Our popular WHS Talks are held at the Balsam Centre, Balsam Park BA9 9HB (accessed from Memorial Hall Car Park), usually on the last Wednesday evening of the month.
Doors open 6.30pm with the talk starting at 7pm. Our 9 talks throughout the year range widely, covering local and national topics such as the Roman Villa at the Newt, life of a local vet in 20th century, restoration of Earl of Shaftesbury’s house, the Nuremburg Trials.
A brief round-up of previous talks are available if you click the “Previous Talks” button further down this page.
The programme is being constantly developed so do revisit this site, check out our Instagram or Facebook and look out for our eye-catching posters in various locations around the town advising forthcoming subjects.
Entry Charges (per person):
Members and under 18s: free
From time to time Special Talks are being booked. The venue for these is the Memorial Hall. Last year we heard from John Blashford-Snell, and enjoyed a live performance of Flamenco dancing. Charges for these talks differ from the standard Talks charge. Keep an eye on this site for details.
Special Talks (per person):
Members: free (donation welcomed)
Non-members: See listing for prices
Emily Utgren: From Sweden to Stourhead
22 February 2023 @ 19:00 - 21:00
An attentive gathering was treated to an enthusiastic tale by Emily Utgren of her journey from growing up in Sweden on the edge of the forest, to studying and working in Britain and to journeying around the world to absorb the thinking behind Japanese gardens.
Historic houses in Sweden have only small, formal gardens, in comparison to the two and a half thousand acres of the Stourhead estate. Starting her studies in Cornwall, near Camborne, at a plant nursery run by a former miner, she went on to the Eden Project, all the while learning far more than simply how to grow things. Time at RHS Rosemoor in Devon came next and eventually Emily landed at Stourhead where she worked for some 15 years.
During this time the tutorial and practical courses run there brought her into contact, not only with the innumerable facets of horticulture and arboriculture, but myriad people whose reasons for getting into gardening were as diverse as they were. A number of these courses involved people staying on site for several weeks, accommodated in the former stables, where, perhaps, they got closer to nature than they bargained for with spiders and rooks for neighbours. These residential courses often offered considerable opportunities for exchange of ideas.
And she got involved in unexpected activities like a major endurance race around Stourhead and the locality, in her case the cycling part of a triathlon, thanks to the persuasiveness of her then boss, Alan Power, the Head Gardener. We definitely got the feeling that those working at Stourhead are a close, cohesive team.
Invited to Japan to see some of the students graduate, Emily shared with us the different ethos pervading in Japan. Based upon 5 constituent parts, being sky, wind, fire, water and ground, gardens in Japan are treated as part of the natural landscape and the man-made city is suborned to its environment and cultural heritage. A leaf on a water feature is there intentionally and is replaced fresh every day; here it might be thought have fallen there and, in that frame of mind, Emily lent forward and was on the point of removing said leaf when the thinking behind it was explained to her. A downpipe was not simply to take water away from a house but was made into a feature that used the water to enhance the location.
Returning to Sweden and visiting a friend, Emily highlighted the close relationship her fellow Swedes have with nature and the history of the way things have been done. A temporary wooden door was given a simple closure, also of wood, made practically but with care. A far cry from the simply practical, sourced from the network of wholesaling and retailing of mass manufactured products that generally pervades construction in UK.
During her talk Emily covered a lot of ground (no pun intended), only a small taste of which can be recounted here.
Although she obviously enjoyed her time at Stourhead and all she was able to do through that connection, the world turned and Emily moved on to a life with other priorities – family life with her husband and child, both of whom were with us on the evening of this talk. Now living in Wincanton, she is a retained fire-fighter at our local station.