In My Father’s Garden

Father and son in the garden
With my father in his garden.

I recently found myself alone in my father’s garden for the first time since he left us. There was an enormous weight on my shoulders. I now have the responsibility of this garden. How do I identify all these plants? Of course I know many of them, but I used to ask my father, like a child, “What’s this?”

For the houseplants, we had a plan in place! We had already spent a weekend identifying them all with little labels. A beautiful moment between father and son! I used to give funny names to his plants to tease him, he who was so rigorous. So there’s “Creton”, “Cactus Tree” and “Ninja” (I still don’t know how I came to call a plant “Ninja”, or what plant it is, except that it annoyed my dad, and it made me laugh).

Indoor Plants First

Before his career began, my father was already passionate about houseplants. His first self-published writings, À fleur de pot and Houseplant Forum, were newsletters about houseplants. He even wrote an unpublished book on growing plants under artificial light, that preceded “Les vivaces” (“Perennials”), his first book published by Broquet. He once told me that he started writing about gardening in general because houseplants were too niche a subject.

After he was gone, the grandchildren wanted to take home some houseplants from Grandpa as a memento of him. Each one chose one or even several. I could see the concern in their parents’ eyes. Where to put all these plants? But how to say no? They asked me how to care for them. “Wait until the soil is dry before watering and give it plenty of indirect sunlight” was my standard answer, which applies to almost all houseplants. A plant that lost its label became a Pomponus plantus, until I properly identified it. My father, of course, would have known its real name, the history of its cultivation, the meaning of its Latin name, its needs, etc.

Larry and Mathieu with dog shirts
Like father, like son? We seem to have the same sens of humour.

An Enormous Legacy

As I write this, I am sitting in his library, a collection of hundreds, perhaps thousands of books on horticulture and botany, which he began some forty years ago. How am I going to absorb all this knowledge? It would take me years to read it all. What reassures me a little is that my father recently confessed to me that he did not systematically read all these books but rather used them as reference works! Phew! Fortunately, I have some time on my hands, and I fully intend to make sure The Laidback Gardener outlives me as well. I don’t know if blogs will still exist by then, or if robots will have taken our place. At least they will still be able to refer to my father’s writings to grow their gardens.

I know that if I have horticultural questions, I can refer to his blog, his thousands of articles or one of his many books. But if I have questions about life, what do I do? I hope those answers are within me. That I became the person I am because of him (and my mother too… no, I didn’t forget you mom, I was just saying that for dramatic effect!).

A Stormy Start

Being a writer or blogger wasn’t in the cards for me when I was young. I was a more rambunctious teenager and young adult than my father would have liked. I could see that it saddened him at times. He did try to encourage me to follow in his footsteps. In the summer, I sometimes worked in his office: filing, video editing, research (I remember one summer when, as part of his research for his book on Canadian gardens, I had to call well-known organizations and gardens. I was so embarrassed!)

For a while, I saw myself as a future author. I studied languages and literature in college (where I spent more time in bars than in classrooms), and I enrolled in English literature at Université Laval. Despite my good grades and the encouragement of my professors to pursue a career in literature, spending my days in windowless classrooms was unbearable. I think my father had unintentionally made me spend so much time outside in his garden that I was unable to be indoors for long without feeling a deep exasperation that only nature could relieve.

Larry holds Mathieu, baby
Larry and Mathieu.

A Childhood in a Garden

As a child, I spent my days playing outside. After lunch, my father would kick me out and say, “Come back for dinner! Then, “Come back for supper!” and finally, “Come back before dark! I remember one winter day when I was about four years old, my father sent me to our backyard (fenced in, of course) with instructions not to disturb him. He told me that after a while I started yelling “Daddy! Daddy!” and he found me hanging upside down with my foot caught in the fork of the lilac tree in our yard.

Apparently I had tried to climb the tree to get to the roof of the garage to escape our yard. My dad felt bad, I guess, but not that bad because I continued to spend my days outside. He firmly believed that children should learn to fend for themselves. And that a certain amount of mischief was normal and even desirable.

A Lover of Nature

Years later, in spite of my intention to become an author like my father, I mostly found myself outdoors, in a garden, a park, or in the middle of nature. For a few years, I produced vegetables that I sold to a “select clientele” (friends and family!) in Quebec City. At the same time, I had a part-time job at a petting zoo. I was responsible for feeding and caring for the animals The sheep loved me, the cows wanted nothing to do with me, and the turkeys, what a bunch of ass…!

Mathieu cuddles a goat
Mathieu and goats: best friends forever!

But my favourites were the goats. I actually worked in Switzerland one summer, in a mountain pasture where cheese was produced. My main task was to go get the goats in the mountains at dawn and bring them back to the farm for milking. If you know anything about goats, you will understand that this is no small task. They are both endearing and unpleasant animals that remind me of myself.

