Friday, 21 July 2017

A Flower Power Legacy

There have been many homophobic murders through the years. Too many to list. One which received a lot of media attention at the time, and in the years since, is the double murder of partners Gary Matson (1949-1999) and Winfield Mowder (1959-1999) in July 1999.

The murders were featured in the true crime television series “Forensic Files” in 2004. If you want to know more about the actual crime and how it was solved (with a fleck of paint and a chicken feather) you can watch the episode below on Youtube, or go to the Wikipedia entry.

Rather than go over the crime again let’s take time to pay tribute to the victims Gary and Winfield, a couple who devoted their lives to plants and horticulture. Specifically they advocated environmental horticulture, a branch of the science that deals with the way plants and environment exist together.

Gary Matson in particular was horticulturally gifted and used his “flower power” to establish or contribute to many projects over the years, many of which would never have got off the ground (or should that be “in the ground”) if it hadn’t been for his contribution.

Winfield Mowder was 10 years younger than Gary and was his partner since 1985. He also had an extensive horticultural knowledge though his talents were concentrated on the businesses he and Gary formed, starting with the Matson Horticulture and Florabundance Nursery in Redding, North California. They embraced the growing internet sales business by starting, an online ordering services for plants, in 1997, for which Winfield also designed the packaging.

Gary Matson, the oldest of the four sons of Oscar and Stella Matson, was born in 1949. When Gary was in high school his father bought some land on which he planned to turn into a vineyard. Gary was already interested in horticulture and the soil and went to study at the University of California Santa Cruz. It was there that he met Marcia Howe (1949-2003), a fellow student, and they started dating. They were a couple for around 15 years and they had one daughter who was born in 1979.

Together Gary and Marcia founded the Carter House National Science Museum in Redding on the site of a previous vacated museum. Carter House was an educational resource, mainly for schools, which provided natural walks and talks in the Redding countryside. It was staffed by volunteers originally and in 1992 Redding city council provided operating funds and two full-time paid staff. In 1997 Carter House merged with the Alliance of Redding Museums, which is now the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Marcia remained as Senior Vice-President of Carter House until the merger.

During this time Gary also led in the establishing of community gardens in Happy Valley just south of Redding and the Redding Farmer’s market.

In the 1980s Gary came to realise his homosexuality and he and Marcia separated. They remained close, and Gary continued to help raise their young daughter. At around this time Gary and Marcia created the Redding Arboretum which, like Carter House, was absorbed into Turtle Bay Exploration Park. It formed part of the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Garden, though little of the original layout remains.

In 1985 Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder became a couple. Winfield’s experience in horticulture were gained at the Orchard Supply Hardware Garden Department while he was studying at Chico State University. Unfortunately, it was through local horticulture that Gary and Winfield first encountered the young brothers who were to murder them in 1999. Winfield had worked briefly with one of the brothers at Redding Farmer’s Market which was founded by his partner just a few years earlier.

Gary and Winfield were a well-known, highly-respected and well-liked couple. They didn’t hide their sexuality and Winfield often spoke to local schools. The murdering brothers would have been well aware of it too.

In reaction to the murder of Gary and Winfield in July 1999 the Redding community banded together to form the Matson Mowder Pride Alliance, an annual celebration of their lives that took place on the anniversary of their deaths. It was a celebration of unity and diversity and was held for about ten years.

Another memorial was an online garden, the Gary Matson Memorial Garden. This was created by Cyndi Kirkpatrick, a member of the same Google newsgroup to which Gary belonged and contributed regularly. The idea behind the memorial was to create a visual garden of images and photographs of flower and plants on the website to create a colourful commemoration of the lives of both Gary and Winfield. Unfortunately, this memorial garden seems to have disappeared from the internet.

It’s a shame this no longer exists. But at least we can still enjoy the legacy and creativity of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder in the Turtle Bay Exploration Park which continues the educational work of the original Carter House and Redding Arboretum.

You can also enjoy that legacy from the comfort of your own garden with a glass of wine. Remember that vineyard Gary’s father had planned? In 1981 Gary planted grape vines on the property and the wine business flourished and is still going strong. The Matson Vineyard is currently run by Gary’s youngest brother Roger, and if you’re ever in the Redding area you can pop along and buy a bottle of their wine.

So I raise a glass in tribute to a couple whose Flower Power has survived the hateful events surrounding their untimely passing.

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