LITERARY LOCATION: 1670 Pickles Road, Denman Island

Des Kennedy is a West Coast original--when he writes about how everyone should live in harmony with nature, he walks the walk. The gardens he and his partner Sandy have created on their acreage have been featured in various books, magazine articles and calendars. Starting with a stump ranch, Des and Sandy put in their fruit and vegetable garden on Pickles Road in 1972, adding an ornamental garden in 1980, featuring mostly annuals, biennials and wildlings. "In 1988 we rather recklessly expanded the ornamental area," he says, "focusing on old roses, unusual perennials, shrubs and trees and considerable stonework." Also excelling as an award-winning journalist, broadcaster and environmental activist, Des Kennedy has lived for more than 40 years on Denman Island.


Des Kennedy, of Irish descent, was born in Liverpool, England in 1945. He came to Canada in 1955 and to British Columbia in 1968. For seven years he wrote a gardening column for The Globe and Mail, leading to a column for GardenWise magazine and feature stories for Gardening Life magazine. Kennedy has appeared many times on TV shows such as Harrowsmith Country Life, The Canadian Gardener and the Guerrilla Gardener. For eight years he was also a weekly columnist on the national CBC television program Midday, contributing pieces on gardening, country living and natural history.

Des Kennedy was the host and co-writer of a documentary mini-series titled Reinventing the World, broadcast on Vision TV in 2001. This series featured five one-hour documentaries on Food, Work, Economics and Sustainable Cities and included interviews with leading thinkers on these topics from Canada, the U.S. and Brazil. A subsequent television series, Finding the Future, consisting of 13 half-hour programs in each of which Kennedy interviewed celebrated thinkers and activists, was also broadcast on Vision TV. A one-hour documentary of Living Things We Love to Hate was broadcast on Discovery TV.

Kennedy has spoken and performed at numerous conferences, schools, festivals, botanical gardens, art galleries, garden shows and wilderness gatherings in Canada and the U.S. For several years Kennedy hosted garden tours in Ireland, New Zealand, China and England.

Des Kennedy's multi-faceted memoir The Way of a Gardener includes memories of his upbringing in a strict, working-class Irish Catholic family and eight years within the cloisters of a monastic seminary. One of his heroes is Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

Kennedy published his first two poems in 1966 in a national Catholic weekly magazine called Ave Maria. "To address such personal matters publicly does not come easily to me," Kennedy wrote, at age 64. "I was raised to consider self-absorption, and certainly self-congratulation, unseemly, something done by braggarts and poseurs, people who were 'full of themselves.' Holy Mother Church taught that pride was the deadliest of sins."

The 52 chapters in An Ecology of Enchantment provide a week-by-week chronicle of his gardening life. Crazy About Gardening was shortlisted for the 1995 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. His first novel, The Garden Club, in 1996, was also shortlisted for the Leacock Medal. As well, Kennedy has been active for many years in environmental and social justice issues, including co-organizing the civil disobedience campaign in Strathcona Provincial Park in 1988 and getting arrested at Clayoquot Sound in 1993. He worked for several years in the '70s and early '80s as a land claim consultant for two First Nations bands in north-central B.C. and was a founding director of a community land trust on Denman Island.

While slick newbies to environmentalism are jumping onto the "rewilding" bandwagon, rhapsodizing about dirt and water and plants as if Mother Nature is an exotic discovery, Des Kennedy entered his 20th year as a back-to-the-land philosopher in print with Heart & Soil: The Revolutionary Good of Gardens (Harbour $24.95). It's essentially a "best of" compendium that showcases Kennedy's trademark humour in wide-ranging essays and articles. Heart & Soil: The Revolutionary Good of Gardens (Harbour) was nominated for the 2015 Annual Literature Award by the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, "an international organization of individuals, organizations and institutions concerned with the development, maintenance and use of libraries of botanical and horticultural literature." Other nominated titles include the Adelaide Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Once oddly compared to freakish basketballer Dennis Rodman by Allan Fotheringham, the formerly red-haired Kennedy keeps saying he wants to write a stump-puller's guide to the universe. Other authors associated with Denman Island include Wallace Baikie, Graham Brazier, Sheila Carnegie, Bill Engleson, Robert Harvey, Winnifred Isbister, Keith Keller, Jim Kirk, Rolf Ludvigsen, Jo-Anne McClean, Norman Nawrocki, Brian Payton, Ron Sakolsky, Ross Westergaard and Hillel Wright.

