A Few Things I'm Thankful For

Well, it’s Thanksgiving again, which means we’re staring down the end of another year. I know I say this every year along about this time, but it is simply amazing how fast a year gets by. In some ways this is a year I’ll be glad to see come to a close. We’ve struggled to keep the bills paid again this year, but at least now it’s because we’re trying to gradually ramp production back up and not because we’re dumping plants in a gully somewhere. And I believe to the depths of my soul that, weather oddities notwithstanding, next spring is going to be really good. So I’m thankful for that.

 

I’m also thankful that my family is healthy. Melinda was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, which gave us a scare, but everything went well with her treatment and she’s doing fine now. Like all women, she tries to milk the situation for all the sympathy she can get, but I’m much too wise to fall for any of that kind of subterfuge. So I’m thankful for that too.

 

The boys are grown, gone and ALMOST off the family payroll, and I’m unbelievably thankful for that. If you’ve raised kids you know exactly what I mean. We have sacrificed greatly to get them fed, clothed, sheltered, educated and out of the nest. Looking back, I’d gladly do it all over again: I’m just not going to keep doing it. So mamma and I are in the process of getting a raise, in a sense – and it’s a much deserved raise if I may say so myself.

 

I’m very thankful that I have been blessed with so many good friends. I’ve heard it said before, I can’t remember by whom, that if you have as many good friends as you do fingers you are ahead of most. If that’s truly the case, then I must be the most blessed man on earth. I think part of it, besides my magnetic charm and sparkling sense of humor, is the nursery industry in general. I don’t have much basis for comparison, having never done anything else, but I can’t imagine there is another industry in the United States with so many good people in it. So I’m thankful for the type of job I have too, even though some days it has its challenges.

 

I’m exceptionally thankful I was placed in the greatest country the world has ever known. Even though I complain some, well, a lot actually, about many of the things I see happening here, I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I appreciate more than words can express all the men and women who serve in the military. I’d suggest you say a prayer for them and their families, especially the ones who won’t be coming home for the holidays. And while you’re at it, maybe say a prayer for all those public servants who help keep us safe here at home. They’re pretty beleaguered by the press right now and could use a pat on the back. I shudder to think where we’d be without them.

 

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and that you too have much to be thankful for. And, although I’m jumping the gun on New Years a little bit. I hope you all have a blockbuster year in 2016. We all deserve it!

Law of Averages, Ebony Lagerstroemia, and Aspirations of P.T. Barnum

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you, but the law of averages can be a booger sometimes. We normally get around 3” of rain in the month of October, which, incidentally, is our driest month of the year. And it looks like that’s just about where we’ll finish this year. The problem is, it all came in a day and a half. Not that I’m complaining really, because we certainly did need the rain; it just would have been nice to have been a little more spread out. Obviously then, I am living proof that beggars really can be choosers, or would like to be anyway.

There are two plants on this list I want to discuss briefly. For starters, we have our first few of the Ebony series of Crape Myrtles ready to sell. A couple of years ago the USDA introduced several Crape Myrtle cultivars that have maroon foliage, and I don’t mean maroon-ish, they’re completely maroon. They were first picked up by a nursery in Texas and trademarked as ‘Black Diamond’ Crape Myrtles. Since they are not patented I can still grow and sell them, I just can’t call them ‘Black Diamond’. I will be calling them by their USDA given names, ‘Ebony Flame’, which has true red flowers, and ‘Ebony and Ivory’, which has white flowers. We’ll have a lot more of both in the spring.

They are fairly small for Crape Myrtles, with a mature height of around 10 feet I am told. It would appear to me, just from the limited exposure I’ve had to them, that they might do better in the landscape as a large shrub rather than a small tree. I think a mixed planting of ‘Ebony Flame’ and ‘Phantom’ or ‘Limelight’ Hydrangea would be stunning in mid-summer. And ‘Ebony and Ivory’ with maroon leaves and white flowers might be very popular selections in places like, oh, I don’t knowwwww…maybe Starkville. And College Station. I also think there is a possibility, since they’re somewhat on the shrubby side, that these Crapes might be used farther north than normal. If the roots survive the winter it could make a good looking woody perennial. 

