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: