“Plants don’t play mind games. Plants aren’t cruel. Plants don’t kill each other or commit crimes.” A self-educated gardener, Mark Driver is passionate about plants, God, his wife, his country and life as a whole, though not necessarily in that order. His life, however, wasn’t always so easy, going back to drug and alcohol addictions in his youth and almost ending in a heart attack at the age of 46.
Driving up to Mark’s house in Phoenixville, PA, you first observe a small white stucco ranch with lovely annuals planted out front on a street shaded with towering giant oak trees. If you didn’t know where to stop, you might pass by without ever seeing his garden in the back.
Walking down a shared driveway, you pass through a wooden engraved sign saying “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.” Growing up and over the sign is a pelican flower from South America that has to be cut back in the winter and taken inside so that it survives the cold weather. But, Mark knows exactly what to do and is diligent about the specific care of each of his species, from the light each needs to the appropriate amount of watering and food.
Walking into the garden, you quickly become aware of the special touch Mark has for organic life. Every plant, of the over 200 species from around the world, is meticulously labeled with metal garden labels and garage sale spoons stuck in the ground close by. Every one displays scientific (genus and species), botanical and common names, of which Mark learned many from the now-deceased friend who gave him most of the plants six years ago.
“I like people to see this as a working garden,” says Mark as he shows visitors his birch tree log beds lining the outside of the yard and mini-train garden filling the oval center of the yard, complete with clever pigs in a mudpit and dwarf cutleaf Japanese maples, evergreens and hollies. “This garden is therapy. I’ve loved plants since I was nine years old.”
Mark acknowledges himself as a work in progress too. Raised the son of a Baptist pastor, he became the prodigal son, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, running from God and his dad as fast as he could. Attempting suicide at 18, he was grateful to live but kept sliding down a slippery slope which ended in a failed marriage and a broken relationship with his son.
Inspired by an older woman who took him in and treated him like a son, he completely changed his life, studied the Bible and experienced a peace he had never felt before. In spite of his turnaround, he endured a divorce and sought out a singles group where he met his future wife Mary Lou. She knew he was the right one when he brought her three red roses. He still brings in fresh flowers for her every day, from sunflowers to the passion flowers, that last for 3 days in a bowl of water.
Like one of his more precious species needing the right touch, when Mark met Mary Lou she was so shy she would only speak to her own family. Finding each other a work in progress, Mark counts Mary Lou as one of his greatest blessings, who now greets visitors with a gentle smile and kind voice. He credits her with showing him how to show mercy to those around him.
Today, Mark takes joy in the pleasure of creating a haven of beauty with new buds blooming every two weeks from March to November. Several garden clubs have begun to take notice and include Mark in their visitations. When asked if he would ever submit a species to the local flower show for judging, he says, “No, that is too much fuss.”
Mark considers himself a simple man, now delivering medical supplies for a living after herniating a disk in his neck, which knocked him permanently out of the painting industry. His heart-attack interrupted his life at age 46 while he was walking through the hospital, having just learned that Mary Lou had a tumor on the optic nerve behind her eye and was already losing vision. Fortunately treatments have eradicated the tumors for now but Mark praises the Lord for every day he has with her, both with his own health and hers.
This Memphis boy counts his blessings like he counts his plants, sharing them openly with anyone he meets, always praising the Lord and giving credit to God in the face of old and new trials.
The local paper quotes Mark sharing the transformative pleasures he finds in simple things:
“The first blush of lime-green and purple jack-in-the-pulpit.
Seven-inch buds on his yellow angel’s trumpet.
A stand of sea holly crawling with lady bugs.
A yellow birch tree’s rustle on a breezy day.”
BUT, as every good gardener knows, there is always thinning to be done and plantings to share. If you visit, you are encouraged to leave with one of the free perennials neatly lining one side of the house. In August, you may come away with lamb’s ear or morning glory vine. In June, it might be a holyhock or passion flower.
Whenever you go, there is always extra to share. A grateful gardener, Mark’s goal in life is to share God’s creation and spiritual blessings he has experienced with others.
Passionate about his country, Mark has also been a driving force in the community in supporting local candidates. More recently, he has been able to open his home and gardens to events for people to come and discuss politics, plants and the power of prayer, all of which he has a wealth of knowledge and much to say.
Despite enjoying all of the above, Mark is also quoted as humbly saying in his typical fun in a serious sort of way, “The more I’m around people, the more I love my garden and the more I’m in the garden, the more I love people.”
Mark welcomes anyone to visit his lovely garden in Phoenixville but call first so he can be there to show you around. He parts with these words “Ya’ll have a blessed day.”
Thank you Mark, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2008 by Sarah Peppel and Story of My Life®