Time will tell, of course. We’ve all seen far too many plant introductions that failed to live up to their hype, but I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen so far. In the interests of honesty and full disclosure, I should also point out that I told anybody who would listen, eight years ago, that there was absolutely no way Barack Obama could get elected President. So clearly, it’s a good idea to consider your source once in a while.

The other plant I want to mention is also an introduction from the USDA research station in Poplarville, Mississippi. It is a very dwarf form of ornamental blueberry called ‘Native Blue’. It is a compact, mounding, semi-evergreen (in south Mississippi anyway) with blue-gray foliage. With a little age it puts on tiny little fruit that supposedly attracts birds. Mine on the nursery are young and haven’t set fruit yet, but I’m hoping to see that happen next spring.

‘Native Blue’ needs full sun. I planted some in my yard, in a bed that is sunny on one end and shady on the other. The ones on the sunny end look good and the ones on the shady end do not. Apparently when the folks at USDA said “full sun”, they were serious. I think a mass planting of ‘Native Blue’ along with ‘Daruma’ Loropetalum or just about any kind of low-growing juniper would be quite attractive indeed.

On a completely unrelated note, I continue to be amazed by the gullibility of the American public. It occurs to me, just as I write this, that the Canadian public and the Mexican public might be just as mushy headed, but I never go there so I’ll stick to discussing what I know. A brand-new Whole Foods has just opened in Mobile and my lovely bride happened in there. She’d heard how nice the store was and went to take a look for herself. It must have been a dazzling experience, because she’s talked about it for a full week now.

I had rather hoped to keep her clear of the place because I’d heard from friends who’ve been there how expensive everything is, every syllable of which was evidently true. I’m sure if I’ve heard it, then you’ve heard the joke that it really should be called Whole Check, which is about right. But what dismays me as much as the prices is the convoluted logic used in an attempt to justify the usury. 

One of the items my wife brought home was a dozen eggs, at more than 50 cents apiece. The price was clearly worth it, she said, because the eggs were laid by free range chickens. Chickens that, to a bird, were content and self-fulfilled and at one with the earth, and indeed, with the universe. Chickens that wanted nothing more than to lay eggs and live the good life, and be free. Chicken nirvana. 

You have heard me say before that confession might be good for the soul but it’s bad for the reputation, but I’m about to make one here anyway. I don’t eat eggs all that often, but when I do it is a matter of complete indifference to me whether the chicken that contributed the eggs was given daily massages and rocked to sleep in its mother’s wings, or whether it was waterboarded until it gave up its final egg with its dying breath. You need something to put in with the dumplings anyway.

I am overdrawing things a little bit here to make a point. I am not in favor of hurting animals for any reason, and I imagine trying to waterboard a chicken would be as dangerous for you as it would be for it. But the fact that a business empire could be built by catering to a segment of the population who thinks like Whole Foods shoppers leads me to believe that P.T. Barnum was no more than half right. I think there are at least two suckers born every minute, and most of them never outgrow it. I’m just envious I haven’t come up with a way to capitalize on it yet.

Dreams of Italy... (as we stand in our 'Carolina Midnight' Loropetalum)

The relatively mild weather continues and pretty decent sales do too, thankfully. My kids are fairly well behaved and my wife and I just celebrated our 30th anniversary, so I supposed I have very little to complain about, although I’m sure I could think of something. 

Melinda and I had said for years that we were going to celebrate our 30th by taking a trip to Italy. She, it should be noted, is the one who likes to travel. I’d really rather just stay and work, but you don’t stay married for 30 years without learning a thing or two. We made it as far as Orange Beach, Alabama – for one night, but it was a nice little getaway. We did manage to eat at an Italian restaurant while we were there, and finished off the trip with a stop at the Bass Pro Shop on the way home. That part, you may have already guessed, was my idea. Just like everybody else who gets to a similar point in life, I can’t imagine where the years have gone. 

