In the dog days of winter I long for colour and warmth, and the place for both is at the annual Orchid Festival in Kew Gardens. On a grey and rainy day I made my way to the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which was toasty, welcoming and packed with vibrant Thai-themed displays. Walkways and stepped paths led through a multi-coloured indoor pleasure garden, hung with delicate umbrellas, flowered archways, evocative animal scenes and stunning floral arrangements. Avoiding selfie takers, family groups and the Room of Carnivorous Plants, I bathed in the tropical temperature and soaked up the bright hues, chasing away my late-winter blues.
After a while I became aware of the detail of the blooming orchids – delicate gradations of pattern and colour blending with curved petals to form captivating shapes, almost symmetrical and yet not quite, each one individual. And in amongst the foliage were gardeners carefully watering, monitoring and nurturing the plants, ensuring those in bloom stayed at their best, and the ones yet to emerge had the right conditions to flourish during the short life of the festival.
As I continued my eye was drawn away from the gaudy flowers and towards the less showy leaves of the resident plants that thrive in the conservatory all year round. In the past I wouldn’t have paid these much attention. But now their spreading and flexible surfaces remind me of the way I’m uncurling and opening out as I get deeper into my training. I see the anatomical everywhere and noticed in the leaves their long spines and ribs with a sense of openness and space, mirroring what’s happening within me. They seemed firmly planted yet free to expand upwards and outwards towards the light, not bursting with colour like the orchids, but with a clear and strong presence in the conservatory.
In a way the process of training is like being a plant tended by thoughtful gardeners. It’s no hothouse after quick results, but a warm and safe environment for three years, encouraging curiosity, exploration and growth. Teachers notice our clinging habits, and encourage us to let go and send roots into more nourishing ground. Their hands and words guide wayward spines and limbs into a more dynamic and integrated shape. With daily attention they gently provide what we need to send us upwards, strong, light and open, firmly rooted but flexible.
Soon an outside Alexander gardener -our external moderator – will come to check me over. She visits twice, now towards the end of my second year and once more during my final term. This time she’ll want to see how I’m progressing, whether I’m fully embedded in Alexander soil and how I need to develop over the coming year to bring me into bloom at the right time. Two years have passed since I started my training and it’s a year since I began this blog. Slowly but surely I’m growing up.