Yards, nurseries true ‘local’By ALLEN MARTINSON,
I spend a lot of time in the woods in nearby Yazoo County. On my drive to get there I get to see what is happening in the country yards. They are usually bigger and older than the newer communities in the Jackson area. I love seeing mature forsythia and quince with wisteria gone wild, framing the wood line behind the yard. Japanese magnolia buds beginning to swell and possumhaw covered in red berries on fence lines tell me that spring is next.
Red buckeyes, white blooms on the wild pears, and redbud blooms will provide stunning views for everyone that drives through Mississippi. Deeper in the woods, I'm seeing yellow Carolina jessamine blooming high in the treetops, and giant tulip poplars are beginning to show buds which tells me that some plants are breaking dormancy earlier than our fear of frost date will arrive. Every year it's a little different, and every year Mother Nature prevails.
This is the time of year that we try to fool Mother Nature with our greenhouses. We put clear plastic covers on 13 greenhouses to keep our annuals, perennials and herbs warm and cozy during these bleak winter days. No matter what weather comes our way in January, February and March, we have to have all of our flowers ready to be displayed on tables when Mother Nature tells us it's time to. We all work at the greenhouses filling pots with soil, planting the seedlings, and tagging each one so our customers will have all the information they need to put the plant in the right place.
Our first crop to go under heat are the giant geraniums that come out first to say it is springtime Mississippi. It helps us to work in the greenhouses because we get to learn about the different varieties and other horticultural lessons that just aren't in books. John Grant is our master grower. He grows our plants in pots and hanging baskets that are just a little bigger than the nursery standard pot and basket. The plants he produces are big and tough because he doesn't use chemicals to slow their growth. John controls growth with timing and by growing them on the cooler side, so we get spring plants that are hardened off and ready to withstand those cooler nights that often surprise us in April and May.
We have had our growing operation for 28 years. Never in that time have I met a grower that produces a finer plant. John keeps up with new varieties and trends and gets our vision, which is to send people home with a plant that they can be successful with. Our greenhouses were one of the operations that started the succulent trend in Mississippi. We noticed the interesting plants on the West coast flourishing in cool arid places like San Francisco and we saw them flourishing in the desert areas out west and wondered why they wouldn't thrive in our Mississippi environment.
We started experimenting with the succulents 25 years ago and still have not lost interest in these unusual and beautiful plants. Succulents are the lazy gardener’s dream come true. They thrive on plant abuse, and like to be under watered, cursed at, and spit on every once in a while. The thing that usually causes their decline is getting too much water that doesn't drain away quickly enough, which makes them perfect for pots.
Most garden centers have a succulent section separate from the more familiar plants because they are a sight to behold, but also because succulents don't get watered daily like the regular bedding plants.
I remember growing up in rural Madison county, my mother used to keep aloe vera around because my whole family was always burning themselves with one thing or another and were always getting into poison ivy. I remember that she and my granny had hens and chicks planted in everything imaginable from old cowboy boots to cast iron pots. With succulents, the skies are the limit on what type of planter can be used. As long as there is room for the roots to sit in some sandy soil, the planter will work. Mimi has used concrete blocks stacked up for a great succulent garden display with long trailing ice plants blooming their desert heads off.
They say it's not nice to fool Mother Nature but we do play tricks on her at garden centers. I don't think she minds, but when she does, she throws a curve ball right back at us.
I took my own advice this week and did some nursery shopping. I went to yet another family run nursery in Madison. Nick and Nancy Thompson have Madison Garden Center. They have a great location that is easy to get around and shop. The wide clean walkways made me envious, and the plant selection was great. Inside the store was an inviting place to shop with lots of unusual outdoor decor.
I also met another family that has something very cool going on. If you haven't heard of Two Dog Farms in Flora, check them out on Facebook. You'll be amazed at what they and another family operation in Flora, called Salad Days, have to offer us. There are some brave, hard-working people in agriculture and Mississippi. You should check out what true ‘local’ means in our state. It doesn't get any more ‘local’ than seeds being planted by Mississippi fingers to be brought to your garden beds or tables at your homes. Experiencing ‘real local’ might be some of you and your children's most fun and memorable times spent together.
Allen, along with his wife Mimi, own Martinson’s Garden Works in Ridgeland.