The Tribute

I had the most wonderful experience this morning – one that made me feel both lucky and privileged. I met with a new client – a very recent widower. At the end of last year, he retired, and he and his beloved wife – both avid gardeners and collectors – had great plans for their continued life together. Long story short – she was diagnosed with cancer, and just over two weeks later (!!!), she was gone. Not having ever experienced that kind of tragedy, I can only imagine that it would shatter just about everything around you. How do you pick up the pieces and move on? All things considered, I’m amazed that in only a little over three months, he felt strong enough to reach out and ask for help with shaping his garden.

When I used the word “collectors”, I wasn’t exaggerating. Lining the walkway up to the house on one side, were pot after pot of exquisite Saxifrages, Lewisias, and other alpine plants. On the other side were rocks, but not just any rocks. There were agates, fossils, petrified wood, thunder eggs, and other minerals of all imaginable kinds. As I would soon learn, the backyard too, was jam-packed with treasures. An avid botanist as well as mineralogist, he had an impressive knowledge of all the amazing riches that filled his yard, whether inert or organic. At one point, I gestured toward a giant mound of rocks, semi-covered in soil and plants, and asked the obvious. “Those aren’t regular rocks, are they?” I didn’t really need an answer. As I listened, learned and marveled over his story, it became more and more apparent that this was no “normal” design assignment. This assignment was more likely to become one long, continuous art installation.

Their love, cruelly cut short, deserved a celebration – a homage of sorts. This garden was to have become their retirement labor of love. Their plans and dreams, so carefully evolved over time were now painfully crushed, and pitifully lopsided. There were traces of his beloved everywhere. While she was interested in bonsai, and had a zen flair, his passion revolved more around alpine plants and minerals. While she loved gardening under the shady canopy of the massive Deodar cedar, he had a thing for desert plants. Understandably overwhelmed, he walked me around the yard, helping me to piece together the scope of what lies ahead. As my understanding grew, so did my appreciation for being allowed to help him accomplish this garden.

I have been thinking about it all day. This entire scenario reminded me of an artist friend whose mother recently died. He poured his sorrow into a marvelous portrait of her, which was on display during the memorial. It captured the confident, exuberant youth of his mother, complete with the somewhat mischievous glint in her eye, which even those of us who got to know her later in her long life, recognized. It was wonderful! He later shared that the process of making that portrait helped him channel the pain, and come to terms with the finality of it all. Likewise, I somehow feel this project will become a manifestation of love – a tribute to the life and joys my client shared with his wife – and a way to help him heal. We agreed that I would create some sort of master plan, incorporating the various major elements he and his wife had dreamed of. He will do most of the actual work himself- except where it calls for certain technological skills and heavy, earth-moving machinery – like the stated desire to transform the front yard into a scree meandered by a babbling mountain brook.

In closing – I feel as if I have been invited in to be part of a very intimate process of someone I barely know – that of healing. This requires a huge amount of trust from him. I’m humbled, and feel very, very honored to have been given the opportunity. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to this project! Actually, calling it “a project” feels wrong. I think calling it “a tribute” would be more appropriate. I will report more, as it evolves.

He sent a few souvenirs along, when I left:


A mossy piece of coprolite – also known as dinosaur poop.


A chunk of petrified palm.



A piece of horn coral…


…and a carnelian agate.


A piece of a limb cast…


…and a piece of petrified wood. There was an entire petrified tree stump in the back yard, on which a few succulents had taken hold and started growing. More on this later…


About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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19 Responses to The Tribute

  1. Pauline says:

    What an honour, to be allowed to help with such a project.

  2. I find this absolutely fascinating. I hope you’ll be writing more about this. It must be a huge thing to wrap your arms around and develop a vision, but that’s part of the fun. He’s lucky to have found you!

    • annamadeit says:

      Aw thanks, Valorie – or I’m lucky to have found him – or both. It really felt like embarking on a wonderful adventure. For now, listening and feeling seems to be the best way forward. But yes – don’t you worry – I will be reporting more on this. 🙂

  3. Two weeks? That’s just unbearable to think about. Good for you for being up to helping him.

  4. Oh my god. Anna…so cruel is right. You are the right one to guide him through this reclamation process and create a tribute garden together. I’m so glad you found one another.

  5. bergstromskan says:

    Wow Anna, How lucky you both are. You to be a part of his healing and expansion, as your own spiritually also will grow. Together, you two will be contributing to the healing of the Universe in a remarkable way. I love you, mamma

  6. jesse350 says:

    I’m with you, Anna. So many of our assignments as landscape designers are an honor and a privilege. Sounds like you’re just the designer for the job! 🙂

  7. rickii says:

    Every once in a while Fate deals a perfect hand.

  8. Kris P says:

    I can’t think of a better person to help your new client with this effort, Anna. I know it’ll be a wonderful experience for both of you. I look forward to catching glimpses now and then.

  9. Peter Herpst says:

    So very sad. You have just the right blend of design/plant expertise and empathy for people and spaces to help make this an incredible tribute. Thank you for letting us experience this vicariously through you!

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks Peter. I sure hope I can help do their combined dreams justice. It’s hard to even imagine the kind of year he’s endured so far. Hopefully this will help his healing…

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