Panayoti Kelaidis

Harland Hand [1922-1998], inspired by the principles of fine art and rock formations in the High Sierra, designed this hillside garden with breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay.

Using concrete, curving lines and dramatic color combinations, Hand created an emotionally evocative space that houses an extraordinary plant collection.

Harland Hand "taught Gwen and me more about garden design in a few conversations than we learned cumulatively elsewhere in our lives."

The magnitude of debt and tenderness of feeling that both my wife and I have towards Harland is all out of scale when you consider that we only visited his garden a few times, and he only came our way twice (for a conference and for a talk he gave). We did meet at several rock garden meetings, and I was there for his inspirational workshop in North Carolina that Bobby Ward mentions in the essay he has on the NARGS website. I was a fan of Harland's from the start, and Gwen became an even bigger devotee.

Of course, at first it is the unparalleled artistry of his garden design: all of Harland's gardens that I have visited are so utterly attuned to their settings, quite different from one another, but all of them monumental in their conception and stunning in their execution. No other builder of rock gardens I know of had such a mastery of space and form and shape and texture. Harland was simply the best. I am a mediocre photographer, but all the pictures I've taken in his gardens are good: he created point and shoot beauty everywhere. Harland was master both of the vista and the vignette.

That would in itself be enough laurels for any one life, but when I came to know him and spend some time with him I realized that there were many Harlands, many more than I would ever know: he was surely one of the greatest teachers ever. He taught Gwen and me more about garden design in a few conversations than we learned cumulatively elsewhere in our lives. Of course, Gwen deserves credit for the marvelous gardens she has created, but I know that they would have been far less bold and far less magnificent without the sessions with Harland waving his arms in our back yard.

What all of us lucky enough to have gotten to know him miss the most, of course, is Harland's authenticity: he lived life with an intensity, with honesty and wit much as he gardened. There was not a phony bone in the man: his every utterance rang true, straight from the heart, straight from the brain, straight to the point. Oh, how I miss him!

Panayoti Kelaidis, Curator of Plant Collections at the Denver Botanic Gardens, was the designer of its Rock Alpine Garden, one of the best collections of alpine plants in North America. An internationally known plantsman and recipient of many awards including the 2003 Award of Excellence from National Garden Clubs, Inc., Panayoti travels extensively to study and collect plants, lectures worldwide on rock garden plants, and is the author of numerous books and articles.