My brother Harland Hand was born in 1922 in
southern Minnesota in an amusement park owned by his parents. I will tell
you about the location, situation and timing because I believe all of these
things played a role in the development of Harland's talents, skills and
ultimately his successful vocation in garden design.
Our Dad. Ernest Hand, in 1893 at age 17
began his summer resort/amusement park business on the lakeshore in the far
corner of Grandfather's farm. By the time Harland arrived on the scene,
Hand's Park consisted of a dance pavilion, a baseball park, swimming beach
with rides and slides, fishing boats, a 10 bedroom family home/country inn
with public dining room, picnic and camp grounds. Hand's Park had frontage
on both South Silver Lake and North Silver Lake (please note the names of
In the early 1900s the amusement park
business was booming in the nation and despite its very rural location,
business was booming at Hand's Park as well. Hundreds and even thousands of
people came to see baseball games, dance, fish, enjoy the beach, and see the
wide array of weekly entertainment. Our Dad was a true entrepreneur, great
promoter and consistent advertiser in the local newspapers. Dad was always
thinking of and looking for new ideas and tried many of them--some were
successful, some were not, some were just ahead of their time. His audacity
and tenacity had to be admired. The Park continued to survive in the family
for over 80 years, through good times and tough times like the Depression,
the devastating tornado of 1936, W.W. I and II, the polio epidemic of the
1940s, and the changing trends in entertainment. Changes and adjustments
were made accordingly but Dad's motto was "Keep on Keeping On" and Mom's
favorite quotation was "Where there is a will there is a way". She used that
on us kids quite often when we thought a task too hard.
Most employees were relatives, friends and
neighbors but this was the family business and every family member was
expected to work, doing whatever his or her size and capability could
handle. Age and what sex we were didn't seem to make much difference, there
was always something we could do. Harland said he could make change at age 6
and so could I. As we grew up we had to help take care of customers at the
refreshment stands, wait on tables, manage the beach, lifeguard, help
prepare food, tend bar (we didn't serve alcohol), get bait for and rent
boats to fisherman, always run errands, and do anything needed, at any time,
for anybody. But our parents also assigned jobs according to our personal
talents and interests and we learned skills as necessary.
Harland's bent toward art and his interest
in flowers and plants were obvious at a very early age. At age 8 he made his
first garden in the backyard using wild flowers. Each Spring we went across
the Lake to "the woods" to look at and pick some wild flowers-- blood root,
anemones, sweet rocket, trilliums, violets Dutchman’s
jack in the pulpits. "The woods" was an inspiring place to Harland and he
loved to go there.
At age 10 Harland started his first major
rock garden. He was a member of the local 4-H Club along with most other
rural kids at that time. 4-H Clubs were wonderful for teaching young people
basic skills for homemaking and farming--sewing, baking, canning, raising
livestock, conservation, gardening and even public presentation and
speaking. Each year members were required to choose a special project to
accomplish. The results of their efforts competed at the County Fair and the
winners competed at State level. Our sister Fran decided to raise a calf
(for which she won a blue ribbon). Harland decided to build a garden which
he envisioned in the ravine that ran down the lake bank beside the house.
I doubt if Harland, at that point, at the
age of ten, realized the enormity of the task he was undertaking to fulfill
his vision of a beautiful flower garden in that unsightly area. The ravine
was gradually being filled in with ashes from the old stoves, garbage and
debris. At some later date, I assume our Dad intended to cover the area with
dirt and grass. But to build the garden, Harland had to first remove the
garbage and debris, move the soil around to contour the land and bring rocks
up from the lake shore to terrace the area for flower beds before he could
even start to plant a garden. I assume that a couple of Park employees
helped him move dirt and rocks with a horse and "stoneboat" and equipment
earlier used to build the baseball field. Building the garden was a long
process throughout his teen years. At age 12 he won the State Golden
Walgreen Award for his project.
Harland and Uncle Louie, who was a carpenter
and mason, built a lily pool at the top of the hill and another at the
bottom of the garden. The top pool was made of concrete and field stones
with a shallow ledge on one side for marsh plants. The rest of the pool was
deeper for water lilies and goldfish. Frogs were also frequent inhabitants.
He planted a weeping willow on one side so it gracefully reflected in the
The pool at the bottom of the garden was
rectangular with a semicircle bay in the center on one side. Uncle Ellery, a
carpenter and blacksmith, built an arch across the length of the pool with a
birdhouse at the center top. The archway provided a trellis for vines. The
shape of the pool echoed the shape of the arch and bird house.
When Harland was about 18 and I was about 5,
we took the old truck and drove 60 miles to Mankato to get more flagstone so
he could complete permanent paths and steps by cementing the rocks in place.
The paths were relatively straight in order to transport people who were in
a hurry from one area to another without the temptation to cut across the
flower beds. However, the steps were different lengths as they proceeded
down the hill. Some were long and leisurely; some were short and steep so
one had to slow down and look down. Perhaps these differences were of
necessity due to the lay of the land but I think Harland purposely designed
them that way. If one walked quickly, they seemed to have a certain cadence
or rhythm. As a young person, I went up and down the steps so many times
from the house to the beach, that I can still almost remember the beat.
