite a way from the garden.”
Here was my hospitality moment presented on a plate. “I’ll take you back to the hotel,” I said against her vehement protest. After the tour I packed Hedy and Jeffrey into my Prius, still protesting they did not need to inconvenience me, and off we went, stopping on the way at Magnusson Park to see the P-Patch. The communal garden and park was a little local color en route that is not usually on the tours offered visitors. Since they had already seen much of what Seattle has to offer I then decided to take them to my nearby home. We settled with my spouse on the front deck with a cold drink and traded travel and garden stories. In short order we were bonded at the hip.
“You must let us take you out for a sandwich,” Jeffrey insisted.
“Swansons,” I said after an insipid protest deciding the restaurant in my go-to nursery was an ideal location.
We sat among the soothing lushness of the plants that adorn the café and chatted some more while we ate our predictable food orders. Jeffrey always has grilled cheese, it turned out, Hedy and I generally succumb to chicken salad, even after a full perusal of the menu, and Bruce ate a ‘vege delite.’ Hedy ventured around the gift shop, selecting a sun hat to replace the red one she had purchased at home and left lying there. I was taken in by her enthusiasm and bought a large one in anticipation of the Dunnton Abbey fundraiser on August 8. And we traded yet further stories finding more touchstones between us.
So who could have thought when I signed up to become a docent at the Dunn Gardens so long ago that it would lead to a spontaneous and lovely encounter with two international visitors. Never imagined that. But, that is the magic of gardens.
And Hedy said the Dunn matched her expectations. After being with her for some hours I doubt she would have said that if she didn’t mean it.