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The Gardener

John in garden

My gardens are spread among fifty acres of hills and ponds surrounding a home we call The Castle at Springhill. It is located about 600 feet above the town of Lincoln, California. (Springhill was the name of the Catholic elementary school both my mother and I attended in Southampton, England.)

In 2006 and in May 2008, the National Garden Conservancy has included my gardens on its tour of private gardens in America. At fifty acres, my property is about the size of Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Now that you are suitably impressed, I can tell you I know very little about plants. And I don't have the dozens of gardeners that Mrs. Butchart probably had even in 1904 when she started her gardens. People often ask: "What do you grow?" as if I have a vegetable garden or a dozen roses. My answer is that I don't really grow things; I build gardens. Much of my time is spent on a tractor lifting large granite rocks into place or hauling cement. As for planting, I am likely to imagine an area of new garden containing a "wall of yellow here, low growing fuzzy things in front with a circle of trees around them, there." I can't remember the names of even the most common of plants.

What I bring to my garden is world travel. My wife, Peg Tomlinson, is a world-class cook and food authority and I am a person who loves Castles and Cathedrals (even before Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth but study them more carefully since) and gardens. So, between us, we visit some of the world's most beautiful gardens during the day and dine at the world's best restaurants at night--which, as Peg is an apostle of the slow food movement, does not necessarily mean the most expensive. From the garden visits come ideas I incorporate into my gardens.

Yes, gardens, plural. My gardens include a series of "rooms" that flow down a hill away from the castle. You never see all of the gardens from any one place, not even from the tower. And while a Rose Garden is properly enclosed by walls of hedge, Stonehenge is on a plain in the middle of a field as you would expect to find it in England. From Italy is the Limoni Garden dedicated to my grandchild Courtney Lemon Curd, and from Mexico the Cactus and Succulent garden that is granddaughter Samantha's garden. The Sicilian Garden was changed to the Statuary Garden half way through construction when I couldn't resist buying a forty foot wide circular fountain in which to put the nineteen foot tall statues made of Hunan marble from China. Since this garden was four hundred feet long, and narrow, and lined with Italian Cyprus, and on a hill, it seemed only reasonable to have the Archangel Gabriel at the top and the Three Graces in a small circle of foliage at the bottom. Then there is, among others, the Crazy Uncle Rob garden complete with pink flamingos, the five hundred foot "longest Islamic arched pergola in North America," Taquilla Hill, the Rebel Terrace, the Shade Garden, the Nature Garden, the Pond Garden, and the latest, the five hundred foot wooden bridge and walkway over wetlands to the duck blind overlooking the beavers' island.

I do have one or two people who help me for which I am grateful as it helps me with my Spanish. Together, we do a lot of cement work, a lot of digging, and a lot of hauling in my 1966 Chevrolet pickup. I am hopeful I can get my 1964 firetruck working this year and also learn more about composting and growing plants from seed. And after reading Al Gore's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, we are committed to stop burning all clippings.

John in India
John, middle with afro, on the river Ganges, India. 1979.
His father, Robert M. Poswall, is on the right.

My father left his native Jullundur District in the Punjab, India, before the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. He traveled to South America and then on to England where, in a bomb shelter during the war, he met my mother, a shy 18 year old English girl. They married and I was born in 1943. In 1954, we immigrated to America and had the good fortune to be assisted by other East Indians who found jobs for us in the peach fields of the Yuba City area. Eventually, my father did what it appears all Indians aspire to do: he bought land. Fifty acres of peaches, prunes and almonds. After ten years of hard work, and a second job as a groundskeeper at Sacramento State College to make ends meet while my mother worked as a house cleaner, my dad lost the land to the cannery.

Today, just like my father, I have fifty acres of land. Before he died, my father was able to spend some time here at Springhill. Some days, in my overalls and on my tractor, especially after a hard day of work, I am able to see through my father's eyes as we look out over the land.