Losing friends in the Pacific Northwest
Carved into my thoughts are the mounting losses of fine gardens and of even finer gardeners. "I remembers” of when ...my friend was bent over in the garden, stooping to observe his latest planting. He doesn't exist any more except as my memory of a slender man all too often dressed in gray. He grew older and became a grandpa, playing with his grandchildren. He also taught the
neighborhood kids how to differentiate the many kinds of leaves and berries. Which were safe and which were not. It was a garden as rich in connections as in collections.
In his world of trees, we could all become hobbits and for his secluded garden, the city became a much friendlier place. Two gnarly hawthorns, their prickly thorns and gnarly bark much like him framed the garden and home. There was a hedge-like, prickly quality to him sometimes, yet the
birds and children would always flock to him. His quiet prickliness making the garden a very private and special place. For all that "adult" private-ness, his birdseed and hummingbird feeders would always be filled, and we children could watch the daily ballets the Anna's would make around the feeders or the fuchsia flowers.
As a botanist, he created many new plants. He loved Amaryllis, Nerines and Grevillea. One of his plants carpets a great many California homes. Like I, he never patented anything. He just shared what he loved. One section of the garden was always reserved for a collection of his most recent experiments and we kids always respected this private corner. All of us respect and value
the concept of sanctuary, even if we don't have the words to define it.
The garden adjoined a greenbelt and it was his wish that this property be kept intact. For although it was three lots of more, he wanted it preserved as the acre it was. It was to be a "bird sanctuary" and a neighborhood-connecting place. As he aged he became more infirm and had a stroke. He began to fall down while walking in the garden. Friends would have to pick him up. His own children were dead, so he gave his power of attorney to his nephew. And while in a rest home this nephew sold the property to a developer to be carved into lots. The Hawthorn's, and all the bulbs will all be
buried beneath asphalt. Was the nephew just trying to pay for his care? I don't know? Did the Realtor and the Escrow company do anything wrong? Legally, no -- but morally yes. When informed of this sale it broke his heart.
A few months ago I had to weed out the Mecanopsis cambrica as this Welsh Poppy would go to
seed and choke out other plants. The dandelions went wild as in my garden. I removed the Welsh Poppy'. He looked at me very strangely when I told him of what I had done. Herb, you took all the light out of my garden -- all of the Yellow. Those Mecanopsis were here when I first bought this place fifty years. When I die, I had hoped they would be there for the next owner
Is it more important to have housing for people, or a bird sanctuary? At the very least we could influence the builder not to kill all the trees, and retrieve as much as possible the hybridized plants so carefully tended for the last 50 years. He told me in the nursing home..."well there is
really nothing really special on the land, just what was there and a few things I planted."
Are the neighbors fighting this proposed development? You bet they are. Things like this trigger powerful feelings of the heart and soul. Even if they lose and if that small greenhouse gets converted into a private home, in my memory that magical garden will still live on. The gardens that we plant and nurture are a good reflection of the health and depth of our hearts and souls. Communities and cultures are also like gardens. Some are naturally better endowed, others are simply better planned and yet others shine more brightly because they began with less and had to struggle. All, however, need to be fought over in the most constructive sense of the word.
The earth beneath our feet is ever preserved by hard tiling and the investiture of sweat and labor
towards later and greater rewards. The investment towards a remembrance that this garden and this land belongs to the children, forwarded on loan and then only if, we as stewards are, are concerned enough to pass it on in the same health and beauty as it has been lent to us.History provides the rich "wellspirit" from which the soul as well as the garden draws.
The flowing memories of past inhabitants and friends whose gifts are timeless legacies that can be drawn upon time and time again ... and in that sense the garden provides one with an immortality stretching out to future friends yet unknown who in their own 'circle's' turn will take wonder at all you've done.
For Noel, Verle, Dorothy and NUI who triggered the compilation of many different gardens -- all lost..his is a "Thursday Child's" story of four wonderful horticulturists and that of a younger one, who still has far to go! I hope this article will teach all of us to strengthen our own heart
lines and in that cultivation, learn to reach out and help others do the same. It is also a dedication to all the young hearts still beating strongly in an elder’s body. And a special thank you to the truest pollinators of this earth, those elders who take the time to propagate difficult cuttings and who help
nurture us younger sprouts to root most firmly.
The picture above is from my best friend Jim. He had ALS and it was a hard road he would travel.