Another summer in Western Canada, my job was planting trees… and cutting them down. So I when I fell into landscaping, the glove fit. I went from labourer to crew chief to project manager in a few years, but my favourite task was designing gardens. Planting design was my favourite task. I spent way too much time on it, often exceeding my budget. As you can probably guess, the common thread in all these jobs was that I inevitably ended up with my hands in the dirt and my clothes full of mud.

Footprints in the snow
Photo: HayDmitriy,

Gardener Above All

I remain more of a gardener than an author, unlike my father, who was a writer above all. Over the years, I’ve become more mature. I no longer have the vigor of my 20s, or even my 30s! It’s now possible for me to sit at a desk for several hours without going nuts, but not without getting up every 20 minutes to stretch my legs and take my mind off my work.

I know now that even though my path was winding, and my father sometimes doubted me, he was proud of who I became, and happy that I took over his blog. Somehow I reached the same destination he did, by taking a completely different path. I won’t fill his shoes, because no one could take his place. Instead, I’ll make my own path, alongside his. As if he were with me, even if he is not.

Mathieu manages the and websites. He is also a garden designer for a landscaping company in Montreal, Canada. Although he loves contributing to the blog, he prefers fishing.

42 comments on “In My Father’s Garden

  1. I admire the bond you had with your father. Treasure the moments you spent together.

  2. Bebe in Texas

    What a lovely post! Your writing is a tribute to your father’s gift of pen to paper, and you have a wonderful way of weaving it all together. I am looking forward to your words! (I am actually just now starting to read today’s, “How to Scare Off Thrips” 🙂

  3. Martine Jaworski

    My condolences to you and your family; may the happy memories you shared with your Dad provide you with strength during this difficult time. No doubt, you will find your own path, even if initially you follow in your father’s footsteps (part of the time, at least!). Each person needs to find their unique niche – raison d’être – to be truly happy, and that’s what would have made your Dad happy, too.

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  7. claire sullivan

    Welcome to your new role. You’ve made a writerly start. Looking forward to hearing from you again and again!

  8. Andrea Caudill

    What a lovely post! It is always difficult to sift through a loved one’s possessions and estate, but I hope your father’s plants and gardens will present you with many opportunities for future joy. A loss, for sure, but also a living legacy to soften your grief.

  9. Loretta Hottinger

    Your father left you with a great legacy. Our sympathies to you and your family. You have made a great start and will shape your future in this wonderful topic.

  10. That was such an interesting read and I loved the picture of you and the goat. Yes, they can be interesting animals to deal with! Very good writing, btw. Well done!

  11. So sorry to hear of your father’s passing. We knew it was coming, but it’s still difficult. I really enjoyed reading his posts every morning. He gave me some very good tips on caring for my plants. I’m glad to see that you’re going keep his blog going. Looking forward to reading yours.

  12. Glen Spurrell

    Beautifully written in both French and English, Matthieu. Such a lovely tribute to your dear father. No, you can’t fill his shoes but judging by this post your shoes are perfectly well filled. With admiration to you, and with sympathy to you, to Marie and to your whole family.

  13. You are a true tribute to your father! Carry on and garden on!!

  14. Helen Battersby

    Tears, Mathieu! You have created a moving beginning for the next generation of Laidback Gardener.

  15. Mathieu you have done a great job introducing yourself and your approach to all things garden. I appreciate your candor and look forward to your blogs.

  16. If this is any example, I look forward to your future posts!

  17. Raisa ghersi

    Thank you so much for such a heartfelt post, Matthew. Your father will be very proud of everything you will do in the future on this blog.

  18. Patricia Evans

    Mathieu, thank you for sharing your memories and a bit of your history. Just as the blog was a reflection of your father’s personality and sensibilities, so too will it reflect your life and beliefs as you move forward. I’m sure you can see there are a lot of people ready to support you as you continue your father’s legacy, albeit giving your voice to the effort as it grows.

  19. Bonnie Laird

    Thank you for keeping your father’s blog going. What a lovely tribute. I can relate a bit because my beloved mom passed two years ago and she was a master gardener for over 30 years. I was never a gardener- I appreciate nature and plants and flowers but I never took an interest like she did. Before she passed away we would walk through her garden I would hold her arm as she was weak, and she would try to explain to me about all the hundred plants and bushes and trees she so lovingly planted over the years and I thought I’m never going to understand all this, so when she passed away I too looked at all her books like you did with your father and thought how am I ever gonna learn all this? but I have now grown a passion for gardening and her garden is a legacy. At first I just didn’t wanna kill anything but now I feel confident and I feel her being proud.

  20. Ladd Johnson

    Lovely posting, Mathieu, well-written and heart-felt. Thanks for sharing your stories and your thoughts. And the photos are great – I am amazed at how much you look like your father! Thinking of you guys. Ladd

  21. Condolences on the loss of your father. I am glad you are continuing the blog.

  22. Matthieu, you will one day look back at this first major blog since your father’s death and see all the grief and love that you shared with your readership. This is such an important introduction of yourself to the ‘family’ that grieves with you. Thank you. And thank you for your commitment to continue his blog. We will all learn together.

