Footsteps: A Tribute to Cindy Gilberg

By Scott Woodbury

Shaw Nature Reserve staff and volunteers: Terri Brandt, Cindy Gilberg, Marilyn Heller, unknown and Diane Donovan

Shaw Nature Reserve staff and volunteers: Terri Brandt, Cindy Gilberg, Marilyn Heller, ? and Diane Donovan

Cindy Gilberg grew up in Missouri with a sense of wonder about the natural world. Before the age of electronic devices her family snorkeled in Ozark streams in search of cool waters and underwater critters. They hiked natural areas exploring for plants and ferns and things wild. As an adult Cindy picked wild mushrooms and edible weeds and grew vegetables which she and husband Doug fed to their children Becca and Nathan, who are now grown up and following in their footsteps. The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Cindy’s story reminds me of Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder who wrote: “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist”. I think of Cindy as the parent passing on a love for this earth; her audience, her readers, her colleagues and her clients being the children in her extended family.

She pursued a passion for horticulture and received a degree in ornamental horticulture from University of Missouri-Columbia. Cindy fine-tuned the art of gardening as co-owner of Gilberg Perennial Farms, a garden center that offered a wide array of unusual, hard-to-find perennials. Here, she developed extensive display gardens and devoted herself to educating the gardening public. Starting in 1993, Cindy collaborated with Shaw Nature Reserve as an event speaker and tour leader for the Native Plant Conference and later Native Plant School, both held in the Shaw Nature Reserve. In 2006 she began working in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden (Shaw Nature Reserve) designing, installing and maintaining native plantings. During this time, she got her feet wet in the native woodland and rain gardens and has since become an authority on the subjects. Her expertise with rain gardening earned her key positions working with the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Rainscape Rebates program and rainscaping webpage.

In recent years Cindy was also a native landscaping consultant assisting people with landscape design, storm water management, native plant landscaping and creating habitat gardens. Cindy was also a past-president of the Greater St Louis Horticulture Co-op, Midwest Director for the Perennial Plant Association and Manager of the Wildwood Farms Community Garden.

Her ideas on native plants and landscaping are chronicled over the past decade through regular contributions to the News from Native Plant School Newsletter, Gateway Gardener, Healthy Planet, the Kansas City Gardener and Missouri Ruralist. Cindy has taught many horticulture classes for the region’s garden community, both residential and commercial for the last 30 years. She was a regular instructor at Missouri Botanical Garden. Also, with garden writer and mother Barbara Perry Lawton, Cindy co-wrote Shaw Nature Reserve: 85 years of Natural Wonders. Cindy was creative, was ever curious and possessed an intuitive design sense all of which rang clearly in her day-to-day conversations and work. She engaged people in conversation yet led by example and so often gently inspired others to follow in her footsteps. Most notably perhaps was her sense of humor and strong work ethic which she managed to hold on to throughout her life and battle with cancer. You might never know she had battled with cancer since 2007 except everyone in the world of horticulture knew her. Cindy was connected to so many people and in so many circles. Cindy often shared a lending hand, a view, an explanation, an edit, an argument, a recipe, an hour of her time, a favorite plant description, a gardening tip or a compliment all of which followed with a smile and warm hugs. She shared often and freely without question or complaint. Cindy’s wisdom, her warmth, her ideas, her jokes, her balanced opinion, openness and caring will live on in our memory and no doubt will guide our footsteps in the days to come. You will be missed dearly Cindy by all of us for many decades. Warm wishes and hugs right back at ya’!

Editor’s note: we encourage readers to share their memories of Cindy in the comments.

Read additional memorials to Cindy:

5 thoughts on “Footsteps: A Tribute to Cindy Gilberg

  1. Cindy Gilberg not only possessed a great wealth of knowledge about plants,she was most kind in answering a multitude of questions from those who would look at a bare yard and see only a bare yard…while Cindy could look at that same place and see flowers, trees, a landscape to please the eyes and soul! She was gentle and loving and with the many words of praise written since her passing, she was loved in return. Heaven will probably be getting an overhaul in the landscaping department now that she is there! God Bless you, dear friend. You will be missed! Love you—Ruth

  2. I’ve been telling this story repeatedly but I’ll tell it again. It was near dusk at the Whitmire Wildflower garden at SNR. Cindy was conducting a class around the pond near the gazebo. We were observing dragonflies and lots of other interesting things. In her smooth, low voice Cindy commented: “It’s way better than television; and there are no commercials.”

    Thank you, Cindy for heightening my appreciation of the natural world.

  3. So many memories are a blessing but my absolute favorite was in a secluded prairie where she and Alan Branhagan walked ahead of me. Their voices drifted away and I realized I had stopped and was watching this amazing sight of the two people who opened a door in me opening this vision where butterflies were ascending all around them and the gentle natural bloom of the untouched prairie was the backdrop. It was a life moment I will carry I my heart!

  4. I was so sad to hear of the passing of Cindy Gilberg. Like many gardeners, I was a frequent visitor each year to Gilberg Farms all of those years ago. It was a long way from home for me but I went because of Cindy. It was always one of the highlights of my gardening season. She would take the time to personally talk to you about her garden creations. Such an inspiration. I ran into her at gardening events through the years after. She was always still full of life and enthusiasm for her beloved plants. She will be missed. She was a unique Saint Louis treasure.

  5. I had not known of Cindy’s death until last Tuesday, stopping in StL, en route to Chgo., and then picking up The Gateway Gardener, which I always looked forward to reading.) My timeframe of knowing Cindy (& Doug) was the onset of retail days at GPF. Cindy was in her 4th month of pregnancy with Becca, and I was hired, mostly to oversee some of her roles in the office, then to become a “right hand girl” for the both of them. They both were such progressive pioneers in the knowledge of plants, and so much was learned and shared by their great fortitude of work and family ethics!!!

    Cindy was blessed with so many great womanly heritages (daughter, wife, mother, sister, girlfriend), but even with that, she instilled the enormous talent of Teacher, Lecturer, and always the Consultant to anyone longing for the know-how. The retail area was always beautifully displayed with her strong botanical influences of design – especially the unmatched love she extended toward her Herb Greenhouse – which in later years, influenced me to start my own commercial herb business.

    Her courage, friendship, and tireless ethics, her warm smiles and wealth of knowledge are my best memories of Cindy – and if ever I could had been honored in my life to choose two words to describe her, it would be a “True Sister”. I will dearly miss her, and my heart goes out to Doug, Becca, Nate and Barbara! May they find solace in believing that she is now a beautiful monarch butterfly, nurturing the Heavenly Landscapes into luscious colors and designs – and She is at Peace!

    Forever, “Lin Lin” Mayer

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