One comment I have about our availability list is that you probably should take the 8” azalea list with a grain of salt. At this moment we are taking cuttings off some of them, and as soon as we get the cuttings we need, they get a good pruning. All I can say for sure is that the list above reflects what we had available around 1:00 today. Once they get whacked, it’ll take about 6 weeks for them to recover enough to sell.

The other remark I have to make concerns plant naming, and hopefully it’ll clear up some confusion. I have always believed there were more Loropetalum names than there are Loropetalum varieties. I know you will be surprised to learn that there are people out there who, rather than pay royalties and licensing fees, buy expensive tags and containers, will simply re-name a patented plant and press on from there. I would rather not have my picture on the cover of The American Nurseryman, at least not looking through bars, and have always opted to play by the rules. The problem is that the rules are a little nebulous at times.

I bought a beautiful, very dark Loropetalum a few years ago whose name, I was told, was trademarked. Since the plant isn’t patented I could propagate and sell it, just not by its original name. In the time-honored tradition of nurserymen everywhere, I named it myself. I decided to call it ‘Red Velvet’ and have listed it as such for the last year or so. It has the best foliage color of any Loropetalum I’ve seen. About the only drawback to this plant, as far as I’m concerned, is that it gets very big. That’s not the end of the world, of course. We’ve sold Elaeagnus and Ligustrum for decades to people who didn’t want to see their neighbors anymore, so we don’t need to pioneer a new market niche here. Believe it or not, I even got a call for Pyracantha recently. I can only assume that the customer not only doesn’t want to see his neighbors, he is pretty well ok with inflicting harm upon them. A mine field would probably be a safer alternative to a Pyracantha hedge.

But I found out last week that the original name of the Loropetalum I have is ‘Carolina Midnight’ (not what I thought it was at the outset) and that it is not trademarked or patented. That is why, listed above, I have shown both names – and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This whole business of naming plants has always been as confusing as having George Foreman name your children for you, I just hate to have contributed to the haze. About all I can say in my own defense it that ye who are without sin may cast the first stones.

I’ll just stand among my Red Carolina Midnight Velvet and take it like a man.

Welcome to Rhonda Cochran, more of great product coming on, and visions of a brass band playing?

We’ve been very busy for the past six or eight weeks and I hope you have too. The weather has been kind of all over the place this year, just like it always is in the spring. What it did for us this time was to delay a substantial number of early shipments, especially those into Tennessee and the Carolinas. A good many orders that we normally ship in mid-February were pushed back to early March. Consequently, we’ve all been worked like rented mules for the last four weeks. And I’ll take it all day long. Loading trucks is fairly strenuous work, but so is dumping overgrown plants into a gully. 

The last time I had time to write this commentary (I think), I was in the middle of interviewing candidates for the job of office manager here at the nursery. If I recall correctly, which is a bit unusual, I sat down and visited with 19 or 20 people who were interested in the job. As you might expect with that many interviews, the prospects ran the gamut from hopelessly incapable to very well qualified. What struck me the most from the whole process is just how many good candidates there are out there, something I must confess I did not expect. I can only surmise that with the economy still a little on the feeble side there are a lot of good people out looking for jobs. I think I found one.

Her name is Rhonda Cochran and she’s off to a good start. Thus far she has shown a good deal of promise in the fulfillment of her duties, she’s a very quick learner, and she’s friendly to boot! I hope you get a chance to speak with her in the near future, although you’ll have to call between the hours of 8 and 12 in the morning if you wish to do so. She’s working part time for now but I imagine we’ll be able to find enough to keep her busy full-time pretty soon. It may seem like telling Noah about the flood to say so, but springtime in the nursery business is very stressful under the best of circumstances. To have to do it shorthanded, especially in the office, is enough to give an air traffic controller ulcers. I don’t have a brass band playing “Happy Days Are Here Again”, but I can hear the tune in my head. I bet if you listen closely enough you can hear it too.

