I admit that I am feeling a bit numb as I write this. I am at a bit of a loss to process the loss of Linda Gay. She was a friend, a mentor, and a teacher. I will miss her dreadfully, and I will think of her often. And I know that many of you reading this will feel the same.
I remember the first time I met Linda. At the time she was the newly promoted Director at Mercer Arboretum after serving there for fifteen years, first as a staff member and later as their chief horticulturalists. She came to teach a unit to the Master Gardener Class of 2000 at the Genoa Friendship Garden, also known as the Precinct 2 Master Gardeners.
Linda completely commanded the room when she spoke. The depth and breadth of her knowledge was unequaled by any speaker I have met before or since. She spoke to us that day about cool season annuals and opened a whole new avenue for us. We learned that the gorgeous spring- and summer-blooming annuals we envied in books and magazines featuring gardens in the northeast and northwest could be grown here throughout winter and early spring.
Among her gorgeous photographs, all of which she took in her travels to gardens across the nation, were images of her own trial gardens at Mercer. The proof was in the images – gorgeous Pacific Blue Delphiniums, sweet English Daisies, Larkspurs, Stock, Digitalis, Hollyhocks, and Iceland poppies – flowers that would never thrive in the late spring and summer in Houston. She pulled them off in Mercer’s late winter-early spring gardens and they were a beautiful sight. I still pick out seeds every fall to plant out in October – December based on her advice over twenty years ago.
Linda would return to teach the tropical plants unit with the same depth of knowledge. But it wasn’t just her expertise that captured her audience. Her genuine enthusiasm for her subject and her obvious love of plants was infectious.
Linda had a focus on education, and she established several special interest groups at Mercer. She loved tropical plants, so it seemed perfectly natural when she held conferences on gingers and bamboos. She brought world-class collections of each to Mercer, and she also brought in world-class experts to speak at the conferences. Houston gardens have become more diverse and more beautiful because of her enthusiasm for interesting, and often unusual, ornamental plants. I am not sure anyone else can claim to have introduced more new plants to the Houston plant palette.
Everyone who knew Linda shares one opinion – she was a walking encyclopedia of plant knowledge. She could rattle off botanical names as easily as you could say your own name. And she encouraged other gardeners and greenhouse hobbyists to learn botanical names. She pointed out that there were many plants that had the same, or quite similar, common names, and that common names for the same plant differed by region, leading to confusion in the gardening community and nursery industry. When she spoke, and when she wrote, she used the proper nomenclature to help us, not intimidate us.
When Linda retired from Mercer, she wasn’t through with plants. She joined the team at The Arbor Gate in Tomball. She loved being around plants and plant people. It was a great place for her to land. Beverly Welch, Arbor Gate’s owner and an admirable plantswoman in her own right, shared Linda’s commitment to garden education. They teamed up and made a series of great garden videos. Linda’s blogs can be read on the Arbor Gate website, and the videos can be viewed on Arbor Gate’s YouTube channel. I am so glad this will be part of her legacy.
But the true legacy of Linda Gay will be all the gardeners, and all the gardens across the greater Houston area that are better because of her presence, her knowledge, and her generosity in sharing that knowledge. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say “well, Linda Gay told me to……..”. And I can’t tell you how many times I have quoted something Linda said in my own garden classes.
One of my favorite “Linda-isms” was her way of encouraging gardeners who were being hard on themselves for losing a plant. She would tell them “You can’t call yourself a true gardener until you have killed the same plant, three different ways”. It was her wonderfully encouraging way of assuring them that gardening in Houston can be tough and giving them the confidence to persevere.
Outside of gardening, Linda is known for her quick wit, her bright smile, and her outspokenness. She was smart, she was fun to be around. She could surprise you, and she could make you think. There will never be another quite like her. She was truly a force of nature.
Thank you, Linda. We’re going to miss you terribly.
Angela Chandler, The Garden Academy