I CAN REMEMBER when I was in the third grade and going to St. Richard’s catholic school my father came home with the news that we were moving to the country. Until then my family lived in Jackson on Reddoch Drive which is about five minutes from Green Oak Nursery where my father started his day. I say started his day because he didn’t stay at Green Oak all day. He was chasing landscape jobs, sod jobs, hydro mulching, logistisizing the route for the florist delivery guy and no telling what else. My father and mother were always on the lookout for ways to grow their business and to keep food on the table for four hungry children and a crop in the field.
At that time my parents just had Green Oak to keep themselves busy. I say “just Green Oak” because they wanted or needed more on their plates, that’s why we were headed out to what was, at that time, unheard of parts of Madison County. I couldn’t imagine how they were planning to do more but I was about to find out.
At that time Green Oak was a true full service retail center. They would do anything from apply chemicals to your yard for you, landscape your yard including irrigation services, deliver flowers to that special someone who you had managed to upset or place that you needed to have those flowers appear to narrowly avert any complications with your favorite person. Mom ran the florist and had a kiosk set up in the Jackson Mall back when that was literally the only place to shop in Jackson. She sold lots of cut flowers but mostly roses. This was a time when kiosks in malls weren’t really a thing yet. I still don’t know where she came up with the idea but it was a good one.
Mom felt like she needed to get in front of more people with her roses. She felt like she could sell more if the shoppers at the Jackson Mall had to walk right past them and see them and smell them. She was right.
I guess thinking that way rubbed off on me because 20 years later I talked Northpark Mall into letting me set up a kiosk outside the mall where Mimi and I sold bedding plants to shoppers as they drove around looking for a close parking spot at the only place to shop at that time. I guess we all have to do what we have to do.
My parents bought 60 acres on Highway 51 with a pond, a tenant shack and what was left standing of a house. I can remember for our first anniversary out there my father talked his close buddy and county supervisor, Brother Harris, into naming the dirt road that went by our house Green Oak Lane as a gift to my mother. That is the same giant thoroughfare that now connects north Old Canton Road to Highway 51. That’s the route so many people now take to get to some of the newer communities that have popped. They just scooted the new Green Oak Lane up 51 about 500 yards from our driveway which is where my sister and her family live now.
The original Green Oak Lane was a one lane dirt, or should I say mud road. Being where it was it was also well known as a good place to “run out of gas” while out on a date. When folks would try to go down the road after a rain they were stuck. They would have to walk through the mud to our house at all hours of the night and knock on our door to see if we were friendlies or not. We had to pull so many lovers out of the mud that my brother and I started charging to get them out with our tractor so every body could make it home by curfew. We would tell them we were going to charge $40 but no one ever had that kind of money so we would take what we could get. We actually had one guy mail us the money a week later he was so glad to not be grounded for breaking the curfew. Of course if we knew them all the rules changed and we would just give them a hard time for the rest of their lives.
ALL FOUR OF US WENT to MRA, which at the time was first through 12th grade with 600 people attending. We all knew each other pretty well and soon our spread was hangout central. My parents seemed to enjoy having our friends and theirs coming and going all the time. Some of the parents of our friends didn’t know what to make of this hangout way out in the country until they would come out to see for themselves what their kid would be getting in to. Some of the kids we never saw again, parents disapproved of all the freedoms we had out there.
Some of the kids got dropped off and we thought we may never see their parents again. They liked what they saw and were willing to risk whatever may come along with a weekend at the Martinsons. We had lots of horses, cows, pigs, chickens, motorcycles and miles of dirt roads and woods, what could possibly go wrong?
I still hear from people who remember our annual cochon de lait parties. For 13 years we had the party every Labor Day. We would cook several pigs, have a band and lots of food and beverages for everyone. Mom and Dad’s siblings would come in from everywhere to help and to not help. We usually had around 500 people show up.
I still remember the last year of it we were sitting on the deck that overlooked the field full of people. My father was staring down at the crowd and asked us if any of us knew who any of these people were. We all admitted that other than those kids running away from the open bar with bottles of booze in their hands we really didn’t know many of them. It had officially gotten out of hand. This was about the time that DUIs were getting handed out more and more and people started suing each other for whatever reason they could concoct. The time to stop was perfect before something bad happened.
My brother and I were paying close attention and began having parties in the same pasture but on a smaller scale. We would sell tickets all week at a discount to help us pay for the parties in advance or a person could come but would have to pay a dollar more than the earlier price. Those weekly parties went on until we graduated and moved on to college. My parents loved our friends and encouraged them to stop by the house on the way to the pastures. They didn’t love it when our friends would stop by the house on their way out of the party, sometimes a little late.
The old house was redone into a great, sprawling house big enough to raise all four of us, my grandfather, my parents busy lifestyles and all of our friends. Those were fun times which carry memories I will always cherish.
The other reason we moved out there was so my parents could buy some property where it was still considered “out there” so they could start a second garden center. This time my father was bound and determined to get the layout right. Where Green Oak started as a Tote-Sum store on a relatively small piece of property, this time it would be a bare piece of ground we could do it however we wanted.
His first concern was drainage. He started designing the building on the very highest point of the 10 acres. For those of you who have visited our store you will know that no matter where you are going at Garden Works you are walking uphill. We always felt and smelt like the water at the Green Oak location would never drain away fast enough and had too many days of coming home with wet boots. That problem has since been fixed by my sister and her husband who are great at coming up with those kinds of solutions.
IN 1983 MY parents opened Discount Nursery. The idea was to sell plants at a discount and offer less service. His vision was people kind of helping themselves while he had lower overhead therefore offering the plants at a discount. The problem with that philosophy in our case is no one in my family or any one who had been with us since the Green Oak days had it in them to watch a customer help themselves. We had all grown up in a full service retail center and got a lot of satisfaction out of helping the customers that were coming to us. We knew pretty quickly, about 15 years, that that vision wouldn’t work for us but dad always taught us to jump in with both feet and correct problems as we go.
We organically changed over the years into something we could all be happy with. In the year 2000 we changed the and the name to Garden Works. In 2005 Mimi and I bought the place from my parents. We had both been working as their bedding plant growers for 15 years back in the 18 greenhouses she and I built. At that point Mimi and I moved up front to the retail part and hired the best grower I know to take over the growing. We still grow our own at Garden Works and we hope that it shows.
As most people know Mimi is the cause of our place’s wonderful personality. She didn’t discover her merchandising skills until she got up front and started waving her magic wand around and gaining the confidence in herself that she is one of the best at it. Lucky me.
It has been a wonderful run for all of us. We get along as a family in business, which is rare. We all have found a way to get through business issues with each other instead of trying to make situations more difficult than they need to be. That mainly comes from us all wanting to resolve issues rather than have them linger any longer than need be. We all want the best for each other so we tend to resolve issues that make things come out the best for the situation.
My father has passed away and my mother is at St. Catherine's Village in Madison. Mimi and I still live five miles from Garden Works and one of my sisters still lives on the property where we all grew up. It’s so nice to go out there every once in a while and breath it in. Lots of great memories come back to me while I laugh and shake my head as I think about the shenanigans that were our upbringing out there, I’d say we had it made in the shade.