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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Gardening 101 In Mississippi

The past few weeks have been so interesting to me. Our reactions to the quarantine because of the pandemic have been so positive, I wonder sometimes if maybe we needed to reset. I know we needed to make some changes at Garden Works. For 10 years, Mimi and I have wanted to not be open on Sundays. Working on Sundays is tough on our crew. After a long, physically demanding week of work, Sunday work is just enough to completely wear a person out and can dampen spirits quickly. We’ve always disliked being open on Sundays but never tried closing out of fear that we just couldn’t make it without it. We are now closed on Sundays and the earth continues to turn.

Mimi and I have always wondered why instead of having one or two people off each day so they can have a day to rest, we shouldn’t give everyone the same day off so that during the rest of the week, we have a full crew. We are now closed on Mondays. That means we are all off for two days in a row, Sunday and Monday…unheard of in our industry. This is proving to be a restful relief to all of us at Garden Works. We’ve changed our hours that we are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Our staff gets to work at 8 a.m. and goes home at 5 p.m., which gives us three uninterrupted hours to build displays, stock fresh plants, water the entire nursery, etc. That stuff is difficult to do while trying to be attentive to customers.

The staff loves these changes and we think the changes are leading to a healthier and less stressful lifestyle for our employees. The nursery business is one of the most physically demanding careers a person can choose. We have been known to walk 17 miles on a busy day, according to our Apple watches. That’s pretty grueling. We have the most talented, experienced, creative and knowledgeable crew that I’ve ever heard of. It’s worth it to me and to you, the customers who rely on them for assistance, to give them a break to refresh.

I can't speak for the whole country, but I am talking to a lot of people every day that are shopping Garden Works. Because we are allowing only 15 cars at a time to park in order to keep everyone safely distanced, we have a double line of cars that wait around five minutes to get their chance to spend some time outside. I have taken the job as the gatekeeper because I love to talk to anyone in the mood to talk. Some people crack their window about an inch so they can hear my protocol speech, then roll it up quickly…not in the mood to listen to this crazy guy ordering them around, I guess. I get it.

Most people have their masks on and are ready to have a conversation about just about anything. The conversations usually turns to questions about things going on in their yards and ways that they are getting through this. Once people see that I'm not going to prick their finger or take their temperature the mood usually turns to fun and jovial. Everyone has their perspective on how this thing is going to go, which seems to be different for everyone.

One thing we seem to have in common with each other is the need to get to a garden center and buy enough sanity to get through a couple of days, then back for more.

I'm seeing our existing customers coming in happily to add something more to their yards. They know their way around the place and show up every couple days. I've even had some people bring a cup of coffee or cold drink for me because they know I'll be keeping the gate…perhaps a bribe for a good parking spot? Maybe, but I really think people just genuinely want to do something nice for someone. It just feels good at a time like this.

My biggest surprise has been the number of people who are coming in for the first time. They're telling us up front that they have never gardened before and are bound and determined to give it a shot. We love helping people who are so interested in learning the basics and aren't afraid to say that they've been wanting to give it a whirl and now have time to go for it. We want the new gardeners to be successful so they won't get discouraged and hang up their shovels the first time they feel like they have failed.

The best advice I can give to wrap up gardening 101 in Mississippi, is to get the soil right before you do anything else. It's not the most fun part of gardening but it's the most important step, and once done correctly, gives us the best chance of success. Our clay soil is so bad for plants because it holds water for so long the plants roots literally drown in it. In the summer months it can dry out so much it seems like concrete, and no plant can thrive in these harsh conditions. To make it worse, clay soil holds a negative charge that won't allow plants to pick up nutrients even if fertilizer has been applied. And deceivingly, a drowning plant looks exactly like a thirsty plant. A well meaning garden keeper might be adding fuel to the fire by watering a plant because it looks thirsty while actually, the plant doesn't stand a chance of ever drying out.

The best way to beat the soil dilemma is to get your plants away from the clay. Getting away from the clay can be achieved by planting in above ground containers. That way, you can use great soil and you know it'll drain properly between waterings because the pot has a hole in the bottom of it. The only down-side is that pots will require more watering than plants in the ground. To get away from the clay, raise the level of the soil with great soil amendments like mushroom compost, grit mix, black cow manure, organic matter and some of the native soil mix all chopped in together. That is the exact mix Mimi and I use on all of our beds at home and our raised vegetable beds.

Well…back to my gatekeeping duties. We appreciate everyone's patience while waiting for their parking spot. If my entertaining you at the gate is something you're not in the mood for, roll up your window. I'll get the hint. Otherwise I'll look forward to chatting with you and answering any questions I can. And if you feel like doing a random act of kindness, I love cold water or hot coffee any time of the day. I love chatting with you either way.

I guess we garden center workers are like bartenders or psychologists in a way. You can tell us all about your perspectives and woes. We may have just what you need, a little sunshine, some laughs and some beautiful plants for you to take home.

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