I hope you noticed all the new additions to the availability list. When you get through the initial rush of spring shipping two things happen at once. First, you find a few things left over that you thought were all sold – the reason for a good number of the new additions to the list. And second, stuff starts growing like kudzu. We’ve got a good bit of material that has just gotten ready and quite a bit more that will be finishing off in the next month or so. So, stay tuned…sooner or later we’re bound to have something you can’t live without! And when you do see something you need I hope you’ll call and introduce yourself to Rhonda. I think you’ll be impressed too.

The Joys of Interviewing... and more!

Well, it would seem that spring has sprung, weather be danged. We’ve finally hit the shipping frenzy even though the weather isn’t all that cooperative. We went from cold and wet to warm and wet, pretty much overnight. I hate to complain because I know it won’t be long before we’re all praying for rain and cooler weather, but for now it would sure be nice to have some warm, sunny days.

I am in the middle of an interesting project at the moment in that I am interviewing candidates for a secretarial position here at the nursery. My old secretary, whom many of you knew, passed away a little over two years ago and left a gaping hole here. I have needed somebody in the interim but with the nursery business so squirrely (an academic term you only learn at Mississippi State) that I haven’t been able to fill the vacancy. Mrs. Pat, in addition to being a great employee, was something of a surrogate mother to everybody here. But for me, personally, her most valuable quality was her unerring ability to sniff out telemarketers. This is not as easy to do as you might think, as many of the new breed of telemarketers are craftier than Lucifer himself. But as long as Mrs. Pat was alive I never had to deal with any of them.

After having asked around a little among friends to see if anybody knew of a good candidate (nobody did), and totally against my better judgment, I put an ad in the employment section of our local paper. I expected to get maybe two or three respondents from which I could choose. So far I have had 18 people call to request interviews. As yet, I’ve actually conducted six. Five of the six have been legitimate candidates but that sixth one was a doozy.

As I’ve said before, confession might be good for the soul but it’s bad for the reputation. Having said that, I am guilty sometimes of judging books by their cover. Actually, as I think of it, there’s nothing in the world wrong with judging a book by its cover. What I do is judge people by their outward appearance. And not only do I do so, I make no apologies for it whatsoever.

For starters, the young lady in question walked in the door with black and white hair. And I don’t mean darkish and blond, I mean ink black and bright white. It looked for all the world like she had a skunk hide slung crossways over her head. In addition to the non-typical hair-do, she had holes in her earlobes you could have thrown a dime through. I see this a lot in young people and for the life of me I don’t know what statement they’re trying to make. To complete the set, she had never had a job before in her life and had the personality of a rock. It was a brief interview, as you might expect. I was just glad she didn’t break out a pentagram and convene a séance. 

I am fully aware that people who look like that, or even more outlandish, may very well be responsible, decent, intelligent human beings. They may possess all sorts of endearing qualities in abundance and need only the slightest hint of an opportunity to come into full flower as individuals. But when all I have to base my opinion on is a 20 minute interview and what I can see, they step into the batter’s box 0 and 2. Hopefully the remainder of the interviews won’t come with any surprises, or at least good ones if they do.

I have no doubt at all that every generation of Americans since the pilgrims has been convinced that the subsequent generation was going to lead the world to wrack and ruin. I certainly remember my own father’s utter disdain for my music, exactly as I detest my boys’ taste in what they call music. But I believe in my soul that good people, maybe even “normal” people, outnumber the bad ones by a long shot. And who knows, one of these days I might feel the need to speak to somebody across the divide. If so, I have the contact information for a young lady who looks like she could help. If that happens, you’ll be the first to know.

