End of an Era

I’m not quite ready to be put to pasture, but I recently made the hard decision to give up my newspaper work.

In June, I was elected President-elect of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, an international volunteer organization dedicated to community improvement, and there’s much to be done before July 2020 when I move to Washington, DC. There, I will work and live for two years at GFWC Headquarters, located near Dupont Circle, just blocks from the White House.

It’s an exciting prospect; one that I’m eager for and have dreamed about for years.

Even still, giving up the newspaper column and feature articles that I provided for more than 16 years — work that encouraged local gardeners — was a wrench. In some ways, I feel that I’ve lost a bit of myself, much like the day our younger child left home for college.

Many thanks to The Greenville News and specifically my first Editor, Wanda Owings, for the opportunity to grow my passion for gardening in a public forum, and for the many years of exploration and learning that go hand-in-hand with with being a writer.

Simply put, it was a thrill from beginning to end. Here, then, is the last chapter of a very happy story.


The joy of being above the fold! The final column (center), published on August 18, was even highlighted with a FULL first page. Now that’s cool!

The Things that Grow in a Garden (published in The Greenville News as “It’s an exciting time to be a gardener”)

If we were sitting down for a chat over a cup of coffee this morning, I would tell you what an exciting time it is to be a gardener.

Sixteen years ago, when I began writing for The Greenville News, I did not know anyone who was a bee keeper or a worm composter. As gardeners, we did not realize the usefulness of matrix plantings, or build bug hotels, or even worry much about organic methods. Gardens were packed with flowering plants, while vegetables and fruits, where they existed at all, were relegated to hidden plots behind a fence or shed.

New York City’s celebrated Highline had not yet been created. This elevated park with naturalized plantings, now the city’s number one tourist attraction and the inspiration for public green spaces everywhere, was still a dream with little support and no funding.

Gardeners and their gardens have changed since the turn of the 21st Century. Not in baby steps, but in bold leaps.

Last week, when I was in Asheville for the annual Speaking of Gardening Symposium, I heard Julie Messervy relate “naturescaping” to wabi-sabi, an Asian aesthetic that sees beauty in transience and imperfection. And I listened to Kelly Norris promote plants that “create a sense of place,” in the conviction that we have a more satisfying gardening experience when our spaces are connected to the wider world that surround them.

Best of all, I watched wide-eyed as Tom Ranney revealed, slide by slide, the transformation of his sedate, private garden into a mountain bald; positioning huge boulders on the broad shoulders of his mountain-side property and creating niche habitats, including a bog, to support a large and diverse population of plant and animal species.

My own garden took a similar turn recently, when I abandoned the effort to impose a formal layout on my backyard. Instead, I’m following the lead of my friend Glenn, who has created a woodland walk to one side of his city garden that is filled with native-plant treasures.

Here, with the help of Green Hill Landscaping, I’ve recontoured the two-tiered back garden with curves punctuated by boulders and added stone steps for easy access to the lower terrace. A splashing waterfall speaks to the proximity of the Reedy River, which can be spied though the adjacent woodland winding its way towards Lake Conestee Nature Park.

Like many hobbies, gardening expands the knowledge and understanding of those who enjoy it and gives each individual a fuller sense of themselves. It does more too.

Gardening adds significance to our lives by connecting us to the rhythms of nature — the passing seasons, the ebb and flow of tides, the sunrises and sunsets, and the repeating cycles of growth and decay. It teaches us that we’re not as invincible as we might suppose, but are probably more powerful than we thought.

Through its practice, gardening molds us into inquisitive students, measured risk takers, and brilliant artists. Through its trials we learn to be patient, tenacious, optimistic, adaptable, humble, and grateful.

Perhaps most importantly, gardening makes us happier. It gives us enormous pleasure to immerse ourselves in our private havens and also to connect with other gardeners, through clubs and associations, horticulture societies, and symposiums. Together, we relish seed exchanges, plant swaps, garden tours, and every opportunity to welcome newcomers into our fold.

All of which makes it very hard for me to tell you that this is my final gardening column. We’ve learned and experienced a lot together in the last 16 years. We’ve grown as gardeners and as people. We’ve embraced new plants and novel ideas. We’ve built lasting memories.

I’m happy to say, from my perspective, it has been time well spent. I hope it has been the same for you. If you want to chat, you will not have to look far. I’ll be blogging at Hortitopia (https://marianstclair.wordpress.com), showing up at local gardening events, puttering in the garden on Riverside Drive, and available by email at marian.stclair@gmail.com.

