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Leslie Paula Gardner 1953-2014

Dearly loved by many, Leslie Gardner, master gardener, herbalist, and author, passed into the light on May 20, 2014. She released her body at her Davis, California home a few days after hosting an end-of-life ceremony attended by close friends and family.

Leslie had a warm and inviting nature, and a remarkably genuine smile that could bring joy to any in her presence.

A long-time resident of Sebastopol, California, Leslie was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1953. She attended Northwestern University and graduated from the Ohio State University School of Music (where she studied voice and piano) in 1977. She attended First Community Church and spent many years involved in programs related to the church’s summer camp, Camp Akita. Many of her life-long friendships were established there, including those that motivated the formation of a unique and close-knit circle of present and former Ohioans living in the Sebastopol area, known as the Earth Gospel Players.

Leslie moved to Southern California after college with the goal of establishing herself as a professional singer. She lived in Woodland Hills and later Topanga Canyon where she played in rock-and-roll bands while supporting herself as an editor and a piano instructor. She became interested in Chinese medicine and Western herbal medicine, which eventually culminated in the receipt of a master’s degree from Union University in Herbal Studies.

In 1985, Leslie married Richard Gustafson and the two relocated to Orinda, California, where their daughter, Diana, was born in 1989. She continued her work as a piano instructor, leaving a lasting legacy of artistic inspiration in the local community. She also worked as an herbal consultant and created the tea company Eden Hill Herbals.

Leslie moved to Sebastopol in the early nineties with her young daughter and was known by many in her new community as a highly talented, multi-instrument performer, vocalist, and teacher. She helped produce a generation of young pianists in Sonoma County. She also found time to sing and play keyboards and percussion with the rock band Gig Jung.

Renowned for her energy and diverse interests, she furthered her career as an herbalist by serving as master gardener, staff member, and teacher at the California School of Herbal Studies (CSHS) in Forestville, one of the earliest and most influential herb schools in the country, founded by renowned herbalist and author Rosemary Gladstar.

Apropos to her name, Leslie had a major green thumb and, beginning in 1993, was the manager of the large herb garden at CSHS, where she served as a core faculty member teaching “Growing Plant Medicine.” She directed the garden apprentice program where she inspired and trained many budding herbalists and herb growers. Leslie was a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild.

She was also an accomplished editor and author, having written the book Life in the Medicine (Emerald Earth Publishing, 2008), which has complete growing directions for more than 100 herbs. In 2013, she co-wrote and edited (with her partner Christopher Hobbs) Grow It, Heal It (Rodale Press; a book profile appears on page 71 of this issue).

Leslie was a founding board member and secretary of the Sonoma County Herb Association (SCHA). She was indefatigable in her vision of service as the passionate director, for 13 years, of the Sonoma County Herb Exchange, a project of the SCHA for which Leslie was the key figure in organizing a clearinghouse that linked many small-scale medicinal herb growers with medicine makers and manufacturers, both locally and around the country. Leslie created a popular and uniquely hands-on medicinal herb plant internship program at the SCHE. She was a touchstone, and her dedication and commitment helped create a model that has been emulated by herbal organizations nationwide.

Leslie was also an important figure in local, sustainable, and community-supported agriculture, and was involved with the expansion of Laguna Farm (founded by her former husband Scott Mathieson), one of the oldest and largest community-supported agriculture operations in the area. Her efforts were highly regarded as contributions to community herbalism and to the growth of the local sustainable organic movement as a whole. Over the years, she trained hundreds of herbal gardeners and seeded a new generation of healers.

In late 2010, Leslie moved to Davis to create a family with Christopher Hobbs and his son, Ken. She fostered community by playing in music ensembles and performing music at the Unitarian Universalist Church. She started an herb garden and apprenticeship at the University of California – Davis as, well as a new piano studio mentoring two groups of devoted students.

“Leslie was loved by all who knew her for her warm presence and radiant smile; she literally sparkled and lit up any space she was in,” said Rosemary Gladstar (email, July 10, 2014). “Not only an excellent herbalist and gardener extraordinaire, Leslie was also well known and beloved in many other circles. But she was modest about her accomplishments,” continued Gladstar, “and many of those who knew her weren’t aware of her [many] skills and talents. Not only an accomplished writer and author, Leslie was also a highly talented musician, skilled in both classical and rock and roll. As a music teacher, she inspired a generation of children in Sonoma County to love and play music. A teacher, friend, healer, and joyful light being, Leslie will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her, but her warm smile remains imprinted in our hearts.”

Leslie is survived by her daughter, Diana Gustafson; former husband Richard Gustafson; her sister, Lorianne Gardner (David) Loveless; brothers Stephen (Elizabeth) Gardner, Robert (Sherry) Gardner Jr.; her father, Robert Gardner, Sr.; former husband Scott Mathieson; her stepson, Josh Mathieson; and by her devoted partner, Christopher Hobbs, his son Ken, and many, many other loved ones in her extended family and friendship circles. Leslie was predeceased by her beloved mother, Ruth Sieker Gardner.

—Christopher Hobbs, PhD