Sometimes people that you don’t really know very well or that you don’t spend a lot of time with are the ones who leave you with the best impression and are the ones you feel a closeness to. That’s how I felt about Joni Hladun.
I was away for a couple of weeks, and was sad to hear upon my return that Joni had passed away. My thoughts turned to the summer days I spent each year in her whimsical garden. Mostly, our encounters were a once-a-year tour of her garden, and yet the warmth and joy with which she always greeted us made it feel like we were old friends. The obvious joy she took in her beautiful green and floral spaces was contagious. One of the most vivid memories I will cherish of Joni was hearing her infectious giggle over the sound of chirping birds in the back ground as she gave us a guided tour. What made those tours even more special was how Joni took such pleasure in watching us marvel at the beauty she had created. While we took in all the magic, she would simply watch us with a very content smile on her face. Each time that you walked through the yard, you would notice something different. It was impossible to see everything on only one walk-through. Joni would entertain us with stories of where items came from, where she had found certain plants and how she loved garage shopping in order to find items to re-purpose in her front or back yard. Her words were often followed by that wonderful giggle. Most years, it was my sister and I who visited Joni, but I have taken other people there as well.
Sometimes I would see Ben and Joni in a restaurant or at an event. She always waited to make sure I recognized her and acknowledged her; then she would flash that wonderful smile and tell me about her latest “find” or what new creation she had crafted in her yard.
As I wrote in my column last August, my sister needed a place to heal and relax – even for just a few hours. Joni’s garden was the perfect place to find peace and healing and for my sister to forget her sorrow for a while. Ever the gracious hosts, both Joni and Ben made sure our visit was pleasant and that we didn’t miss a thing. Joni insisted that we tour her house as well, again beautiful and with obvious “Joni” touches throughout.
Throughout her life, Joni created a magical space just a half-block but yet a world away from a busy street. She welcomed anyone who wanted to see it with open arms and gracious hospitaility. She was a little woman with a big heart, a great imagination and a love of horticulture. Rest in peace, Joni. You will be missed, but I am sure the gardens in heaven have never looked better or more whimsical.