The world is a more beautiful, colorful and inviting place because of people like Peter Lassig.
For several decades, Lassig was the head landscape architect of Temple Square for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he designed and managed the gardens and Christmas lights. The horticulture genius and service-oriented family man died on Oct. 25 at age 77. His funeral was on Nov. 2.
One of the things Clarissa Lassig Anderson will remember most about her father is how he served others.
"He was a great dad, but he was gone quite a bit serving others, even when he wasn't at work. I think he touched a lot of lives indirectly through his gardens at Temple Square, but he also touched a lot of lives directly through service," Anderson said. "He was an example. His greatest legacy is that he was dedicated to serving in his church, community and family."
Christena Gates, a former director of garden guides at Temple Square, relished the opportunity to work with Lassig.
"I remember so many things, but one that stands out in my mind is how much he loved the Savior and wanted to be like the Savior. He was kind and gentle and loving towards everybody," Gates said. "He had an innate ability to see the goodness in people."
Born in 1938, Lassig manifested a love of plants and flowers at a young age. One day he went missing. His family members found him lying in a flower bed, talking to the flowers, Anderson said.
After graduating from high school, Lassig served an LDS mission in Japan (1958-61).
In the mid 1960s, Lassig was responsible for the gardens of the Mormon Pavilion at the New York World's Fair.
Lassig earned a bachelor's degree at Brigham Young University and worked towards a graduate degree at Utah State for three years. He worked on Temple Square under head gardener Irvin T. Nelson, and was appointed head gardener in 1972 after Nelson retired. He remained in that position until he retired more than 30 years later.
Among his many contributions to Temple Square, Gates highlighted Lassig's role in innovating new designs that were displayed during the 2002 Winter Olympics, figuring out how to put a garden on the roof of the Conference Center, and his positive influence in training and mentoring a multitude of volunteers and workers.
Lassig also assisted in the restoration of church historical sites like the Sacred Grove in New York and the landscaping of Adam-ondi-Ahman in Missouri.
One sweet memory for Gates was seeing Lassig supervise a group of missionaries with special needs.
"They did little jobs around Temple Square and were able to serve a mission," Gates said. "That made Peter happy that he could help give that opportunity for these kids with disabilities."
Lassig knew every type of plant and flower and how best to arrange them in the garden, Gates said.
"He called certain plants 'thugs.' If you planted one thug, you had to plant another thug of a different variety by it so it wouldn't take over the garden. He was very sensitive about plants and their personalities and how you deal with them," Gates said. "I think some people come to this earth with abilities that they were given before they were born. I think Peter had a natural love and talent for gardening."
Lassig really treated flowers as if they had a living personality, Anderson said. While he mostly spoke kindly to flowers and plants, he once threatened to cut down an apple tree if it didn't produce fruit, even going so far as to call the tree "an embarrassment to society," Anderson said. "The next year that apple tree was bent over with fruit."
On another occasion, the family was traveling on the freeway when Lassig suddenly pulled over and ran across the busy road in order to see a certain tree he had only ever read about.
"He was thrilled to see this tree in its natural environment," Anderson said. "We were like, my goodness, all that for this?"
When asked if her father had a favorite flower or plant, Anderson said he had several that he liked. In fact, he always compared himself to a pansy.
"The name pansy might make you think that's weak, but in reality, a pansy is a resilient flower, rich in color and able to withstand cold temperatures," Anderson said. "It's resilient and beautiful."
Lassig cared about people the same way he cared about flowers, his daughter said. He provided for one large family. He and his first wife, Sylvia, had eight children before she died in 1991. His second wife, Janet McMaster, already had five grown children when they were married.
Lassig served as an LDS bishop and was active in the Boy Scouts of America.
In addition to gardening, Lassig was passionate about music, dance and theater. At the end of a show or performance, he was not shy about jumping to his feet and clapping as loudly as possible, Anderson said.
"He didn’t care about embarrassment," she said.5 comments on this story
When Lassig was on his mission in the Far East, a sister missionary told him he was "clumsy with women" and would never get married unless he learned to dance. When he got to BYU, Lassig spent hours observing the ballroom dance team and practiced with any willing partner. With time he became so good that he was invited to join the tour team, although he declined out of respect for his wife.
Anderson said her mother didn't like dancing with her father because she was taller than he was, so on Friday nights he took his four daughters dancing at a senior citizens center.
"He taught me the cha-cha, the fox trot, the waltz, the tango, the two-step, everything," Anderson said. "We would whip around that floor, so enthusiastic that they had to ask us to tone it down because we were disrupting the old folks."
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