12 March 2013

Farewell, Fellow Plant Addict

 I've told the story many times of how I met Captain Richard Steele, and how he put me on the path to being fascinated with ericaceous plants. How he inspired me to be the best plantswoman I possibly could, and to rejoice in plants of all kinds.

I met Dick's daughter Diana the same day I met him. In fact, it was Dinah, as her family call her, who took me up to the greenhouse to introduce me to the great man himself, and who made tea for all of us. Before we made it to the greenhouse, however, my late beloved came bursting out of a path at Bayport Plant Farm, where the Steeles planted and bred plants for so many years.

"You have GOT to see this!" he proclaimed. I followed him around the corner, to meet my very first blue poppies, a great profusion of them, growing like weeds. Dinah just grinned at my reaction. She grinned even more at my reaction to her father a short time later. I'm not sure who or what I was more awestruck by, but they all made a permanent impression on me.

While most everyone adored Captain Steele, not everyone got Dinah the way some of us did.  I simply adored her the way I did her father. We shared a sense of humour both irreverent and snarky, but also unbridled joy at watching plants grow and bloom. Especially if the plants were a little challenging for most gardeners...
 ...or were crosses that the Steeles had developed themselves.

 I'm pretty good at plant nomenclature, but I have never, EVER met anyone who could rattle off Rhododendron and other plant genealogy and taxonomy like Dinah. She had planted many of the rhodos, azaleas, and other fantastic plants at Bayport Plant Farm, working alongside her father and their staff, and it was fun to listen to her and Dick finish each other's sentences when talking about their particular hybrids. Dinah also introduced me to her father's famous labelling system for plants of uncertain ancestry: LOLA, NOLA and IDIIK. Which is to say, Lost Label, No Label, and I'm Damned IF I Know. Which are terms I use to this day.
Some days, Dick wasn't around, and Dinah and I would have time to walk through the plantings, then linger over tea and talk pretty much non-stop about plants, gardens, more plants, possible plants, good plants, bad plants. 
 Last fall, I got word that she wasn't well, and the 'wasn't well' turned out to be cancer, metastasized in all kinds of places. She had been taken to hospital, and it was in Lunenburg where I caught up with her not long before Christmas. She knew how ill she was, but she didn't let on--she was cheery, chatty, and of all things, very concerned about a particular rhododendron that hadn't gotten moved when she built a deck on the front of her house. Did I think I could get "the boys" to dig and move it for her? I said I'd do what I could.
 Among the wonderful plants that Dinah and Dick developed are a collection of rhododendrons, both lepidotes and elepidotes. They were successful in breeding a few very good yellows, including 'Bayport Beauty'.
 Last spring, when I came to visit and walk the magnolia plantings with Diana, she gave me several plants that have made the move from my former home to my current abode. Including a yellow lady's slipper from her colony of these marvelous plants.
 Diana Steele passed away this morning, two days less than three years since the day her father died. She leaves behind a son and daughter, and many friends and relatives who mourn her passing while also taking time to celebrate her life. To say nothing of vast quantities of plant material, growing safely in the gardens of enthusiasts around Nova Scotia and beyond.
The last time I was at Bayport with her, she also pressed upon me one of the seedlings that she and "Daddy" had developed, with the pronouncement that I would have to be the one to grow it on, name it, and maybe one day register it. It made the move here too, of course. I named it the day Dinah gave it to me, stressing to her that the name I gave it was plural, to reflect the work that she and her father did together in breeding plants.

That name? "Steeles' Legacy."

Fair winds and following seas to you, Dinah. I hope you and your Dad are breeding plants wherever you are.


  1. Jodi, what a lovely tribute. I'm so sorry for your loss. I hope Steeles' Legacy lives on in many a garden.

  2. Such a beautiful tribute to Diana Steele...and Steeles' Legacy.
    Dee Blaine

  3. very beautiful Jodi, I've only met her twice walked us around the farm that year , it was like a site seeing bus where your actually got to stop every time a name popped out -the deer were bad that winter prior and they did a wonderful pruning job.
    I hope were ever they are it is always rhodo time

  4. A lovely tribute, and a perfect goodbye to a dear friend.
    Marilyn Pettinga

  5. Jodi, What a wonderful tribute from one plantswoman to another. Thank you for sharing your memories of Dinah. -Jean

  6. Your tribute is as beautiful as the rhodies that grow around the world. I too have been blessed by the knowledge of both my cousin Diana and Uncle Dick. It was them who taught me so much about gardening, as well as our family history.
    I hope that I am able to get Steeles`Legacy, and that it will survive here in New Brunswick. I`ve lost many loved ones in my lifetime However every spring and summer I`m reminded of each of them, through a plant, or flower that I have placed within my gardens. I tried to find out Diana`s favorite flower before she passed. However she was not doing so well at the time, so an answer I never did get. I have many different flowers from the farm, and as they grow and bloom throughout the season, I am reminded of their lives. They may not be here with us in the flesh, but for me. They are reborn every year as the flowers bloom on my rhodies, azaleas and many other plants. I find joy, peace and love within my gardens. It`s a reminder of how blessed I am to have had so many wonderful people touch my life. It`s as if they never left us behind.
    Your words brought tears to my eyes, but it filled me with so many great memories of them both Thank you!
    Alexandria Steele-Knox