Until we talk again, remember the garden is full of fleeting pleasures. Get outdoors and enjoy them.

27 thoughts on “End of an Era

  1. Phyllis K. Appler

    We are so lucky to have you in GFWC. Take notes and photos of all of the amazing gardens that you see in your next four years, and you will have a lifetime of writing material! I am glad to read that you acquired some boulders for your back gardens. Still wish we could ship you some of ours from New Hampshire!

  2. Suzanne Raymond

    Loved your article! Congratulations on all your accomplishments! Wishing you the best as you experience these next 4 years leading, guiding all of us. You will be planting seeds among us all along the pathway, watering and nourishing us as we bloom and grow – GFWC is blessed to have you. Onward GFWC President-elect!!

  3. Gloria Ballard

    Marian, congratulations! I remember that feeling of “losing a bit of myself” when my garden column writing came to an end at the newspaper here. Exciting times ahead for you, though! Well done!

  4. Mary Keegan

    Marian, I’ve enjoyed your columns and your expertise. Good luck in DC. I lived in that area for two years. Enjoyed it. I’ll be anxious to hear future stories from you. Mary Keegan

  5. Carolyn Moseley

    Marian, you will be missed but I wish you the best. My trip to France with you in the summer of 2015 will always be a fond memory. Hope you will keep on gardening.

    Much love, Carolyn Moseley

  6. Kathy Spidel

    Marian, My Sat. mornings will never be the same without your column. Thank you for enriching my life and expanding my horizons.
    As I heard recently: “if you want to get something done, have a busy person do it”. Congrats on your appt.to the Wash. post…I am not at all surprised!!
    Looking forward to gardening trips next year.

  7. Barbara Pleasant

    What an exciting Big Move! I was in DC a few weeks ago, and it is such a different place. Change is good.

  8. Sandra Smith

    What a beautiful “farewell” column. I know you will be the very best president of GFWC! It has been such a pleasure to read your columns and travel with you. Congratulations and all good wishes for your continuing success.

  9. Barbara Whitaker

    Wishing you the best. I’m sure you will have much fodder for penmanship when you become a Past President and have a little more time on your hands. Meanwhile, you will be quite busy, I am sure.

  10. Christina

    Congratulations, what a wonderful opportunity. With your talent for writing and your enthusiasm I’m sure you will be able to achieve a great deal in your new ‘life’.

  11. Beth Jimenez

    I have so enjoyed your posts over the years and all the Raleigh group I brought down a few years ago loved the gardens you chose for us to visit.
    Well done to your Marian and enjoy this next phase of your very exciting and productive career.

  12. Wanda Owings

    Thank you, Marian, for the kind words. I never missed one of your columns, even after I left the newspaper. Your passion for gardening showed in everything you wrote, and you were always able to convey your expertise to the average gardener (like me) in a cheerful, helpful-next-door-neighbor way. I have carried so much of your advice into my own garden! Congratulations on your new position with GFWC, and best of luck in Washington!

  13. germac4

    Congratulations Marian … I always enjoy your blog posts, (from far away Australia) and I absolutely agree on the importance & value of gardening. Best wishes and I’m glad you will still continue blogging.

  14. Pat Webster www.siteandinsight.com

    Isn’t it wonderful to know that when this part of your life is ending, another part that is so exciting is opening! Living in Washington will be quite a change, and leading an international organization will be a challenge — one I’m sure you will easily meet. Congratulations.

  15. sallyhandley

    Marion, I wish you all the very best as you turn the page to this next chapter of your gardening life. I will miss your columns, not just because of the great gardening advice, but because you are such a very good writer. Good luck to you. Best regards, Sally Handley

  16. johnvic8

    Marion, Congratulations on your new assignment in DC (my home town). I am sure you will be a wonderful asset in leading The Women’s Clubs. I will continue to look forward to your blog. Thank you again for the warm welcome to your garden a few months back. John V

  17. susurrus

    You’ve created a body of work to be very proud of, and I can imagine how much of a wrench it must be to give up the rhythm of writing your columns. I’m very pleased to hear about your plans to move to Washington D.C. to take up your new role. The Women’s Clubs have chosen wisely. I’ve been thinking of you (perhaps that should more truthfully be worrying) and hoping you and your garden will be safe from the approaching storm. Wishing you lots of good luck, both for your new role and the weather.

  18. Chloris

    So that is why you are moving to Washington DC, how exciting. What a wonderful opportunity. I so agree with what you write about gardening. Beautifully put.


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