The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
Susan Taylor began writing columns about gardening for the San Diego Free Press in February of 2014. The biography that she provided to append to the end of her articles is quintessential Susan—direct, spirited and humorous. It deftly conveys details of an intriguing past, establishes the commitments of her heart and intellect and reflects her whimsical optimism about the future.
Susan L. Taylor, a San Diego native daughter, digs politics, urban agriculture, dogs and local beaches. Forever grad student of Latin America history, she speaks Spanish, Portuguese and teen-speak to the two boys still at home. Supports guerrilla, community and home gardening. Dreams of a beachhead along the Baja California coast and hopes that the grapes she grows will someday taste like red wine. Susan supports the restoration of Chollas Creek and is still a natural blonde.
Susan wrote enthusiastically received gardening columns for San Diego Free Press that drew upon her expertise as a certified Master Gardener in the county. Her columns were anything but generic in content or tone, which is to say that they were pure Susan. Her articles were peppered with exclamation points and we left most of them in because they so perfectly expressed her perpetual wonder and delight with the vegetative world. “Remember, the best day to plant a tree was twenty years ago, and the second best day is today!”
It is a world that she navigated with a surety that inspired confidence in more novice gardeners. She gave us permission to make mistakes, tough decisions and to give ourselves up to the exquisite pleasure of gardening.
I always have mixed success with sweet peas (tad of honesty here) and accept that I may have to re-seed a couple of times. I keep trying to figure out what went wrong and if I kept a better garden journal maybe I’d have learned by now but never mind!
Susan’s columns stopped in late 2016. Beginning in August of 2015, the Master Gardener’s life was beset first with the death of her ex-husband (and friend), then her beloved sister Nancy, then her great friend and mentor Lucy Killea. She attended to all of them in their final months and days. Then there was the terrible re-emergence of breast cancer that she had first battled decades ago that required aggressive, prolonged treatments.
SDFP contributor Jim Bliesner first introduced me to Susan in late 2013. It strikes me as oddly fitting that it was Jim who first emailed me last week that weakened by those treatments, Susan had passed away.
The biography that Susan provided us with gives only a partial glimpse into her life and the qualities that defined her, particularly during these last, devastating few years.
Susan served on the Board of Directors of Groundwork San Diego, the non-profit that works with communities to restore the Chollas Creek watershed. Their site provided additional insight into her life experience and interests.
Susan Taylor (Secretary Treasurer) is a mediator with the National Conflict Resolution Center. She was the Director of Legislative Affairs for UC San Diego, and served as Chief of Staff to the Honorable Lucy Killea at the San Diego City Council and California State Senate. She has served on the boards of Campfire Boys and Girls, Mid City Senior Enterprises, California Women in Government and is on the Board of the San Diego Capital Collaborative. She served in the Peace Corps and as a relief worker for the National Council of Churches. Susan is a Master Gardener, a member of the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and Yosemite Association.
For those of you who have never meant Susan, these details establish the heft of her wide ranging interests and commitments and provide a glimpse into her complex nature. What that information doesn’t provide is the myriad ways so many of us came to know and love her.
While SDFP editor Annie Lane was writing for La Mesa Path she interviewed Susan, a Helix High School mom at the time who decided to volunteer at the school after her youngest son had graduated. Annie’s article captured so much about Susan’s essential nature– her love and commitment to her children Bill, Larissa, Jordan and Jonathan, and to the school that had also helped nurture each of them. Annie, remembering that interview fondly, says that she and Susan established an immediate rapport.
September 13, 2013. Jim Bliesner had suggested that I meet with his friend Susan Taylor. He felt that she would be a terrific contributor at SDFP. I joined Jim and Fran Zimmerman and was introduced to a petite natural blonde who was wearing some fabulous turquoise and silver jewelry. We had a leisurely chat about politics, gardening and jewelry at a local café. Susan was smart and engaging. When we parted Susan told me that she was going to make wine that evening.
I emailed Susan immediately when I arrived home.
Susan- I’m savoring the thought of you making wine this evening. I had so much fun meeting you today and would like to just hang out with you (as well as recruit you as SDFP contributor. ) I think we should dress in our turquoise delights, meet and eat. Dead serious. Thanks for taking the time to get together with us today. My first rule is that we should have fun. And change the world. Anna
What began as an editor/writer relationship quickly became an abiding friendship. We unwound in each other’s presence like brightly colored spools through countless emails and occasional lunches.
Susan took a genuine interest in the world and people around her. She was generous and deeply decent. Her playfulness was evident in her puckish sense of humor. It came through in her emails, and illuminated her face, particularly her clear blue eyes, in person.
I never see a night blooming cereus in bloom without thinking about Susan. When we were comparing notes about them she wrote:
My grandpap used to call of a summer evening like we’re having and tell my dad to bring us kids down because the cereus were blooming in the back yard in North Park! I remember this well and it was very big deal to us kids…something wonderfully natural and no ice cream involved, just nature!
Every year Susan would celebrate the harvest of the grapes from her vines. She described the mini-Bacchanalia that once took place in her house:
Couple of Septembers ago we were just about stripped to our undies crushing grapes in our dining area, managed to ruin one of my mother’s dining room chairs! Wine wasn’t any good after all that.
The last time I saw Susan was in June. We met for an early lunch at Nate’s Café; afterward she would be attending a performance at the Old Globe. Her chemo regimen was three weeks on and one off. During those precious few weeks without chemo infusions she would pack in as much life as possible. In May, while she was dealing with steroids and achiness from chemo she wrote:
So I just blew it all off and went to claim a six month old new great granddaughter in Seattle for the weekend! Holding a sweet happy baby smiling and very vocal is therapeutic!
Susan looked a little thinner than the last time I had seen her, and her hair was curly—but still naturally blond! She was wearing a few pieces of her beautiful turquoise jewelry.
At Nate’s Café, two mature gardeners, one a Master Gardener in every way, spoke about the challenges, setbacks—and joys, of being what they knew to be temporary stewards of so much beauty, of so much life.
At that last meeting, Susan bought two bougainvilleas in five gallon containers at Bill Tall’s Nursery to fill in a few spots in her yard.
Gardening, for a certain kind of gardener, demands toughness and tenderness, constancy and courage. Above all, it demands faith in seasons yet unknown.
Susan was that certain kind of gardener, she had all of those qualities. And the green fuse that drove it all was her quiet, deep, sustaining faith—in seasons yet unknown.
A Celebration of Susan Taylor’s Life
January 15, 2018 1:00 pm
La Mesa First Methodist Church
4690 Palm Ave, La Mesa, CA 91941
jim Bliesner says
You planted her memory in a field of prose. You knew her for a short time. Can you imagine knowing her for fourty years? Thank you and off she goes to an new garden.
Larisa Barr says
What a wonderful tribute to my mom, thank you!
John Stiump says
Thank you for an inspirational tribute. Made me want to do more with joy.