  23. I enjoyed reading this condensed biography and very glad you’re continuing the blog on your own terms.

  24. Susan Elgie

    I think your father was very proud of you! And grateful. All best wishes to you as you move ahead after the profound loss you have experienced.

  25. David Prigione

    Mathieu, that was a great post. You are a great writer. I was captivated by all your great stories of growing up. Your Dad will be proud of you and I’m sure your Mom is too. Dave Prigione

  26. Bill Russell

    Lovely writing and pictures (my favourite is of you in your father’s arms). Among the references you will have at hand is the search function on this blog – over a thousand previous posts!

  27. Love this, Matthieu! Love the goats, and your writing. Love how you honor your dad by continuing his work and how you feel overwhelmed a bit in his garden and library (which are now yours). Remember, anytime it seems to much, he’s still with you, in your blood.

  28. Lisa A Jelle

    Thanks for this beautifully written post! It was wonderful hearing your stories and seeing how you have grown into your father’s legacy, albeit in your own unique way. He must have been very proud of you.

  29. You already are a writer Matthieu. Your Dad would be so proud!

  30. Miguel A. Valvano

    I enjoyed reading your father books and the comments in his blog. You will be fine Matthieu: you’ve got the sensitivity to appreciate and treasure your father’s work; this shows in your writing. It’s ok to have doubts, but it’s also ok to find your own call, your own inner voice that will make you create something different than your dad’s. And this will also be fine and possibly your best tribute. I’m looking forward to see more of this blog in any way or shape it takes from here on. And I sure your dad would had done the same. My sympathies for your loss and my best wishes to you on this new role.

  31. Andrew Hunter

    I only just joined your blog last week, so to get this today is amazing…what a first post to receive.
    Like someone else commented, I love to read things that come straight from the heart…it really hits home. Fortunately my father is still very much alive and kicking, but it’s only in the last few years that we’ve both really got into gardening…I bought him a plum tree last week, and he was like a kid with a new ball…and it’s great to have this connection that you and your dad had for so many years…thanks for this blog…it really made me think about things, and to appreciate how fortunate we are to have gardens in our life too! ?

    • Andrew, you’re so fortunate to have your dad with you and enjoying gardening with him and I hope you have many happy years with him. Greetings from Ireland. 🙂

  32. Marti Evanoff

    Appreciate crossing this bridge this morning from your Dad’s writings to your perspective! The blog is in capable hands. . .a designer of landscapes with the insight and knowledge you have observed and absorbed Indeed …provides a full and creative placeholder for the future of the Laidback Garden! Thank you for continuing this space for my enjoyment and curiosity.

  33. Andrew Hunter

    I only just joined your blog last week, so to get this today is amazing…what a first post to receive.
    Like someone else commented, I love to read things that come straight from the heart…it really hits home. Fortunately my father is still very much alive and kicking, but it’s only in the last few years that we’ve both really got into gardening…I bought him a plum tree last week, and he was like a kid with a new ball…and it’s great to have this connection that you and your dad had for so many years…thanks for this blog…it really made me think about things, and to appreciate how fortunate we are to have gardens in our life too! ?

  34. Shaunn Munn

    My deepest sympathies as you negotiate this new turn of life. I think your father is just bursting with love and pride for what you became.

    Now you are weaving the next section of your family’s tapestry, and I think the family younglings have a very competent and loving leader.

    Thank you for continuing your father’s legacy! Very best regards to all your kith and kindred.

  35. Christine Lemieux

    I really enjoyed getting to know you through this post. My mom was an avid gardener. All four of her children are now gardeners as well! I visit and talk to her in my garden and it is comforting. I think you will find the same thing as you create your path alongside your fathers.

  36. Anne Chapman

    Lovely memories Matthieu.

  37. Granny Pat

    That’s a beautiful and moving way to remember your Dad. And if you always write what’s in your heart and to satisfy your curiosity you can never go wrong. I’m sure both your Mom and your Dad are proud of you and know that you can honor his memory and your relationship best by letting your own garden thrive.

  38. You are an excellent writer! Thanks-

  39. I’ve spent a lovely time reading this and looking at your photographs. I enjoyed hearing about some of your precious memories and I found myself smiling (that goat looks like it’s in love!). As a child, I was always being kicked outside too, mostly to let my mum get on with the housework. I’m so glad now because I, too, have grown up with a love of the outdoors, gardening, nature and animals.
    It’s so good that you’re keeping your dad’s blog going and I look forward to reading many posts to come. 🙂

  40. Although we will all miss your Father, here’s wishing you the best of luck as you move forward on your own path.

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