PENINSULA PROFILE: Career gives him a closer view of nature's beauty

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

THE SOROPTIMIST INTERNATIONAL Gala Garden Show continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Boys and Girls Club, 400 W. Fir St. in Sequim.

Gordon Clark of Clark Horticultural (www.ClarkHorticultural.com) was among the speakers scheduled Saturday. Today, Larry Lang will give a presentation on “lasagna gardening,” a practice that is less labor-intensive than traditional soil nourishment. Lang, a Clallam County Master Gardener, will give his step-by-step talk at 12:30 p.m. today.

Admission to the Gala Garden Show, with its more than 50 exhibitors, is $5, or free for children age 11 and younger.

Proceeds benefit the Soroptimists' local projects including scholarships for high school girls, the Women in Networks program and the Rose House shelter for women. For abundant details, see www.SequimGardenShow.com.

TOASTMASTERS INTERNATIONAL HAS many chapters in the region, including the Port Angeles and Sequim groups. To find out more, visit www.Toastmasters.org.
PORT ANGELES — Stop the car, Bunny Cornwall told her date. I see the man for me.

Cornwall was living on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix at the time. She had just laid eyes on Gordon Clark as he strode down a street. She was in her 20s, and not afraid to hop out of the car and introduce herself to him.

The next night, they went out for drinks. Cornwall learned that Clark, owner of a little Mexican restaurant on St. Croix, was newly divorced.

“I encouraged him to take some time,” she recalls. “After a year, he called me.”

Clark and Cornwall have been married a decade and a half now; they moved to Port Angeles 12 years ago to begin a new chapter in their lives.

Clark, in his chosen work, has a close-up view of brand-new life every year at this time. He is an organic horticulturist and arborist who covers the gamut of jobs, from lawn renovation to storm damage repair to springtime planting.

But Clark is a man of relatively few words. Fortunately, his mate is one of his biggest fans.

Horticulture “is his passion,” Cornwall says. He is all about “making the world a beautiful place.”

Cornwall knows from beauty. While Clark attends to botanical splendor, she is an aesthetician, massage therapist and owner of Olympic Day Spa in Port Angeles.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Clark sat down to talk about how they got here.

“I was burned out,” he says, after 20 years of restaurant work: cooking, tending bar, waiting tables, managing staff. By the time he'd become the proprietor of the place on St. Croix, he was fed up.

“Bunny kept nudging me,” Clark recalls, “and saying, 'Why don't you do what you like?'”

The couple had moved to Duvall in King County, after finding the Puget Sound region to be, in a word, “cool,” Clark says. This was a relief after St. Croix, which seems like a carefree paradise but can get rather hot: The tropical-savanna temperatures on the isle can rise to 88 degrees.

Clark had read Richard Bolles' classic What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers. Every quiz in it told him he belonged outdoors, either as a park ranger or as a landscaper.

Ranger didn't appeal. Neither did mowing lawns.

But Clark, keeping his options open, arranged an informational interview with Don Marshall, the horticulture program instructor at Lake Washington Technical College.

“His enthusiasm was contagious,” Clark remembers. “I dropped everything and took out a student loan,” and completed the year-long program, attending classes through the mornings and working for a landscaping company in the afternoons.

Then, when Clark and Cornwall took a weekend trip to Port Angeles, they fell in love with a house here. They moved in and, with his-and-hers expertise, beautified it inside and out with flowering trees, vines and art from around the globe.

In the ensuing years, Clark Horticultural grew and became a member of the Olympic Orchard Society and the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. And the owner calls himself lucky: He still enjoys his day-to-day labors.

Clark is an expert on pruning, and one of the speakers at this weekend's Soroptimists International Gala Garden Show at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club. He'll talk about how, as much as humanly possible, he and his workers go for the innate grace of any given tree.

“We try to accentuate the natural beauty the plant has,” Clark says, “rather than dominate it.”

He gardens without pesticides — but says there are times when they're called for. “If a situation is out of control,” he says, “I will refer somebody to a licensed pesticide applicator.

“I preach tolerance,” Clark adds, when it comes to weeds. If there's a dandelion in your yard, he says with a smile, consider letting it be.

Clark has been especially busy so far in 2013, with the spring-ish weather of recent weeks. He employs Matt Aston full time and Dylan MacKinnon and Daryl Morris part time, and “every year, business gets a little bit better,” he says.

Yet “I don't want to have an empire. I like the hands-on work,” not the sitting-at-desk stuff.

He also enjoys a good swim at the William Shore Memorial Pool. But Clark isn't your average morning-laps guy.

Clark recently was inducted into the sports hall of fame at his high school in Westfield, N.J., for his impressive swimming career.

He talks about this when asked, but “after all these years, I am so over that,” he says, smiling again. Clark adds that he was only in Westfield for three years; he was born and raised in Flint, Mich., where his father worked for General Motors.

He accepted the invitation to the hall of fame ceremony in Westfield, though, if only to give a short acceptance speech about thanking one's mentors before it's too late.

The hall of fame induction motivated Clark to try something new: He joined Toastmasters and still goes to the Monday night meetings at the Clallam Transit office.

“The experience with Toastmasters was invaluable,” he says.

At the hall of fame ceremony, Clark had just three minutes to speak, and he spent them talking about the two coaches who helped him. One has died, and Clark regrets not thanking him while he could.

Just a couple of examples of his fast times: While a senior at Westfield High, he swam the 100-yard freestyle race in 48.2 seconds; his best 50-yard freestyle time was 21.7 seconds. Both were all-American times and Eastern Interscholastic records.

“I liked to race,” Clark says.

It all started at the city pool in Flint. His mother drove his brother and him there, and encouraged them to try out for the swim team.

The water still feels good; “I get laps in,” Clark says. “I think it helps keep me flexible.”

Last modified: March 16. 2013 7:37PM
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