Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Well-planted lessons

Some things are just meant to be. Successes and failures in the garden and in life both include valuable lessons if we're willing to look at them. One night last week, I was the only passenger with a reading light on late during a Denver-to-Billings flight. I had some deep thoughts, a pen that was almost out of ink and a Frontier Airlines napkin, which as it turns out was all I needed. The metaphors between gardening and step-parenting just flowed. The people around me probably wondered "what in the world is he doing?" I filled the napkin on the front, back and inside with words, carefully making sure I didn't rip the fragile paper. When the plane landed, I knew I had captured thoughts that I had grown accustomed to thinking but never committed to paper. I couldn't wait to get to my computer and try to organize them in to something that would be relevant to readers.

The responses to last week's column were humbling and overwhelming. With every email, I learned the different routes taken that led to a similar destination. Some shared that they were just starting and others were reflective. Young fathers sent emails with "a simple thanks" in the memo section. Transplanted Montanan's wrote with their appreciation for the metaphors as they navigate their way through step-parenting. Employees and friends who weren't aware of my life story with Mick "the Plant Man" were moved to tears.

Readers wrote about the shock and subsequent warmth they felt with the content shift from what they've grown accustomed to reading. Appreciative step-children wrote how their lives were forever changed through the love of a 'gardener'. Their 'gardeners' weren't just fathers or step-fathers. They are spouses, friends, mothers, neighbors, uncles and aunts. Good 'gardeners' come in all shapes, sizes and genders, but their role and life-changing impact is always the same.

The responses prove to me is that we have so much to learn from each other if we have the courage to share.

You'll be surprised to know that in my adult years, I've rarely spent a Father's Day with 'the Plant Man'. Our work schedule is to blame. We're open every Sunday in the spring and Father's Day marks the return to a 6-day work week. Mick uses that time to tame the landscape around his cabin that has been neglected.

Knowing this, I made sure that my mom would take the Sunday copy of the Billings Gazette with them as they made their way to the place he refers to as "the Bud". I awoke that morning to a text message at 6:30 from Mick with a humble thank you, followed by a telephone conversation later in the day. On Monday we met for dinner. When you're lucky enough to work with your dad, any day can be Father's Day.

My hope for all is that what took me thirty-two years to commit to paper will come to you much more quickly because the result was something I've been longing to hear for most of my life. Somehow, the dynamics of loss, acceptance and blended family issues kept me isolated. I thought they were unique only to me and not particularly interesting to anyone else. But, learning about how others have struggled to make their way through their lives has enriched me in a way I never thought possible. We all long to be understood. Thank you for understanding me and sharing your 'gardening' stories with me.

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings. Questions or comments? Email Jim Gainan @