Mediterranean Garden Society
A few friendly observations about the late Heidi Gildemeister
by George Brumder
photos by George and Marilyn Brumder
Photographs to illustrate the article published in The Mediterranean Garden No. 114, October 2023
The photo at the top of this page shows a view of the mountain backdrop to Ariant (Photo Fundación Vida Silvestre de lo Mediteránea)
Former MGS President Heidi Gildemeister is remembered by George Brumder, founding Branch head of MGS Southern California. Her 1,000-hectare estate in Mallorca has been made over to the Fundación Vida Silvestre Mediterránea - FVSM, dedicated to preservation of the rare black vultures. George writes: My wife Marilyn and I first met Heidi in the fall of 1998 when as president of the MGS she visited California to speak at Pacific Horticultural Society symposiums in San Francisco and Los Angeles. This Southern California symposium was at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Marilyn was on their board, and we invited Heidi, whom we had not yet met, to stay with us in Pasadena while she was here. Heidi was with us for five nights. I drove her down to San Juan Capistrano to meet Mike Evans and see his Tree of Life Nursery. I also drove her up to Arroyo Grande to meet David Fross and see his Native Sons Nursery. We had several lunches and dinners with friends, visited several gardens and had plenty of time together at our house. Right after her talk at the Arboretum, there was a meeting there with some of the symposium’s attendees, which resulted in the formation of the Southern California Branch of the MGS (which I headed through 2010).
The following June Marilyn and I spent five nights at Torre d’Ariant, the Gildemeisters’ absolutely spectacular 2,500-acre property on Mallorca. With Heidi, we visited Palma and travelled about the island seeing important public gardens and wonderful private gardens as well. We spent most of our time, though, at Ariant enjoying the magnificent setting, Heidi’s extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful ten-acre garden and, most of all, the Gildemeisters’ relaxed and friendly hospitality. (At this point, Heidi was still President of the MGS and I had become head of its new Southern California Branch.)
That October, Heidi came and spent eight nights with us in Pasadena. We had a full calendar of visits to public and private gardens and meetings and social occasions with individuals active in the community and possibly interested in the work of the MGS.
The next October (2000), Marilyn and I went to the AGM in Palermo, where Katherine Greenberg took Heidi’s place as President of the MGS. Immediately after that AGM Katherine, Marilyn and I, and Heidi spent five days touring Sicily, having a good time meeting still more interesting people and visiting still more notable gardens, both public and private.
Next, in October 2002, the Southern California Branch hosted the AGM. For that, Heidi spent another five nights with us in Pasadena.
Altogether, during those four years, Marilyn and I had spent about a month with Heidi in Pasadena, at Ariant and in Sicily. Later we saw Heidi at several AGMs, and we made several more visits to Ariant as well. From almost the very beginning, we considered Heidi a very good friend.
A few things we noted at Ariant:
Heidi cared tremendously about nature. It was always interesting to be in her garden with her, seeing how she approached it, how she looked at it and how she always worked with nature, not against it. How she saw her garden taught us a lot. She had wonderful stories about how, after all her years with Enrique in Peru, she evolved as a gardener in the mediterranean climate, with its cool, damp winters and long, hot, dry summers – and little if any water other than that provided by nature.
Heidi was always very practical and down-to-earth in her approach to her garden. She learned from experience what each plant in her garden needed and wanted in order to thrive. She understood plant communities. She saw nature as a teacher. She wanted her plants to be healthy. She had a strong aesthetic sense and a good eye – for details, the big picture and everything in between. In her garden, the hand of man was practically invisible. She wanted individual plants, groups of plants and indeed her entire garden to be beautiful, always natural, never contrived - and she succeeded spectacularly. We weren’t the least surprised to learn that the government of Spain declared hers to be the best (or most beautiful?) garden in all of Spain.
When she travelled, she usually had with her a special suitcase to transport home interesting plants she discovered along the way.
Heidi played an important role in getting the MGS off to a strong start. Among other things, she saw the potential of a good network of international branches to increase the value and impact of the MGS, and she worked hard and effectively to develop branches in California and Australia, helping to make the MGS a meaningful resource for gardeners in mediterranean-climate regions around the world.
Her two books - Mediterranean Gardening, A Waterwise Approach and Gardening The Mediterranean Way, How To Create a Waterwise, Drought-tolerant Garden - were also an important help to those wanting to garden successfully in the world‘s mediterranean-climate regions.
Heidi’s sense of humour was gentle, and in an understated way she always seemed pleasantly elegant, dignified and reserved.
Marilyn and I have long observed that individuals who have a close, long and deep connection with nature tend to be healthy, happy, reasonable, long-lived, calm, realistic, thoughtful, serious (but not too serious), sound, effective and likable. Heidi was a perfect example of that.
We liked, admired and appreciated her very much indeed. Knowing her as we did was a great pleasure, a rare honour and a true privilege.
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