June 15, 2015
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

This month’s column is from the speech given by me at the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture graduation ceremony on Mar. 28, 2015. I feel it’s appropriate for members of our association. It follows.

Being invited to speak at the graduation ceremony for Niagara Parks School of Horticulture is a career highlight for me. The Niagara educational model is one of the best ways to teach horticulture. The residence, practical training and amazing outdoor classroom make it unique. It has one of the best reputations in the world.  

The school has inspired generations of industry leaders, who have a contagious passion and enthusiasm for plants and nature. The long line of influential graduates has influenced the growth of an entire industry.

They certainly influenced me.

I was fortunate to learn some life lessons from people who were Niagara Parks graduates.  

I started my career at the Humber College Landscape Technology program in 1975. At the time the coordinator was Niagara Parks graduate Richard Hook. (He went on to become the Vice President of the college.) Richard was intimidating. He had a huge vocabulary, and was very articulate.

As I walked into his office to find out if a career in landscaping was right for me, he did something I remember to this day. He got up from behind his large spotless desk, and sat beside me as he enthusiastically described the industry and the program. You could sense how much he cared. He made me feel important and wanted. It was an easy decision to enroll.

Richard does not know how a small gesture made such a huge impact on me. I learned how important it was to have empathy and to care about others.   

The director of Humber Arboretum was Art Coles, another Niagara Parks graduate. Art had unlimited energy and approached his job with great passion. I watched how Art was able to mobilize students and sponsors to build the Arboretum and demonstration gardens. I learned the importance of leadership, vision and goal setting by observing Art. He was a wonderful mentor.   

One of the instructors at Humber was Ron Dubyk. Ron took me to my first meeting of the Niagara Parks School Alumni. I did not know what Alumni meant. The meeting was run in a very structured manner using Robert’s Rules. They were discussing the building of a garden at the CNE. I learned the importance of community and collective contribution from that experience. I also saw firsthand the importance of continuity of vision through generations. The Alumni continue the work of those they don’t even know. A continuous thread of purpose, legacy and collective benefit connects them.  

Throughout my career I have been influenced by hundreds of Niagara Parks graduates. I could write a very long article on how each one taught me something of value on my life journey. Since I don’t have the space, I will recognize one more wonderful graduate, Michael Pascoe. 
I first met Michael when he called, very upset, because I had written an article about horticulture schools and made a grave error of not including Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. Michael and I have since become friends and fellow advocates for the industry.

He is the coordinator of the Horticulture Technician Program at Fanshawe College and an amazing supporter of Landscape Ontario. Through his enthusiasm and energy, he has built Fanshawe into a very important school for horticulture. He instills the same enthusiasm and professionalism in his students that was instilled in him by Niagara. Michael inspires me, too.    

Here is another life lesson I learned at Humber College. After my first semester at Humber, I was having serious doubts. I vividly remember sitting on the floor outside the library anxiously thinking about my future.  At that moment I had an epiphany. I decided it did not matter if I had doubts. I could still choose to do well. I learned that no matter what challenging situations you are in, you still have the freedom to choose your response. That life lesson stays with me to this day. It is liberating. I did well as a student and in every job I had since because of a conscious choice to do as well as I could.  

There is another life-lesson I want to share. It is very personal.   

In her last days, my mother was confined to a palliative care unit suffering from terminal and painful bone cancer. She had a steady stream of visitors who genuinely cared about her. Even though those were difficult days, they were also special.

Relationships seemed so real. Day-to-day details of life did not seem so important. One day she noticed I had a headache. She insisted on saying a prayer for me. To her, life was all about treating others with care and love. What an important life lesson for all of us.   

I now want to say a few words about the industry that you are entering. It is one of the few industries that offer so many profound benefits. Everyone knows about the aesthetic and beautification benefits. However, our industry also offers huge environmental, economic, therapeutic, recreational, lifestyle, tourism, health and spiritual benefits. In fact, I can’t think of any other industry (except perhaps the medical profession) that offers so many diverse benefits to society.   

Very few industries touch people in so many ways. Here is how some Landscape Ontario members have described our important industry.   James Thompson owns J. Garfield Thompson Landscape Limited.  They build wonderful landscapes. After completing a job one day, his client said to him, “You are part of a green force for beauty.” At a growers’ auction at Somerville Nurseries, I heard one of the speakers say, “We are stewards of God’s creation.”     

One day at a Windsor Chapter meeting, I heard the Canadian President of Aquascapes, Perry Molema (since deceased) describe a project he has undertaken.

He was asked by a widow to move an entire garden from one location to another because her late husband spent a lifetime developing and caring for this wonderful space. She was emotionally attached to the garden, because it was her husband’s passion. At the end of the story he said, “We are really in the business of enhancing lives.” What a great way to describe our industry. It’s more about the people than the plants.

Graduates, you come from a tradition of leadership. The brand of Niagara Parks is well established and will benefit you. It is your turn to put your signature on the world and enhance lives through what you do and who you are. I hope the brief stories that inspired me will also inspire you. You have the freedom to choose.  

Choose to care, assume leadership roles, set goals, contribute to your community and expand your network. Strive to master whatever you do and work to make the world a better place. Do your work with purpose. Your legacy matters.

Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tony@landscapeontario.com.