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Cultivating a love for gardening and each other

Michael and Kathy Guest Shadrack have raised the bar for creative gardening. Their garden home in Hamburg – a creek runs underneath it – is called Smug Creek Gardens. It is defined by pockets of hostas, day lilies and enough vegetation to make you forget where you are.

Mike, 67, was a London bobby for 32 years before he met Kathy. Kathy, 63, was married and had raised a family in East Aurora before she met Mike. He was brought up on Monty Python. She says British humor is not her thing.

Gardening became their common ground. Together they lecture extensively, and two years ago they co-authored “The Book of Little Hostas.”

Married for nearly a decade, their garden is growing.

People Talk: How does a cop turn gardener?

Mike: I was growing hostas when I was a cop. I didn’t start gardening until I was about 40. When I was beginning to think of retirement and thought what would I do with all this knowledge I gained of London, I took a course to become a London tour guide. But during the course I thought it ridiculous to spend the rest of my life talking to 56 Japanese schoolgirls on a bus. So I started a company called English Garden Tours, and I brought Americans to England to look at our gardens.

PT: So that’s how you met.

Mike: Kathy was on the board at the Botanical Gardens and looking for a signature tour. I did two tours, but the second one I asked Kathy to be the chaperone.

Kathy: Here we are in Amsterdam, Paris, Versailles, all the romantic places so it was a romantic situation and we would go out for hours. We fell in love.

PT: What have you learned from each other through gardening?

Mike: I’ve discovered that Kathy is the plant woman of Western New York. She is into everything. She started plant societies. She invented the word Plantasia. Kathy is tenacious. She will work at a job until it’s done six hours without a break. And Kathy is the most untidy gardener you’ll meet. She’ll leave her tools, bucket, knee pads. She’ll pick a weed and fling it over her shoulder, and I’ll come along later and pick it up.

Kathy: In many couples there will be one gardening spouse and one that just tags along. Previously I was married to a golfer so I was happy when he was golfing for six hours, and I had my time in the garden. It’s wonderful to be married to someone who loves gardening.

PT: Do you challenge each other?

Kathy: No, because I like sun gardens and different selections of plants. He’s mostly hostas. He does one thing very well. So we support each other and compliment each other, but we are not competitive. He does all the horse work. He built all these stone walls by hand.

Mike: In fact every one of those rocks has been moved three times by me – from the quarry to my truck, from the truck to the pile and from the pile to the wall.

PT: I don’t have a green thumb. What should I grow?

Kathy: Day lilies if you have sun. Hostas if you have shade. You dig a hole, drop it in and get out of the way. People are afraid it’s science or you have to treat it like a puppy or a kitten looking after it. You don’t.

Mike: I come from England, where there’s a different way of looking at this. I’ll sum it up very unfairly. Americans want their garden or yard to look good from the road. The gardens are up against the house with a great green lawn leading to them. The English are exactly the opposite. They want the garden to look good from their windows, so we turn it around, and that’s what we are encouraging people to do.

PT: When you moved to Smug Creek, did you take your garden with you?

Kathy: Yes. We ran out of pots so we just dug plants up and put them in shopping bags. They sat in the driveway for over a year, and they were fine. Day lilies don’t need fussing.

Mike: It’s happening all over America. You’d be amazed at some of the stories. And it’s not difficult. These plants want to live.

Kathy: Gardens are love stories. People give you plants and then they pass away. I have plants from my mother and grandmother.

Mike: We exchange plants with lots and lots of people. The hosta is known as the friendship plant because you can chop it in half, give it to a friend, and you’ll still have your hosta. You can’t do that with a daffodil.

Kathy: But you can do it with a day lily.

PT: What surprised you recently about a hosta?

Mike: For me to be surprised by a hosta is not easy. But for other people, during the past three years little hostas have become popular.

Kathy: Because they are so small you can garden in a container and you don’t need much horsepower. Fairy gardens are a trend now, where people put together gardens for fairies. So they have little fairy figurines, little fairy houses, and these tiny little plants.

Mike: We’ve discovered that’s a really good way to get younger children interested. Gardeners don’t usually garden until their children are grown. We want the next generation to garden. We want a mentoring system.

PT: What personality trait defines most gardeners?

Kathy: They are creative and generous. Gardening is performance art, and that’s why people open their gardens because what’s the point if you’re the only one to see it?

Mike: Gardeners are generous both in their passing on of knowledge and the plants they love. Exchange is a big thing. Look around. There are 100 plants waiting to be planted. We just keep on getting new plants.

Kathy: It’s kind of like a hoarder.

Mike: An idea for a television program would be “Plant Hoarders.”

Kathy: Because we all have these ladies in waiting, plants that we have in pots because we have nowhere to put them.

Today, the Shadracks will attend the Garden Art Sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Parkside Lodge, 84 Parkside Ave., in Delaware Park. More than 40 vendors will participate in the event. Plant Society Avenue will feature representatives from many of the area plant societies. The event is sponsored by Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.