  7. Such an interesting and gracious tribute... they sound like "my kind of people" having had such zest for the plant kingdom! I love the lableing system as well and can thing of nothing more to the point! I'm sorry for the loss of what was a wonderful kinship for you...Larry

  8. So many eras are overlapping and moving forwards. So many sorrows yet so many good memories.

    When the blue flower came up I checked the calendar, remembering an April Fool's Day post you did in which everything was blue.

    I like rhododenrons. They are dramatic. Sometimes they get a bad press here because they can be invasive - and they are big plants to be invasive! But in my mind, that adds to their glory.

    May you live long with good memories of your friend.

  9. Jodi what a lovely tribute and Dinah has placed the care of her legacy in the wonderful hands of another plantswoman, you!

  10. So Sorry for the loss of your friend...always a sad time to say good-bye especially to those with warm LOving Hearts that lived their lives upon Mother-Earth in expanding, beautifying, tenderly caring & celebrating her gifts of creation within nature...truely the finest gifts we have ever been given ! Prayers & Blessings to her family & All her cherished LOved ones, it will be a wonderful legacy in her remembrance in seeing 'Steeles Legacy' grow & bloom each season ! I so agree in doing this for All our LOved ones that pass on....I have a specific garden of oriental liles for the remembrance of my father, & a pink azalea for my father in-law. When they are in bloom, I see their warm glowing spirits living once again upon the Earth & being LOvingly embraced by the sacred flowing energy of nature ! I do hope the gardens established by her & her father with live on as well...another fine living tribute to their legacy !....have a delightful day dear Jodi ! Bev

  11. As always, your gift with words is as wonderful as with plants. I'm so sorry that I didn't get a chance to meet either of these talented and oh so knowledgeable 'plant addicts'. Your stories about them have made me feel very blessed; they happily enriched our lives with their life long studies.

    Thank you for sharing and writing such a touching tribute. I am truly sorry for the loss to their family and friends.

  12. I'm sorry for the loss of your dear friend. You wrote a lovely tribute to her and her father and their devotion to plants and the plant world will live on in Steeles' Legacy. I'll say a prayer for you in your time of grief.

  13. So, so sad. A great lady as her Dad and the expert knowledge she acquired over her years working with her father about plants and especially Rhodies will be missed by all of us who knew them. I met her many years ago also and then introduced my husband to her late last spring and she fell in love with him and gave us the grand tour in the back woods as we will call it where all the secrets Rhodies are they planted over many many years. What a treasure we have lost. She invited us back this spring. So glad I took many photos and some of her...which we will treasure and think of her and feel the love she had for her gardens and could remember 99% of her plants and shrubs. We purchased more and hope the new ones all survived this winter in her memory! Thanks Jodi for such a nice tribute to her. Ericka Crowell

  14. Hi Jodi...I just made a comment but was wondering about her dog...did she already find a good home for him when she went in the hospital? We had a great time with him...she let him out to run around before we left?

  15. I knew Diana when she was a young girl. She was stunningly beautiful and full of life. Years later we met at the farm quite unexpectedly and it was a delight to see her. Her eyes sparkled and she immediately took my brother and me up to see Captain Steele in the greenhouse.
    Out came the "brown Betty" and we chatted over the best cup of tea that I had had in a very long time. I so remember her generosity to us...her guests....but what touched me so deeply was her profound love and respect for her father. She knew he loved to see people who shared his passionate interests...and,in his later years, no matter how busy and hectic was her day, she would drop everything.... and anything.... to bring this pleasure to him. They were truly a team..and as Nova Scotians we owe them such a debt of gratitude. This is when I REALLY hope heaven is a GARDEN. My many Bayport plants take on a new,very special meaning.

  16. A simply lovely tribute Jodi.

  17. I'm so sorry, Jodi. What a lovely tribute.

  18. I was sad to see that Diana has left this world...I had the good fortune to also have spent many afternoons with her,and her father..The heather that now grows in Gary's garden all came from Bayport many years ago..and so many other plants not available elsewhere at that time.I also remember the 'crazy' dogs..how frustrated she would get with them!! A great tribute to her Jodi...

  19. Jodi, this is a beautiful tribute. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend and mentor. It sounds like her spirit lives on, in so many ways.

  20. Beautiful tribute...The loss is so sad to our plant world...I just know heaven has a special place for all of us! Pamie G.


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