Busy Shipping, New Crops Coming and as tough as Lantana and a woodpecker

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to update this list. I would apologize for the delay except that the sole reason for my tardiness is that I’ve been busy just trying to keep up with the orders coming in. As I mentioned in my last update, this is about the first time since ’07 that I wish I had more plants to sell. We had a very busy trade show in Mobile a few weeks ago and it APPEARS that things are on the upswing. I think there are a number of reasons for it, most notably cheaper gas. I don’t know of a better economic stimulus for the whole country than less expensive fuel. Fuel, even if you happen to not even own a car, hits all of us right in the wallet.

We’re currently riding the weather roller coaster we normally refer to as ‘February’ around here. We’ve had a few cold snaps this winter, but nothing to compare to last year. We’re not out of the woods yet – not by a long shot, but so far so good. I spoke with a friend in west central Tennessee this morning who told me he had to break icicles off his mailbox to put stuff in it this morning (evidently he forgot today is President’s Day), but as I write this it is 68 degrees and overcast in south Mississippi. We’re supposed to get rain tonight and sharply colder temps for the rest of the week. It’s like the old saying goes; if you don’t like the weather here just give it a day or two, it’ll change.

I’m sure you’ve noticed our amazing shrinking availability list. We’ve got a number of items that’ll be getting ready as soon as the weather warms up a bit but for now we’re a little on the light side. One of the newcomers to the list that I’d like to point out is the blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium is a very durable perennial that looks like a grass and is a relative of irises. It grows to about 6” in height (when in bloom) and its three favorite things seem to be heat, drought and neglect, which ought to make it wildly popular with consumers. Evidently its toughness falls on the scale somewhere between Lantana and a woodpecker’s lips. ‘Blue Note’, the cultivar we’re growing, has pastel blue flowers about the size of a nickel. I think it will look great planted as a mass or a border in a dry area.

Among the late-spring-early-summer arrivals will be an assortment of hydrangeas that will brighten up shady areas (H. macrophylla) or make an eye-catching display in sunny spots (H. paniculata). I’ve mentioned Hydrangea m. ‘Zebra’ before, but that’s one I think is a winner. We’re currently into our second crop of them on the nursery and I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen here. The real story will be told as they’re planted in people’s gardens, but I’m betting they’re going to wow a whole bunch of folks. Hopefully it’ll have that effect on you too!

Jeff

Counting our Blessings, Holiday Exercises, and Expecting a Great 2015!

Happy New Year! I know I’ve said it before, but it’s amazing how fast a year gets past me now. Not that I’m complaining or anything; I hope I get to see a lot more of these things.

Like most people at this time of year I tend to spend a little time thinking about the successes and failures I’ve enjoyed (or endured) up until now. If you’ve made it past 50 and can’t look back and see some mis-steps and screw-ups you have either led a very charmed life or you are not paying proper attention. I can see quite a few of them myself. But all things considered, the good outweighs the bad by a long shot.

2014 was a better year for us here at the nursery. Not a great year, but things are definitely improving. The overall economy is gradually getting better, fuel prices are way down and consumer optimism is trending upward. All of these things make me think we’ll see a better 2015. And, thus far, the weather is much better this winter than last, although we’re not out of the woods yet.

Of all the things I am thankful for, my family comes first and foremost. Our boys are home for the holidays and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it, even bowling, which I’ll get to in a minute. Tyler, our older son, is a first year medical school student and seriously needed a week or two of down-time. The amount of material they cover in a semester would take me years to absorb – if I ever did. Jeffry, our younger son (the one who was involved in the incident with the Louisiana State Patrol at the MSU – LSU game) might not have so needed a break from studying but he has taken one anyway, and he has kept us entertained. He will graduate in May with a degree in marketing – then it’s off into the cold, cruel work world.

As you may recall, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer last year but is now cancer free and doing fine. Whatever else I can find to complain about, things are just fine on the home front. I grew up in the Baptist church and one of the hymns we used to sing all the time was “Count Your Blessings” (almost as often as we sang all six verses of “Just As I Am” during the invitation). Well, I’ve got a bunch of blessings to count and I hope you do too.

