TALKS

Ambra is an experienced speaker, available for speaking engagements at literary and gardening festivals, historical societies and gardening clubs. Her most popular talks are listed below.

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THE STORY OF THE ENGLISH GARDEN

Why is one garden formal, clipped and symmetrical, while another is loose and naturalistic? Why does this one reach out to the surrounding countryside, while that one is secret and enclosed? Why do some gardens consist of little other than grass, water and trees, while others are packed with bizarre buildings or colourful flowers? How can the English garden be all these things at once? 

 

Drawing on the fabulous resources of the National Trust’s photo library, Ambra traces the development of the English garden from the Middle Ages to the present day, showing how gardens reflect both the times in which they were made, and the people who made them.  The garden, she suggests, is about a good deal more than plants or design: it opens a secret window on politics, economics, religion, fashion, the development of technology and the history of empire. 

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THE ROMANCE OF THE WALLED GARDEN

There was a time when every estate in Britain, from the grandest aristocratic pile to a modest gentleman’s residence, had its own walled garden producing food for the household. With ingenious technology and astonishing skill, fruits and vegetables we now consider exotic were grown as a matter of course. Then, the story goes, the first world war came along; the gardeners marched off to the front, never to return, and these once magnificent gardens fell into ruin.  

 

Ambra’s richly illustrated talk tells the story of these great gardens, charts their fall - not quite as we imagine it - and shows how many have risen spectacularly again, in such exciting reimaginings as Scampston, Alnwick and Mottisfont Abbey. She also delves deep into the history of walled gardens to explain why they exert such a powerful hold on our imaginations, as paradise gardens, poison gardens, and gardens made for love.

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WHAT MAKES A GREAT HEAD GARDENER?

That is the question posed by Ambra Edwards as she explores the lives, vision and achievement of a cohort of exceptional gardeners, some who always knew they were born to work the soil, and others who arrived by more circuitous routes. There’s Paul, a former heroin addict who spent seven years living on the street.  Or Carol, who uses gardening to try to repair lives blown sky-high in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There’s Mick, the artist; Ned the gentle nature-watcher, and Lucille, subversively planting ancient Oxford quads with gaudy Caribbean exotics.  What could have persuaded globe-trotting plant-hunter Steve to settle in a deep Dorset dell? And what kind of gardener is Beatrice, who is friend to ground elder and patiently trains bindweed up poles?

 

Gardening, they all agree, is not so much a job as a life choice.  But why would anybody do it, when even our brightest gardening stars are so curiously under-appreciated and underpaid?   How has gardening, once the sister art of music and poetry, degenerated into a form of outdoor housework?  And what are we going to do about it? 

 

Ambra’s talk is illustrated with vivid photographs by Charlie Hopkinson – well known for his monthly portraits in Gardens Illustrated.

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF GROWING YOUR OWN

We do not know what flowers grew in the Garden of Eden, but we know there was an apple tree! Starting with the pyramids of Ancient Egypt and the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, Ambra traces the history of food-growing through to the great productive walled gardens of 18th and 19th century England, Digging for Victory in war-torn London, and beyond.   Right now, when growing our own seems more important than ever, Ambra shows how the growing of food has always satisfied more than the belly, but has held religious, political and social significance.

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PLANT HUNTERS

Who knew our garden plants had such colourful and exciting histories?  Discover the intriguing origins of some of our garden favourites, ranging from the snowy passes of Tibet to the Amazon jungle, from the primeval forest of the North Pacific to the ramparts of 19th century Shanghai. 

Hear tales of swashbuckling adventure and dogged endurance, of hair-raising escapes and crushing disappointment, of human courage triumphing over the brutalities of hunger, rape and war.  Meet the dauntless men who set off boldly into unmapped forest and uncharted seas in search of plant treasure.  Meet intrepid women explorers who deserve to be far better known - including the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. Share the wonder of chance discoveries - the world’s biggest flower and the world’s tallest tree - as well as the extraordinary complexity of plants we take completely for granted. 

Sumptuously illustrated with glorious paintings from the historic archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, here is an absorbing introduction to the movement of plants across the world – from botanical raids in Ancient Egypt right up to 21st century seed-banks and the new and endangered species being discovered every year.