My Dad’s Garden


It’s hard to say this, but I’ve been guilty of taking my Dad for granted. But, in all honesty, it’s his own fault. He has made it awfully easy. He always went to work. Always provided. Always took care of anything and everything. And did so without seeking any favors, attention, or gratitude. My advice to anyone who does not want to be taken for granted: Once in a while, create some drama. Trip people up. Be unreliable at a crucial time. Or disappointing somehow. Or terrifying.

Or, almost drop dead from an aortic aneurysm. Dad pulled this one last month. 80 years old but healthy as a horse, he dropped to the floor and was rushed to the hospital by the paramedics. Against pretty lousy odds, he survived, thank God, and he’s recovering with surprising swiftness.

In the discombobulated days following the surgery, my sisters and I (with much appreciated assistance from Aunt Marilyn and others) scrambled to re-order previously scheduled, excessively busy lives to visit Dad, shuttle Mom to visits, fetch groceries and prescriptions, and whatever else. Tasks and times that help to re-set priorities a bit for a little while.

But one nice thing that came out of this is that I had some quality one on one time with my Dad. He’s hard of hearing. When the whole fam damily is together and creating a cacophony similar to warring factions of chimpanzees, he can’t follow the conversation. Everyone needs to repeat everything. When he tries to speak, it’s often over someone else and jarringly off subject. It’s awkward and frustrating for us. For him, it must be maddening. But, just the two of us in a hospital room, we could talk. He could hear me, the conversations had a narrative, strayed into all kinds of topics, and were fun and interesting.

Another nice thing is that I spent a Saturday doing a March cleanup of his garden, and—even at that horticulturally butt-ugly time of year–was reminded of just how good a gardener my Dad is. As a kid, I loved the small rock garden he fussed over in the backyard, and in the summers I helped tend the vegetable plot we rented. At least until puberty hit and I was temporarily side railed by sex, drugs, and rock & roll. When Mom and Dad shockingly decided to move from our childhood home to a “condo,” my first question was, “What about the garden?”

Well, no worries there. Turns out, the “condo” was a free-standing unit that is half surrounded by a woods, and his first order of business was to get on the HOA beautification committee and receive approval to plant a garden.

So on a berm backed by a mixed forest, he laboriously hauled in trunk load after trunk load of limestone rocks from various road cutouts and built another rock garden. In wet winter and humid summer Ohio; in high pH, heavy clay soil; in tree roots and half shade, with deer, etc., etc., etc. Anyone who knows anything could have told you, “There ain’t no way!” This was a textbook recipe for disaster! And, yet, not one of those “experts” would have been right. Dad’s rock garden is ridiculous! Innovative and artful in design, nimbly flexible in application, populated with some true alpines but also backfilled with suitable look-alikes.

As he gardened his way across the landscape, he enhanced things with a pond. Then another pond. As the garden wrapped around the side of the house and into deeper shade, he added one helluva woodland garden which contains as good a collection of shade plants as you will find in the area.

It was a treat to spend some alone time working there in March and this past week to re-visit. With this deadline looming and other article ideas still reluctant to progress out of the “half-baked” stage, I thought I’d take the easy way out and share his garden with you. Should have waited until closer to Father’s Day, but, hey, it’s May and I’m freakin’ busy! And, by the way, so is my Dad. Gardening already.

So in summation, don’t take loved ones for granted. If you yourself are feeling taken for granted, schedule a day for drama of some kind on your calendar. I recommend you do so quarterly. Get yourself checked if someone in your family has had an aortic aneurysm. Spend more one on one time with loved ones. Don’t be distracted by sex, drugs, and rock & roll in your youth. Just stick to gardening because you’re going to come back to it anyway. You can successfully put the wrong garden in the wrong place if you’re really good. Build your first pond big so you don’t have to enlist your son to come dig a second one. And, finally, if you have a blog to write and no time to write it, go with something from the heart. It flows steadily. It’s honest. And it feels right.






  1. So glad your dad recovered from such a scary event. Good reminders here for us all. What a wonderful garden he created!

  2. A garden like your father’s is a powerful incentive to get well enough quickly to get back home and watch spring unfold — and it’s a powerful healing agent, too. He must have been grateful to have raised a gardener skilled enough to be trusted with cleanup. I know I’m grateful for the chance to visit it through you, even if the opportunity was created by an alarming event. Best wishes to your father, and may be have many more seasons to enjoy his beautiful creation.

  3. I’ve noticed a trend, gardeners live long, lovely lives. . .Ruth Bancroft, 107, Virginia Robinson, died @ 99 while planning her 100th birthday celebration to be held in her garden. Lawrence Johnston, Hidcote, 87. . . .I’m sure there are more. May your father join this grand group.

  4. One of the best pieces I’ve ever read on this site…and I will read it multiple times, especially since it hits so close to home. Thanks for sharing your story Scott 🙂

  5. MY dad had a great terraced hillside garden in full sun, but when we built our house and I started gardening in a woodland setting, he found a shady spot for a few plants. Unfortunately he died at 80 working in his garden. Twice-yearly visits to my sister were not nearly enough to keep it up. So glad your dad recovering and living his passion.

  6. Beautiful Scott! At my fathers age of 96, I’ve started sending him notes of gratitude, every couple of days. I’ve been wanting to write a letter, but short notes are actually getting done. Wonderful that you are sharing this gardening gratitude!

    This also made me remember the wives/mothers who went on strike back in the 80’s, to point out all that they did for their families…. You’re right, sometimes wake up calls are needed.

  7. A lovely article, Scott, that triggered tears for me. My dad died almost exactly six months ago. He was a gardener all my life (to the shock of his brothers, who remembered how he hated helping in the garden as a boy). I myself had no interest until I bought my first home: a townhouse with a front and back yard overrun with weeds. Dad brought me bulbs and tubers from his yard for mine, and that was the beginning of my garden-loving years. He was always my cheerleader, my answer-man, my guru. And now this year is my first Spring without him. The first garden I will grow on my own, without his wisdom and enthusiasm. I hate chemical fertilizer, but he didn’t: the other day when a neighbor was fertilizing, the scent made its way to my yard and brought tears.

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble. So glad your dad is well.

  8. Great post, Scott, weaving gardening, love of parents, and all the important parts of life into a tapestry. Happy that your father made it through the aneurysm. Those are, as you’ve learned, routinely and instantly fatal, yet he’s gone through it as another seemingly no-drama feat of his long life.

    I don’t want to break any rules here, but I wrote a piece a number of years back in a similar vein, touching on how gardeners have a unique ability to teach us all how to live and die. If you’re interested, you’ll find it here:


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