I mentioned earlier that we’d gone bowling. We had been trapped inside the house all day last Saturday because it rained so much. Late in the afternoon I made the off-hand suggestion that it might be fun to go bowling. I don’t know what I was thinking. I can’t remember the last time I’d gone but it had to be 15 or 20 years ago. Anyway, we went, and we had fun too, but for the next couple of days I thought I was going to have to have my left leg amputated. And it wasn’t just my leg, even my eyelids were sore for a day or two. Evidently bowling works muscles you don’t normally use in nursery work. It was a great time of family togetherness but I’m clearly going to have to come up with an alternative form of entertainment or get myself in better shape. 

Let me close by saying thank you for your business. I hope 2015 is a great year for all of us in the nursery industry!

Crystal Balls, Saints and Son-In-Laws, and Why We Live in a Small Town!

We finished potting last week at the nursery, which is always a major milestone. I think all nurseries do things a little differently, but we generally pot our azaleas in May and most of the ornamental stuff in the fall. There will be some other things to pot throughout the winter, odds and ends here and there, but the bulk of it has been laid by now. And I’m glad. We can focus on propagation for the next 6 weeks or so until the roses come in, then work like mad to get them planted in a hurry. It seems like we’re always playing beat the clock. I’m sure your business is no different.

The challenge for me in planning crops for the next 3 or 4 years is guessing what might sell. I don’t own a crystal ball, as I’ve said many times before, because if I did I’d be a stockbroker instead of a farmer. It appears to me that they sweat a lot less than nurserymen do. But in deciding what to grow, I look at what has sold well in the past and do my best to extrapolate into the future. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn’t. If you know of a better way to forecast consumer demand I’d certainly welcome your suggestions.

I had a funny thing happen to me this weekend. Funny if you have a sense of humor anyway. My mother-in-law, the sweetest, most selfless, kindhearted person I know, was voted volunteer of the year by the Mississippi Hospital Association. Not just for Lucedale or George County – for the whole state. She is one of those folks who wake up in the morning trying to think of something nice to do for somebody else. Fortunately, all those qualities are heritable traits. Unfortunately, they were passed down to my brother-in-law, Andrew and not to my wife. No, not really. My dear sweet wife inherited at least some of her mother’s good qualities.

At any rate, because our city fathers considered her selection by such an august statewide association to be a very big deal, they asked her to be the Grand Marshall in the Christmas parade. We have 21,000 souls here in George County, and every one of them comes to the Christmas parade – along with a fair number of out-of-towners, evidently. I was honored to be asked to drive the car on which she rode in the extravaganza.

One of the problems was that my mother-in-law, Mrs. Faye, was given two big boxes of candy to throw along the route. As a side note, I’d be willing to bet that 3 tons of candy are thrown at our little parade. We have 5 dentists in town and it has been my long-standing opinion that they ought to be the ones who fund the purchase of all this candy. They’re the ones who ultimately benefit from its distribution…if anybody does. 

To get back to problem number one, my mother-in-law, saintly as she is, has a pitiful throwing arm. I had candy steadily raining down the back of my shirt, and at the end of the parade there must’ve been 25 pounds of Chinese-made taffy still in the car. What small percentage did make it out of the car got nowhere near the crowds at the edge of the street. Naturally, it served to lure every kid in the crowd right out in front of the next vehicle in line. I was a nervous wreck before we’d gone a quarter of a mile.

The other, bigger problem was the car itself. Mrs. Faye had asked a friend of hers if we could use his car, a convertible. You can’t, after all, be the Grand Marshall in the Christmas parade and ride in a hard-top. She needed a car where she could sit up on the back of the seat and wave to the crowds. The car we used was a 70s vintage Triumph. I picked it up an hour and a half before the parade and drove it to her house. It ran like a top, then.

