A few years ago I received a request from a nursery owner in Guernsey, Nigel Clarke, asking me to come there and give some talks on allergy-free gardening. He was the founder of an environment enhancing program called Green Legacy. I myself was a bit familiar with Guernsey because I’d recently read the totally fantastic book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.
I soon learned that during the 2nd World War that the Germans cut down virtually every tree on the Isle of Guernsey and used them for firewood….leaving the island devoid of trees.
In later years trees were planted but there was still a real need for re-forestation of Guernsey, and this was one of Green Legacy’s main projects.
Nigel Clarke, who is also founder of the excellent Quex Patio Plants Garden Center, is an especially intellectually curious fellow, and he decided that although it was a great idea to re-plant Guernsey, that while they were at it, they might as well only plant species that would grow well there, and also only ones that would not aggravate allergies or asthma in adults or children.
Nigel had recently read some articles about how the over-planting of silver birch trees (an allergenic species) in much of Europe was driving a great increase in allergies. He did a good bit of searching, looking worldwide to find an expert on this, and in the process located me. I am the author of several books about the connections between modern landscape plants and human health, including the book, Allergy-Free Gardening.
I told Mr. Clarke that if I agreed to come to Guernsey to speak, that while there, I was quite keen on doing some fishing, bird watching, and perhaps camping. He wrote back that if I came, he’d see that I went fishing with him and his grandsons, that we could all go camping, and that he would introduce me to birders from Guernsey.
I also wrote that when I give talks, I never agree to stay in hotels, but only come if actual plant appreciating people will agree to put me up as a guest in their own homes. Nigel then told me that I was certainly welcome to stay with him and his family in their own big house, Quex Manor. Rarely having the opportunity to stay at a house that actually has its own name, I quickly agreed to come to Guernsey to help spread the word about allergy free gardening, and the rights of people with allergies or asthma.
Since this venture was all for the greater good of Guernsey, and that Nigel was pretty much financing Green Legacy from his own pocket, I agreed to come for my expenses…and of course, the fishing, camping, and birding.
This was the start of a warm friendship between me and Nigel Clarke. I quickly found that he was one of those rare, lucky individuals who is interested in almost everything, who is always willing and often eager to try new things, that he was a good, honest, hard-working family man in all regards…and that he was one who never let things get him down, and mainly, that he was someone who was always a ton of fun to be around.
It was a long series of flights from California, but arriving in Guernsey on the small plane I saw it to be green and quite beautiful. Nigel and his wife, Ross, made my stay there to be perfectly delightful, and from day one they made me feel like one of their family. I liked his children, his grandkids, and all the people who worked in their family run nursery. The place has lots of charm and good vibes.
While in Guernsey we did indeed go fishing, camping and birding. I did a bit of radio and local TV work, gave several lectures, and judged a hanging basket planting contest. We found a number of very interesting pollen-free plants on Guernsey, and Nigel has been propagating them for future sales.
While looking for native birds with me and his grandsons, Nigel himself caught the birding bug, and he’s since turned into quite a respectable birder with over 300 birds already on his life list.
In the few years since my trip to Guernsey, Nigel and I have hooked up in different places to look for birds. We roamed the deserts of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, looking for birds during the day, and camping out under the stars at night. This last year we met in Toronto, Canada. We fished for northern pike in the wilds of the north from an old aluminum canoe, we saw Niagara Falls, and went looking for wood warblers from one end of Ontario to the other. As always, we never lacked for things to talk about, had many crazy adventures, and all in all, had a fine time.
Both Nigel and I remain dedicated to promoting concepts like Green Legacy. The world needs more parks, more green spaces, more trees…but there’s no need for any of us to be planting trees (or shrubs) that are known to aggravate people’s allergies, when we can do just the opposite instead.