Cancer diagnosis adds urgency to gardening project, and friends pitch in to help –

Cancer diagnosis adds urgency to gardening project, and friends pitch in to help –

For years, Dave Whiteside and his partner, Peeter Lepson, had been working on the front yard of their Whitehorse home.

Their plan was to build a xeriscape garden, a type of garden that reduces the need to water the area.

So they took out the grass and had two piles of soil delivered. They took care of one pile.

As for the other one: “It’s funny, you just kind of procrastinate, you want to camp instead of gardening,” said Whiteside.

But then, in February 2020, Lepson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He worked on the garden most every day that year, said Whiteside.

Whiteside and a friend prepare the ground for the foundation of the front yard deck. (Submitted by David Whiteside)

“[Peeter] had laid down a lot of the front patio and created some beds, and you could see it turning into a garden,” said Whiteside.

A year later, in February 2021, they learned Lepson’s cancer had metastasized.

“It became urgent, for me at least. I desperately wanted him to see his garden, to sit in it and to really enjoy it, if only briefly,” said Whiteside.

Asking for help

Whiteside knew he needed help to finish the garden so he asked his partner, who couldn’t work much on the garden anymore, if he could send an email to their friends, asking for help.

Lepson didn’t want him to, but later that day, as Whiteside was outside, a neighbour came up to him and offered to build the deck.

“We did have a contractor scheduled, but it was much later in the summer, and so I said ‘absolutely.’ And then suddenly, we had a week and a half to get the site ready,” said Whiteside.

About 30 people helped to get Lepson and Whiteside’s garden finished. (Submitted by David Whiteside)

He went into the house and told Lepson.

His palliative care doctor was there and convinced Lepson to let people help him. With his partner’s blessing, Whiteside sent the email.

He sent it to 60 people whom he thought would at least consider helping, and told them the timeline.

“And within a day or two, I had 30 offers of help,” he said.

Getting to work

The first thing to do was to get rid of several 30- to 40-year-old trunks of shrubs. 

“Moving 30- to 40-year-old trunks by yourself is a lot of work,” said Whiteside.

Friends arrived, shovels in hands, ready to work, and got the job done.

Next on the list was dealing with that pile of soil that was mounted against the house.

“You have no idea how much soil we needed to move,” he said, chuckling.

“So during the next week, every evening, we had friends show up, a lot of our neighbours. We had so much fun. By Friday, we had the soil all moved and the site prepped. It was a huge mess in the backyard because we dumped all this soil.”