Reprinted from May 28, 2020
My grandfather, my dad's father, lived his last 10 years with us in Madison. We built him his own little apartment so he wouldn't feel in the way. That made seven of us living together. We liked it that way. The more the merrier. I got to know him really well during those years. My grandfather was the head storyteller at our house. He could mix true stories and spin yarns to the point that I had a hard time separating the difference and soon realized that in a way it was all true.
My grandfather was born in Norway on a dairy farm with 13 brothers and sisters. When they hopped on the boat to America they headed for Minnesota where there was and still is a large population of Scandinavians communing there. Since dairy farming is what they knew they stuck with it in Minnesota. The stories he told us from the frigid Minnesota winters were the lead into how he met my grandmother in Vicksburg. He never liked the cold in Norway or Minnesota. He said it was so cold in Minnesota that when they were milking the cows they would roll the milk onto a spool, take the spool of milk into town and sell it by the yard. When I was in the fourth grade it sounded believable to me. He said it was so cold that they would take a break from farm work and start a fire. The flames would freeze so he would put the frozen flames in his pocket and then pull them out when they got home. I believed that one for a while. He said it was so cold that when he and his brother had conversations outside their words would freeze before they reached each other’s ears. They would put the frozen words in their pockets and then thaw them out later around the dinner table. That one I could picture in my mind but I couldn't believe it.
He had so many "It was so cold in Minnesota" yarns that he could go on all day with them.
He disliked the cold and farming so much that as soon as he could he jumped in the car and headed as far south as he could. That trip took him to Vicksburg. Why there I'll never know. When he got there he wound up in a florist shop where my grandmother was working. He ordered some roses from her and gave them to her. They eventually were married and moved to Greymont Street in Belhaven to start a family.
His past experience with agriculture led to his next job of brokering grain train cars for Purina feeds. Apparently in those days he would move train cars full of different grains and feeds. His job was to connect farms that needed grains with farms that needed to get rid of grains. My father, Billy Martinson, his brother Mike and sister Patsy grew up in that house on Greymont.
That was Jackson back in the day. I have some 8mm films and, amazingly, a projector that still works. I have played some of their old movies when there wasn't much between Belhaven and downtown Jackson. It's amazing to see. I remember spending time with him downtown on Capitol Street in the 60s. I can still remember everyone seemed kind of dressed up. The men wore fedoras and the women wore those great hats with flowers in them, I think or hope that is coming back in style.
I can remember feeling like downtown was the big city. Fast-moving, bustling with shoeshine boys on every corner making that slapping sound with their shining rags. My grandfather would get his shoes shined every chance he got. I love watching the shoe shine guys in action. They had a rhythm that mesmerized me.
I can remember wandering around Belhaven seeing the houses with the perfectly neat yards and concrete pots filled with hollyhocks and some with old-fashioned perennials grown from seeds. Flower gardening has come along way. It was around that time the concept of nurseries began in Jackson. My dad, David Calloway, Mr. Hutto and Mr. Barnes were pioneering their way into a new industry in Jackson. Since then quite a few nurseries have served the area.
Flower gardening took off when the new varieties began to be produced in pots for people to add to their yards. The style of gardening in Jackson hasn't changed much since our early roots, but the plants that can be used now can be staggering to choose from. The perennial plants that come back year year after year are mostly made up of plants from the old varieties. Plants we all recognize like Shasta daisy, Rudbeckia or Black-eyed Susie, Fox gloves, hollyhocks and so many more are still staples in our yard today. The list of perennials available in the garden centers today can be daunting.
I've noticed over the years the older people get the more they asked for perennials. They are thinking these plants will come back year after year which means they will not have to replant every year. Technically that is correct, but it does take some maintenance and perennials don't last forever. The “all perennial” look is nice in mid-to-late summer when most of them begin to bloom.
Early spring before the perennials have reappeared, I like to add some colorful blooming annuals to get us through until the perennials kick in. When the summer heat sets in the perennials begin to bloom and some of the annuals began to wane just in time.
There are so many to choose from now because the growers have developed as many colors of the old varieties that it gets difficult to grow them all at the green houses. Mimi and I were the growers for Garden Works for 15 years. We had hundreds of varieties of perennials. It's hard to try not to grow them all.
Now there are at least five colors of echinacea or purple cone flower, same with coreopsis, the state flower. There are probably 10 types of coreopsis. Some coreopsis offer tempting colors like creme Bruleé or there are some blooms with red rings, called ring of fire, gorgeous and very reliable. Black-eyed Susie now has one called Irish eyes with a green center instead of black. Rudbekias go all over the place in size and growth habit. Indian summer is my favorite with its dinner plate size blooms that last all summer although they are not very reliable about coming back In our area. They are worth replanting.
Salvias will have their own section in most garden centers. They are very heat tolerant, (mostly deer don't like them), and come in enough colors and sizes to make most gardener’s list.
In the early spring months at the garden center, I have to nudge customers towards the perennial tables. The customer sees all the blooming annuals with starry eyes. The perennial tables are mostly dull and not blooming. The only thing colorful in the section in the early months are the tags that go in the pots offering a little information about the plant.
Don't get me wrong, I love all the annual colors and use them everywhere. You can probably tell by looking at the bed in front of garden works that I have planted this year in solid pink supertunias with giant hanging baskets of pink supertunias that are now three years old. You will think Pepto-Bismol when you see it. I love big and bold colors up there on Highway 51. The traffic moves pretty fast, too much variety there gets lost in the rush.When the heat cranks up, they will be a challenge but I'm going to give it a shot. It's nice to have those plants less heat tolerant to be backed up with tough, heat taking perennials like salvias, or, in my opinion, the best all-around bedding plants, Gaura.
Everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing Gaura, a very reliable perennial that has burgundy foliage with either pink or white blooms that seem to dance on top of the plants like 100 butterflies, just gorgeous blowing in the wind.
I encourage you not to shy away from the boring and unimpressive perennial section at your favorite garden center. These are the plants that are going to make your summertime gardening much less stressful and more pleasurable. Perennials mixed with colorful annuals will give you a great show from mid-March until November when it will be time to cut the perennials back, pull what annuals are still there and replace those spots with winter annuals.
My hat will always be off to those guys. They cranked up the garden center concept here in Jackson. It certainly changed the landscape. From what I see in those old movie reels of Jackson in the 60s the landscapes went from relatively stark to lush and full of great choices. I hope you can get out and shop at local garden centers where you know the plants are grown locally and are for this area as opposed to supporting a big box store where they all sell the same plants whether they are in Minnesota or Mississippi. The big box stores offer no help and, well, you've seen the quality. Strangely I've seen lately that their prices on plants are a good bit higher than those of the local garden centers.
The garden centers kept the people that work there employed through this covid mess. These are people you know and see every time you have a question or need advice on plant matters. Those box stores need to go back to what they do best, selling lumber and hardware. I think most people would rather their high school child get their first work experience at a local garden center. Shopping local is not only cool but you'll also get a lot more bang for your buck.