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  • Writer's pictureTom Cavan


Updated: Jan 6, 2020

In 1970 my father opened a garden centre beside his successful fruit market, I was 15 years old, strong and determined to be a professional hockey player(how naive). Up until that time he had been selling miscellaneous seasonal plants at the fruit market and my horticultural knowledge was fruit and vegetable based, (started at 9 yrs old selling pumkins, I fit right in)

the world of living plants was a mystery and seemed very trivial to me (oh if I only knew then what I know now).

My fav fruit was strawberries in June...many ripe ones never made it to the shelf

His success with the fruit market allowed him to expand into the garden business and when it started I became a human forklift for a one-legged elderly horticulturalist named Donavan Denmon (bless his sole, when he passed his wife gave me of few of his horticultural books which treasured for years to come, "blymy" was his only curse word, yes he was English to the core) and so my true education began. I was not exactly the academic prototypical child at the time if you get my drift.

By osmosis he quietly taught me the names, origins and importance of every species that flowed through that shop, it was basically a huge box that wreaked of chemical fertilizers, all plants where under a lath area, fully exposed except for filtered sun.

It was the begining of my horticultural quest and by the time I started my tenure at the University of Guelph for a Diploma in Horticulture I was already well on my way to becoming a Vulture for Horticultre ( which I found out years later is actually a song by Jimmy Durante, check it out on you tube: Jimmy Durante: I'm a Vulture for Horticulture ..its hilarious).

I literally could not standstill if I did not know the name of any plant that crossed my path from that day forward. Donavan taught me so much more than University but I did get a formal education that taught me how to teach myself. I devoured any horticultural text I could get my hands on and to this day I still have my favourites on my shelf which I looked back on occassionaly with fond memories.

My 1st Bible, I used to let customers check it out at the store

Just before graduation the City of Calgary hosted interviews for Gardener Forman postions with the Parks Depatment of Calgary , I was curious so I enrolled for an interview and low and behold I got the job! I guess my enthusiasum won them over, or as my wife so mildy puts it, Man where they desparate!

When I told my father I am pretty sure he was anticipating I come and succeed Donavan as his resident horticulturalist, but when I told him the pay scale he told me to "GO FOR IT" !!! I graduated with honors in Horticulture and flew to Calgary the following week, missing graduation, but more importantly missing my girlfriend Anne, who a year later followed me bringing her pots and pans, we married soon after ( she claims she had nothing better to do at the time).

During the three years I quickly achieved the title of Gardener Forman Three and literally had to wait for someone to perish or retire to advance any further. I was very fortunate to be given such high responsibilities at such a young age. I managed over 40 parks with a seasonal labour force of 80 peoples, learning large scale maintenance operations and just before leaving I was given the task of overseeing the planting of 1,000 trees during the construction of a new park. Great expereince but horticulturally speaking it was no challenge at all, I could count the number of species on my hands and toes that where tolerant of Calgarys exposure. If I never saw another poplar as long as lived it would't have bother me after that experience.

During my absence from the family biz my father had decided he wanted to start a second Garden Centre on a piece of farmland he purchased some years earlier and had planted Christmas trees (actually it was my older brother Larry, myself and my dad's right hand man George Vaughn that planted the trees years previously).

My father told me of his plan and asked me if I would return to establish the second store.....HELL YES!! and so began the next chapter in my horticultural journey. And yes I dragged Anne along for the ride.

My second about dry reading 44,000 species... but for me just add water!

On my birthday March 30, 1979 the doors opened to Cavan's Garden Centre and Greenhouses (Erin) LTD. At the tender age of 24 I was standing at the front door welcoming customers only to ask me if they could meet the owner and of course when I responded "I am, how can I help you" I am sure many where doubtful until I asnwered their gardening questions with such enthusiasum, knowledge and confidence that I quickly established myself as the go-to plantsman at the newly started garden enterprise. We had greenhouse crops, a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm, forist shop, sold every horticulture condiment you could imagine.

I joined the Garden Writers Guild and wrote garden columns for 5 local newspapers for 10 years. We where a burgeoning success for many years to come, then came the box stores and raped and pileged the horticultural retail sector.

In response to this onslaught I began taking on requests to landscape peoples properties and the rest is as they say : history in the making.

You know the saying behind every good man is a good woman, well I am living proof of such a proverb, as my wife Anne of 44 years has been at my side the entire time and without her support and encouragement I can't imagine the alternative.

Here is the 1st Book Anne bought when I began landscaping, hundreds followed

Together we operated the Garden Centre for 33 years, me the plantsman, she the florist and we raised our family ( they have requested I keep them out of the limelight, fat chance!), worked 7 days a week and made alot of sacrificies and paid our dues.

We are very proud of all of our acheivements and accolades during that time.

In 2012 we relinquished ourselves of retail life and chose to pursue the world with our knowledge and passion to create beautiful spaces. We have now evolved into qualified designers in our own rights. Anne went back to school and graduated from Sheridan College in Interior Design, I am not aloud to devulge her age at graduation. Me I started with a shovel in my hands and am a self-taught Landscape Designer utilizing Dynascape digital design for drafting and alot of dirt under my nails.

Having an Interior Designer as a sounding board for my landscape designs has proven us to be a formidable team of creation(s) and we intend on planning every lifestyle indoors and out as long as we are able.

Now one of my go to reads as form > follows > function, every designers creed

We still operate as a family business with our son William who now is site forman implementing all aspects of landcsape construction: heavy equipment operator, stone mason and curator of good work. Together we will forge the future and sculpture scenery, create good spaces.

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