A Stunning Loss Will Be Felt Nationally
My brain is spinning and hands still shaking as I write this to alert the world of gardening that Don Riddle, the 63-year-old founder of Homestead Gardens, has died.
What makes this even more profoundly sad is that Don apparently took his own life.
To have met Don and spent time with him, as I was able to do for the past decade, is to understand just how incomprehensibly this news rattles the soul. Don was nothing short of brilliant, always upbeat, a one-of-a-kind visionary maverick in an industry — gardening — known more for its sedentary, patterned approach to business.
He grew Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Md., from a vegetable stand to one of the two or three largest single-location garden centers in North America. He didn’t just sell plants; he created an experience, a destination, a center for learning and appreciation where you felt good about spending $4.95 for a pack of petunias.
My advice to anyone in the garden center industry, whether they were starting out or had been in business for seven generations, was to buy a plane ticket to Baltimore-Washington airport and cab it to Homestead, situated almost directly between Camden Yards and the White House. Don would invariably treat every single visitor as if they were the most important people in his life for that moment; or, if he were just too busy, his staff had hospitality burned into its collective DNA.
Don grew the flowers for the Orioles famed stadium, sent arrangements to Pennsylvania Avenue for State dinners and made the city of Annapolis come alive as probably the best decorated municipality in America. And he oozed excitement, not just for the beauty of it all, but because he genuinely felt the plants were making people’s lives better.
Really, though, it wasn’t the plants. We have those everywhere, in every city. The reason his friends’ lives were better in Maryland and across the nation was due to Don and his Indefatigable passion, vision and compassion.
He might literally be the absolute last person you would think would end his own life . . . and that’s what makes this — if it is in fact true — so gut-wrenchingly, miserably heartbreaking.
Calls have come in from across the nation in the past few hours. Well-meaning people’s thoughts invariably lead to speculation as to reasons why a spectacularly successful, handsome, seemingly happy father of a teenage girl would do something like this.
But those discussions are best saved for another day. Those conclusions are between his doctor and his family.
Our thoughts and our love focus on Don’s soul and the grace he showed all of us while he was here.