I’m guessing you know where I’m headed here. Very early in the parade, just after we’d turned onto Main Street, the car died. No amount of coaxing or cussing, sotto voce, of course, did the least bit of good. We were sandwiched between the high school marching band and a semi-trailer behind us. Lucedale being the kind of place that it is, a couple of strangers who noticed our plight sprang into action and gave us a push. Every hundred yards or so somebody else would fall in and take over. We made it the whole rest of the way, right about a mile, by having folks push us along. I have to admit that I felt like somewhat of a dunce, but it wasn’t my car, I’m not much of a mechanic to begin with, and we were exactly like the proverbial dog chained in the rain. We were forced to play the hand as dealt and to rely on the kindness of others. It made me glad, for the one millionth time, that I live in a small town.

When we passed the First Methodist Church, a couple of buddies of mine took over the pushing job and did it the rest of the way. When we reached the end of the parade I tried the ignition again, just as I’d done 50 times along the route, and the car cranked. It ran just long enough for me to get my mother-in-law back to her home. They say the Lord takes care of fools and drunks. Evidently he takes care of saints and their sons-in-law once in a while too. Thank God for that.

More Great Plants, a Cinderella Season, and Oz's Scarecrow!

Like most everybody else in the southeast, we’re having a pretty dry fall. October is statistically our driest month of the year anyway, so it’s not unusual to go a few weeks without rain. But an inch or so would suit me just fine. We are still getting some growth on stuff here and there so I’m adding items to the list even this late in the season. Now all I need to do is find a new home for a bunch of plants! 

I am happy to report that miracles keep coming in Starkville. State survived a very tough outing against Arkansas last weekend. I think the Razorbacks are maybe the best unranked team in the country right now. Currently they’re in a 2 year conference drought but I don’t see how. That team is long overdue for an SEC win and I can’t imagine it won’t come soon. I’m just glad it wasn’t last weekend.

They say confession is good for the soul but bad for the reputation, but I have a story tell anyhow. As many of you know, our younger son is a senior at State; therefore, it takes very little encouragement for momma to want to get to Starkville. We try to make most of the home games but we very rarely travel to road games. Our son is an avid football fan to begin with, so he’s having the time of his life with State having a Cinderella year. 

But we did have a bump in the road a couple of months ago. Young Einstein, along with 70 of his buddies, decided they needed to make a road trip to Baton Rouge for the LSU game. If you have children who have already grown through this stage of adolescent development, congratulations. I am green with envy. I used the term “adolescent” intentionally. Although he’s 21 now, a legal adult, he and his friends still have a tendency to act like 15-year olds from time to time. Now I know how my dad felt.

At any rate, State jumped on top of LSU early and it looked like it was going to be a blowout. Jeffry kept texting his mother and me throughout the game that he and his friends planned to storm the field after the game, maybe even tear down the goal posts. I told him that was a bad idea, as the authorities normally frown upon such conduct, especially from the visitors. I assured him in very clear terms that I was NOT going to drive to Baton Rouge to get him out of jail. 

As it turned out, State did not win in a rout. We did hold on for the win but the game came down to the very last play, where one of our defensive backs intercepted a pass at the goal line that, if completed, would have given the game to LSU. Any road win in the SEC is a very good thing. A win in Death Valley, especially by Mississippi State, is almost a once in a lifetime event. As promised, Jeffry and his friends headed for the railing.

But the problem, at least for Jeffry, was that his friends faked him out and stopped at the rail. Not him. He bailed over, landed near the corner of the end zone and was promptly face-planted in the turf by a gentleman with the Louisiana State Patrol. When he looked back at the bleachers, all his friends were standing there, looking for all the world like they’d never seen him before in their lives.

The shortened, G-rated version of what the trooper said is “Boy, your rear end is headed to jail.” You can use your imagination as to what was really said. He slapped handcuffs on him, stood him up and told him to wait there until he was ready to go. Jeffry’s buddies, as all true friends would, took pictures and posted them to Facebook. In their defense, I’d have done the same thing to any of my friends in a similar situation.

