Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ray Spahn: 1952-2009

I just found out that the world lost an amazing horticulturist, artist, and gentleman today. My dear friend and mentor Ray Spahn passed away at his home on the eastern end of Long Island this evening after a long bought with cancer. He was only 57. I first met Ray when I began on my career path in horticulture at Marder's Nursery a little over ten years ago. Ray maintained the houseplants and tropicals in the massive barn Charlie and Kathleen had moved from PA to it's new home in Bridgehampton, NY. The structure was beautiful, but the ideal place to raise moisture and humidity loving specimens it was perhaps not. But Ray, a brilliant plantsman and caring soul, had this ability to grow the most tempermental tropicals and ornery orchids with grace and ease. It was his panache for plants that lured me in, made me want to have that same connection to the living world. He would quickly prove be one of the major players to infect me with the horticultural bug. Of course I have to laugh that my orchids and ferns will never look as healthy as his. When I would go on to manage a garden shop of my own one day I would think of Ray and try to maintain the same cool, calm collectedness while trying to keep the plants alive and appease the impatient New Yorkers all in one breath. I realized he really did have a gift. As I would get to know Ray over the years I would learn he was also a phenomenal painter and artist. Ray and his partner Stan invited a number of us from work to their home for a summer party and to this day I don't know if I have ever seen a home as beautiful. Everything was intentional, finely selected, full of character and culture and reflective of life lived well. The Australian tree fern took over the living room and took you to another place and time. In the kitchen Ray was experimenting with different epiphytes and miniature ferns mounted on verticle wall panels, years before anyone would hear of these things called "greenwalls" or Patrick Blanc. The huge canvases of seascapes you wanted to stare at for hours, just like the real thing. Through it all Ray would focus on the positive as much as he could and he truly lived life right, surrounded by life and love and friends and family and the richness of nature. As Dave C-K reminds me, even after being diagnosed Ray made the most of 7 or 8 more years before he passed away. He will be so missed but his unforgettable spirit will live on. Rest in peace dear friend.

Chances are you or someone you know has been affected by cancer. Please at some point in your life consider supporting cancer research/care/support. Whatever the donation, of money or time, it does make a big difference. Here are links to two of the many worthy causes out there:

The Lance Armstrong Foundation
East End Hospice

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