I remember reading Lyall Watson’s Supernature published in the early 1970s. And although he was frowned upon by the scientific community for writing about inexplicable natural phenomena without any scientific proof, I found his book fascinating. I was particularly struck by his theory that plants have emotions that can be recorded on a lie detector test and that they respond to sound and to the emotional content of verbal communication. So what’s all this got to do with Liz at Lancaster’s garden? Now Alick Ncube, who’s responsible for Liz at Lancaster’s joyous riot of colour, knows nothing of Lyall Watson and his theories of the paranormal.
But when I spoke to Alick about how well a plant was doing after he had moved it, he said with his quiet grace and shy smile ‘But I have been talking to it so it will be happy and grow.’ On another occasion we were chatting and he said ‘I love working in the garden – it’s like holding a baby.’ How much more of a nurturer could a gardener be? So according to Lyall Watson and Alick Ncube the plants and flowers are hearing Alick’s gentle voice of encouragement and are responding to the emotional content of caring and tending.
Watson was born Malcolm Lyall-Watson in 1939 in Johannesburg. An exceptionally bright student, he graduated at 19 from Wits University with degrees in Botany and Zoology. At 23 he was director of Johannesburg Zoo and was later to complete a doctorate in animal behavior under Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape, and then curator of mammals at London Zoo. Watson became an expedition leader and according to his
obituary in the Telegraph (he died in 2008), he ‘joined BBC Television as a producer and reporter on Tomorrow’s World, abandoned his given name of Malcolm, started a consultancy, designed and directed zoos, ran a safari company in Kenya and founded a marine national park in the Seychelles.’
So when guests enjoy and comment on all aspects of Liz at Lancaster’s garden: alongside the pathways to the units; the window boxes and hanging baskets in the parking area; the wall pots in the private patios; and the lawn and pool in the front area, I think of lie detectors, Alick’s gentle words of encouragement, and burgeoning buds and blossoms in this heady scented Highveld springtime.