The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Design Marries Horticulture

Frederic H. Gordon and Patricia Scanlan on their wedding day, October 6, 1951

Today is the 59th anniversary of my parents wedding. My father, known as Ted, would have been 91 and my mother, nicknamed Trish, would have been 82. Coincidentally, they both died at the age of 80. My father was an architect who served in WWII and my mother was a homemaker who raised four children and began working as a bookkeeper in the mid-1970's. My parents owned three houses during their lives together. The first house, was small starter house in a Levittown-like postwar neighborhood. When I was five, we moved to a much larger new house in a prosperous suburban neighborhood. Finally, when I was in college, they downsized to a modest house with a small lot on a busy street.

Each house had gardens. The bigger the house, more complex the gardens. The second house, on a street called Line Road, was the house I grew up in. It was the house that both of my parents put their heart and soul into. As soon as they bought the place, my father installed a brick walkway to the front door and my mother shipped in many truckloads of loam to make a proper lawn and began to plant trees, shrubs and gardens. My younger sister and I were too little to be of much help so my older brothers were the main laborers.

My father's brick entrance pathway was not an easy assignment. He chose a herringbone pattern with a single longitudinal course of bricks on each edge. The path had a gracious curve which made cutting the bricks very difficult. There were endless odd-shaped triangles to manufacture and my father bought a special saw for that purpose. He also built a brick patio attached to the rear of the house. It was also well-constructed and had less complicated basket weave pattern. It was quite large, probably 30 feet by 25 feet and most of it was covered by a dark green canvas awning.

Ted Gordon was a man who did things well. Looking back, I realize that my father set a excellent example of good design and quality of workmanship. The paths and patio were well made and he used quality materials. The path had a nice curve with a generous width. It was a very inviting entrance to the house and it felt appropriate to the cedar shingled Garrison house. The patio was extensive and served as a gracious outdoor living space.

My mother was the gardener. She was the one that got me in the dirt. She was a strong and powerful woman and she had stamina. She was very ambitious and always had several projects going on simultaneously. She might be painting the house, reupholstering wicker furniture, starting a new vegetable garden all at the same time. It was not uncommon for her to be working on a project until past 11 o'clock in the evening.

Trish Gordon was a very hard worker but she had so many projects going it often became difficult to keep up. Around mid-July, it was finally time to weed all the gardens. So the children were sent out to weed. The weeds were easy to see because by that time they were gigantic; three-foot-tall rag weed plants were common and the root balls were enormous. It was an overwhelming task for us kids and I think that is why my siblings are not gardeners. But once I got my hands in then soil, I was hooked. Hooked for the long haul.

When I was in junior high school, we did a unit on native wildflowers. In those days, we were encouraged to go into the woods and collect plants. I harvested bloodroot, mayapples and jack-in-the-pulpits in the woods near my house and I began my own little wildflower garden. I added a mountain laurel and violets, but I didn't want the easy to find purple violets. I scoured for the rarer yellow and white ones. I became a plant hunter and collector of unusual woodland plants. One of my mother's favorite stories was how, whenever we were on a trip when I was a child, I would demand that she stop the car, so I could dig up some unusual roadside plant .

As I mature and reflect on my life as a gardener, I realize I needed both my parents skills in order to create a first rate garden. I have inherited my father's architect's brain. I can visualize space in my mind. I can see how hedges and walls will create garden rooms and organize space. I can see how paths can lead and navigate the visitor through the garden. I have a good grasp of scale and proportion. I know how to create the bones of the garden. That I got from my father.

My mother gave me my appreciation of beauty and my love of plants. She taught me how to nurture things. She introduced me to common plants and encouraged me to search for the rare and unusual ones. She gave me my work ethic and showed me the importance of maintenance. I know how to take care of plants and treasure their beauty. I got that from my mother.

Exceptional gardens need to marry skillful design with brilliant horticulture. For me, that marriage took place fifty-nine years ago.


  1. Michael,
    What a thoughtful tribute to your father and mother, and to the skills, knowledge and love they gave your for gardening. I love the story of your stopping on family outings to collect wild plants for your garden.

  2. James,
    I'm glad you liked the post. The plant collecting is probably not something to broadcast now, but at the time it was quite innocent. Thanks for commenting.

  3. What a fabtastic post Michael! I love stories like this, with history and real peple getting dirty in their lives and in the earth. And the writing ain't too shabby either.

  4. Benjamin,
    That is a high compliment coming from you. Thanks very much. Looking forward to your book arriving soon.

  5. Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.
    I hope you don't mind if I post a link here to some pictures of my garden and home.

  6. I'm glad you liked it. Happy to link to your garden and home!



Related Posts with Thumbnails