I shall always remember the wonderful
fragrances as I walked through-- peonies, phlox, regal lilies and roses. As
a little girl, I loved to sit by the lily pool on a sunny summer day and
listen to the birds, watch the butterflies, and smell the flowers.
And the flowers--the flowers! I have no idea
how many kinds there were. There were wild flowers, bulbs, perennials,
shrubs and annuals in so many different colors and varieties. Harland used
money he earned working at the Park and at the local flower shop after
school to purchase plants. Of course our Mother and Aunt Mary contributed to
the cause and helped with the upkeep. They ordered plants from the seed
catalogs and relatives and friends who knew about his passion shared their
plants with him. When completed the garden was approximately 165 feet long
and varied in width from about 48 feet at the top of the hill to about 24
feet at the bottom of the lake bank.
The marriage of Harland's artistic talent
and his love for plants was already evident in this garden. The plants were
mixed together throughout the garden in various colors, shapes and sizes. In
this garden, however, he would have to confess that he followed the garden
rules of order and conformity a little bit. There was a "bed of roses," one
"row" of sedum and a "border" hedge on one side--words never to be used
again to describe Harland's gardens. The rest of the garden was a
naturalized mixture of many varieties and colors organized so they all
looked like they always happily lived together.
This was farm country where all crops and
vegetables were in orderly rows. Of course this was a necessity for farmers
so they could keep fields and gardens free of weeds and be able to drive
equipment in the field without crushing the productive crops. Flowers were
allowed to be planted in one row next to the vegetables or a variety of
flowers and shrubs were planted around the house to hide the concrete
Also this was the era that included the
Great Depression and buying flowers was considered an unnecessary luxury for
most people. But this was a Park and parks were supposed to be beautiful
with flowers so what a perfect place for Harland to be born. He could
totally exploit his passion without criticism.
Many Park customers walked through the
garden. Mom made sure most customers knew about her son and the garden and
escorted many through it herself. The question was, How would people from
the land-of-order and beds, borders and rows react to this huge, rather odd
flower garden with such a mixture of plants? The answer was--They loved it
and lavished compliments on Harland and they were intrigued by the
accomplishment of such a young man.
Harland loved to draw and paint so he took
art classes in high school and college. He made large oil paintings which
Uncle Ellery framed and hung on the walls to decorate the dance hall/supper
club. He liked to paint with water colors and sometimes took me with him to
paint landscapes near our home. During the War while he was in Europe he
painted water color pictures of villages and the countryside.
As a teen ager, one of Harland's jobs at
home (besides waiting tables and tending bar) was to make floral
arrangements for the tables for the large banquets held in the dance
hall/supper club. He used flowers from his garden, wild flowers and weeds in
very artistic arrangements. One group of business people picked the bouquets
apart and took the flowers home. None of the other people ever did that.
Harland was upset. But the next time this group had a banquet, Harland again
made very lovely arrangements, however, this time he used thistles found in
the road ditches. No one bothered the arrangements again.
Harland started college at the University of
Minnesota but was drafted into the Army during WW II. While he was away,
Mother and Aunt Mary took care of the garden and they continued to take care
of it after he moved to California to attend U.C. Berkeley. When Harland
moved to California he drove through the most impressive area he had ever
encountered--the glacial washes of the High Sierra near Carson Pass.
Ironically this area included a small pristine lake named Silver Lake (the
same name as the lakes of his childhood). This area became Harland's
greatest inspiration for his future gardens.
When he purchased the home on the hill
overlooking San Francisco Bay he wanted to build a garden that looked
somewhat like that awesome place in the High Sierra. But it was financially
impossible at that time, if not physically impossible to transport enough
gray granite from that area to El Cerrito. But Harland had a passion and he
had already accomplished one monumental task of building a garden on a
hillside. Here again he envisioned a beautiful flower garden on a difficult
site. But this site was larger and had 49 Eucalyptus trees to remove, soil
had to be contoured and rocks dug up and moved. But he thought concrete
could be used to look somewhat like the boulders and slabs in the Sierra. So
using the skills he learned from Uncle Louie working with concrete and his
own artistic knowledge, talent and skills he began mixing concrete and
building and sculpting paths, steps and natural looking benches. Again, I
doubt if at that point, Harland totally realized the magnitude of this
endeavor and the tons and tons of concrete and the number of working hours
required to complete the whole hillside lot. But he was already prepared for
the work that would be needed: he did it before, he could do it again and
Mom's quotation probably still rang in his ear: "Where there is a will,
there is a way." This time he did not follow any rules of order and
conformity, he followed his own theories and ideas. He graduated from U.C.
Berkeley majoring in art and science. The theories of San Francisco abstract
expressionism gave him new insight to manipulate space, provoke emotional
impact and refine his design ideas. In the garden overlooking San Francisco
Bay and in gardens he designed for others later, he tried to incorporate his
ideas and theories about art into every aspect and area of the gardens.
Harland's challenge to plant enthusiasts was to be creative and produce
gardens as their own works of fine art. And his challenge to artists was to
consider working with a living medium and a dirt canvas to compose awesome
gardens. Underneath all his ideas and theories was his belief that plants
should be the residents, stars and governors of the gardens, because, simply
put in his favorite definition, "A garden is a place for plants."