[Author photo by Boomer Jerritt]


Crazy About Gardening: Essays (Whitecap Books, 1994)

The Garden Club: novel (Whitecap Books, 1996)

Living Things We Love to Hate: Essays (Whitecap Books, 1992, 2004)

Flame of Separation: novel (Insomniac Press, 2004)

The Passionate Gardener: Adventures of an Ardent Green Thumb (Greystone, 2006)

An Ecology of Enchantment:Essays (HarperCollins, 1998); (Greystone, 2008)

Climbing Patrick's Mountain novel (Brindle & Glass, 2009)

The Way of a Gardener: A Life's Journey (Greystone, 2010)

Heart & Soil: The Revolutionary Good of Gardens (Harbour, 2014) $24.95 978-1-55017-632-2

Beautiful Communions (Ronsdale, 2018) novel $18.95

Commune (Harbour, 2023) $24.95 9781990776519

[BCBW 2024] "Gardening"


Beautiful Communions by Des Kennedy (Ronsdale Press $18.95)

Ginger wants to get back the family home from the disgraced church of The Congregation of the Great Convergence.

Ginger's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dustin Flynn, gave their mansion to the sect in their will, with the provision that it couldn't change hands until their daughter died.

There had been a son, Frank, but he was killed at the end of WWII. Frank's loss was devastating for both parents but especially for Ginger, who had adored her older brother.

Frank's death was devastating for someone else as well...
That's just a smidgeon of Beautiful Communions, the fourth novel by Denman Island's best-known gardener Des Kennedy. Among his ten fiction and non-fiction books, three have been nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

In keeping with his back-to-the-land philosophy, his Heart & Soil: The Revolutionary Good of Gardens (Harbour, 2014) was nominated for the Annual Literature Award by the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. Kennedy walks his talk, from his self-built green home and gardens on Denman Island to his involvement in protests in Clayoquot Sound and Strathcona Park.

The relationship between Ginger and her dogmatic parents becomes seriously strained when she falls in love with her charismatic professor, Nigel Childes, at a time when professors taking up with students was only just veering towards being scandalous.

Ginger's amorous adventure precipitates the unusual will. Shortly after writing it up, both parents leave for missionary work in Africa, sent by their newly espoused church. They will never return. Ginger is advised by The Congregation some years later that they died from cholera.

Ginger marries Nigel but she should have known better. Well, actually she did. Right from the start she had categorized him as superficial and posturing, but passion trumped common sense and intuition.

Des Kennedy starts this ever-widening narrative--set primarily in a fictional Canadian small-town--when Ginger is a feisty and very active woman in her eighties. She is being interviewed by young newspaper reporter, Chrissie Crosby, a former runaway described as split-second smart and completely pissed off at just about everything.

Back in the 1950s, after Ginger's brother, Frank, had been dead five years, Ginger was taking a class from Nigel when he recognized likenesses between Ginger and Frank--whereupon Nigel realizes Ginger is his dead lover's sister.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Nigel had a brief but passionate affair with Frank when the latter was in wartime London on leave. In fact, the professor was the last person that Frank wrote to, just days before he was killed, asking Nigel to let his family and especially his sister Ginger know if anything happened to him in the war, but the professor had not done that.

As the story zips back and forth between the past and present, there is so much going on that you would think it would be difficult to follow. It isn't. Ginger had envisioned an exciting marriage but after a dozen years of boredom, Nigel up and leaves his wife and daughter, Irene, and never contacts them again--even though his wife is about to have their second child (Peter).

Irene is seriously damaged by the departure of her father because he had appeared to be so devoted to her; the mother-daughter relationship suffers as a result. Why would Nigel do this? Well, Ginger ultimately thinks she knows, and readers will probably guess, too.

The fatherless son, Peter, later endures an unimaginable tragedy. Irene's daughter and subsequent granddaughter also suffer reverberations of the abandonment. But would Ginger have turned out the way she had if Nigel had remained? She has become some kind of uberhuman, spilling over with wisdom, joy of life, and causes.

The indomitable Ginger has so much humanity and love in her that she hugs anyone who reaches out to her and even some of those who don't. It is as if her brimming spirit is the wellspring for the story.

There are good gals and bad guys aplenty and environmental battles, of course. How could there not be?

Observing all these human shenanigans is an uncanny Border Collie, Shep, who maintains the bemused detachment appropriate for most human affairs.

Kennedy weaves together disparate elements and plot lines with seeming ease for a fun-to-read story. Ultimately, we learn who gets the family mansion.

What's not to love? This is a delightfully wise and mirthful read. 978-1-55380-532-8

Review by Cherie Thiessen who reviews fiction from Pender Island.

[BCBW 2018]


Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Heart & Soil: The Revolutionary Good of Gardens