Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.

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Enjoying The Beauty Of Plants While Traveling In Europe

I thought I had seen it all in the nursery business. I now know I will never see it all. I'm kind of worn out from the news, the rumors and the opinions so I'm going to take a break and just tell another travel story. I will try to keep the story related to gardening so I can keep my position as a garden writer.


When I was a freshman at Mississippi State I got a work permit for a job offer I had in a small town outside of Amsterdam. The company grew tulips and hyacinths for bulb production. After the bulbs were pulled and cleaned my job was to box them up and send them back to the good old USA. This company provides the White House with the tulip bulbs used every spring. If you haven't seen pictures of the White House tulips you should look it up on the Google machine. They are magnificent.


In Holland I saw the beautiful side of tulips as well as the down and dirty side. On the weekends I had made a deal with one of the drivers who delivered cut flowers to the flower auctions in Germany. He got some free labor and I got a free ride to the world’s largest flower auction every weekend. He spoke no English and I spoke no German, so you can imagine the goofy silences we had on our rides.


My original plan was to work the summer months over there then to return to college that fall semester. The more I traveled on the weekends the more I realized traveling around Europe was very inexpensive and easy. I quickly learned the art of hitchhiking and taking people up on their offers for a place to stay if I would speak English with their student aged kids.


I decided to stay in Europe as long as my $900 dollars would hold out. After the tulip season was finished and I broke the news to my parents I would not be coming home as planned, I put a pair of jeans and a couple T-shirts in my old Jansport backpack and managed to travel for a year on my stash of cash. You read that right, I took a year to do a very slow circle around the Mediterranean Ocean on $900.


During that year I was completely free and completely lost. I mostly lived in my tent and generally stayed two months in each country. I didn't have an itinerary I just moved around to wherever the climate suited my clothes. The colder it got the farther south I went until I wound up in North Africa for about six months waiting for winter to go away. I could go on forever about the beautiful flowers and the Bavarian Mountains in Germany, Alps in Austria, the fields of lavender in Italy and France because they are absolutely stunning.


What really caught my fancy though, were the plants around the Mediterranean Ocean and the ones in the Sahara desert. I spent two months in the Sahara desert and went as far south as Mauritania. I was amazed by the plants that could survive the harsh weather changes that occur every 24 hours in the Sahara. These plants endured temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit at day and below freezing temperatures at night. I saw the date palms in the oasis that must've been really old.


In the villages I saw a Bougainvilleagrowing beautifully in the perfect climate. Bougainvilleas love the sandy, rocky soil of the Mediterranean. If you think about it, that would explain why Bougainvilleas stops blooming here the minute they begin to get overwatered in potting soil. If you will allow a Bougainvillea to dry out beyond belief and generally let it run dry all the time, you will have a Bougainvillea that will bloom heavily. Remember that a Bougainvillea’s bloom is the plant’s last ditch effort to live, so I guess what I'm saying is that they thrive on abuse, the lazy gardener’s dream plant.


I begun to notice the cacti and succulents out in the desert. It seemed to me like nothing could stop a cactus from surviving. The desert plants could take the heat, fierce sand storm winds, the cold, camels stepping on them, and just about anything plant-unfriendly you can think of. I also noticed that the Sahara is on the same 32 degreelatitude line that Jackson shares. I wondered why we shouldn't try to see if some of them might just be suitable for us. To this day we are still propagating and testing succulents to narrow them down to the best ones for our climate... again, the ultimate lazy gardener’s plants. I see I'm going to run out of space, so next week’s article will be headed to Egypt in the Sinai desert where I saw the burning bush that spoke to Moses. You won't believe what kind of plant it is. You probably have more than one at home, and I imagine if we stay quarantined for long enough, yours may start talking to you.


Garden Works has made the decision to protect our elderly population and our employees by shutting our gates during our busiest time of the year. Mimi and I cannot say thank you enough to all the wonderful people out there who jumped online and immediately utilized our online plant store/delivery service. Unfortunately, on Wednesday, we even closed that service in an effort to prevent unnecessary spread of the virus. We have taken more drastic measures than some other businesses, we realize, but we hope you will understand and respect our difficult choice.


Mimi and I have both lost our fathers in the past year and a half and the burden of grief is not one we take lightly. Our staff is like family to us and our business would not operate as the Garden Works you know and love without them. It is our responsibility to protect them.


We appreciate the powerful leadership of our fellow local business owners. They are who make our city a great place to work and live. We will all be standing strong at the end of this mess. We hope the best to all.

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