Theater, flowers, memories

A gardener works hard and waits patiently for change. From seemingly nothing — a seed, some dirt and water — comes something wonderful in the form a living, breathing thing.

Lee Bressette is a gardener, though she discovered the joys of plants later in life, once her three kids were grown and life settled down a little bit. She and a small group of friends are attempting to do something very like gardening: With care and patience they are transforming one thing into another.

In this case, that thing is the tragic, too-early death of Bret C. Harte (below), a promising theatrical talent who was killed at age 24 in a car accident on Highway 680 in Concord.

Bressette had known Harte for years: He was her daughter’s closest friend at Miramonte High School.

“Bret was one of the most thoughtful people I had ever met,” Bressette recalls.

In the grief-stricken daze that follows such a death, Bressette, along with her husband, Greg Walker, and their friends Carol Reed, Brian Smith, Shelley Ruhman and Gary Ledbetter, wanted to do something to help Harte’s parents, Juanita and Dennis, and to keep Bret’s memory alive.

Their inspired idea, with the help of Bret’s friend, Ian Richards, was to create a directing internship in Bret’s name at the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre.

After meetings with the theater, the group determined that to firmly establish the internship, which would support a young director to gain a foothold in the professional theater world, they would need to create an endowment of $100,000.

The first big fundraising event, a reception and silent auction, took place Feb. 2 — Bret’s birthday — and raised $14,000, to which the Hartes added $10,000.

Other donations have come in since, and the group is about halfway toward the $100,000 goal.
The next step begins today and continues through tomorrow in Bressette’s Orinda backyard. She’s hosting a plant and used book sale.

The book aspect doesn’t require much elaboration.

But the plants — they’re Bressette’s passion.

“I just love garden,” Bressette says, “and I can never throw a plant away. I read in a magazine about a woman in Oregon who started a recycled nursery that funds a spay and neuter clinic. I just thought, `Imagine what I could do in the Bay Area with all the stuff the gardeners and landscapers throw away!”’

To begin her own trek into the world of recycled gardening, Bressette took a horticulture class at Diablo Valley College to learn how to propagate plants.

“Since then, my husband and I have retired, and we spend every minute in the garden,” says Bressette, 56 and the mother of 28-year-old twin boys and a 26-year-old daughter.
People who arrive at Bressette’s home today and tomorrow will find hundreds plants, most of which were “created” by Bressette and her husband, mostly from clippings from their own garden.

“My husband has really outdone himself in the heirloom plant area,” Bressette says. “He has hundreds of tomatoes in every color of the rainbow — purple, yellow, white, orange, red, green. They’re beautiful. He also has heirloom beans, squashes and tons and tons of herbs.”
Among the landscape plants are geraniums, many different sages (“I love the sages, and they’re drought resistant,” Bressette says), various lavenders, ground covers, bulbs, flowering plants, shade-loving fuchsias, day lilies and, in Bressette’s words, “all kinds of things hummingbirds love.”

“It doesn’t take long to propagate a clipping,” Bressette says. “We probably started most of these in February. We used the DVC greenhouse, which is where most of these were born. You take a cutting, put it in a tray full of Perlite, and maybe in a week or two, when the roots have grown, you put it in a small pot with soil. When the small pot gets to be too small, we take the plants home.”

And now the plants will be taken to other homes, all for a good cause.
Depending on the number of people who show up, Bressette says the endowment fund could earn up to $4,000.

“The Hartes are unusually wonderful people,” Bressette says. “They and their friends are the kind of people that once you come into their sphere, you never want to lose them. That is, of course, a huge reason we’re doing this. I also love it. I’m at a good place in my life to do work like this. I’ve always wanted to do something like this, and now to do it for such a good reason and to share it with people I love so much makes it an even greater experience.”

For information or to make a donation, visit www.bretchartefund.org.

1 thought on “Theater, flowers, memories

  1. You know, it’s funny… I went to see the Lesher Center’s production of Mousetrap tonight and I can’t stop thinking about acting in the same play with Bret over 3 years ago in Orinda. And I can’t stop crying now. And I feel as though I should post here that Bret is still missed by even those that knew him for a very short time.

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