I’ve been told the Lord takes care of fools and drunks, and he did it again in this instance. After 15 minutes of shame the trooper came to get him and told him they were headed downtown. But instead of taking him to the car, he marched him over to the steps going back up into the bleachers, uncuffed him, and told him to get lost, which he promptly did, making that move the only smart thing he did all night.

Fatherhood has been one of the best institutions I’ve been involved in - most of the time. My wife and I have raised good boys, if not brilliant ones. But there have been times, just like this, when you want to bang your head against a tree. I can only pray, a lot, that like Oz’s scarecrow, brains will soon be forthcoming. I’ll try to remember to let you know when that happens. 

Somewhere in the State of Louisiana there is an unknown state trooper, probably with a sense of humor, to whom I am profoundly grateful. I’m sure I won’t get the opportunity to pay it back, so maybe I’ll be given an opportunity to pay if forward.

Cowbells at the Pearly Gate and Is Hell Frozen Solid?

I, like most other normal people, have always gotten a kick out of the lunatic fringe who march up and down the street carrying signs with sayings like “The End is Near”, or some other such nonsense. We don’t have people who do that in Lucedale, or not that I’ve ever been aware of, but we are not without a few kooks of our own. Ours just don’t carry signs. Luckily, in a small town like ours they don’t need signs to be identified. You just know who they are and act accordingly.

Where I have seen them in droves is in Washington DC. I’ve only been there a handful of times but that place is apparently a magnet for nutcases. Unfortunately some of them are elected by their districts and sent there. I have gotten the distinct impression on several occasions that some members of Congress are banished to Washington for the sole purpose of getting them out of their district’s collective hair. It goes a long way toward explaining the state of affairs we currently enjoy.

But now, despite all my previous ridicule, I feel compelled to join the ranks of the aluminum foil-hat set, for something truly extraordinary has happened. My beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation in both the AP and Coaches Polls. I have been a State fan for more than 35 years and have, most years, yearned not for excellence but for upper mediocrity. I have endured embarrassing loses to teams we should’ve beaten by three touchdowns. Maybe even worse, I have seen defeat snatched from the jaws of victory against teams I hate to lose to, namely LSU and Ole Miss. Losses like that, when we all but had the game won, leave a bad taste in the mouth for weeks. 

There are a couple of semi-possible explanations for what has happened thus far. Jack Cristil, the man who was the voice of the Bulldogs athletic program for nearly 60 years, passed away recently. Evidently he was not issued a harp at The Gate but a golden cowbell, and God likes the sound of it. Maybe the clanging is a welcome change around the place, an acoustic rough edge to make the smooth ones seem better, I don’t know.

Maybe we all passed through the looking glass and are in Alice’s wonderland, because not only is Mississippi State ranked number one, the Black Bears of Ole Miss are 3rd – and probably deserve to be No. 2. Any way you figure it, this is about as unlikely a situation as winning the lottery and capturing a yeti on the same day. Personally, I don’t think hell has frozen over, I think it has frozen solid. I realize mid-season polls count for little or nothing, but when all you’ve ever had is potted meat and somebody gives you filet Mignon you have a profound appreciation for the upgrade. Even more so when you realize you could very well be back to eating Vienna Sausages in a week or two.

I spoke to a friend yesterday who has been a State fan for most of his life too, and he said it best. He said that we’ve learned the hard way how to be gracious losers, hopefully we’ll be gracious winner now. If I were you, just to be on the safe side, I’d make sure all my affairs were in order. You never know, the fringe elements might finally be right this time. If they are I just hope Saint Peter gives me a cowbell too.

Things change, but appreciation for customers only grows!

Cooler weather has arrived, and that’s a good thing. Nobody’s had to break out a jacket yet but it has been nice enough for the last week or so that you can work outside and not die from it. It’s supposed to be even better by this weekend, when my beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs will host Texas A&M. The last time the Aggies came to Starkville, two years ago, I went to that game thinking it might be a pretty good match-up, but I thought wrong. They bent us over and spanked us like they were Adrian Peterson. Hopefully we can avoid a repeat of that miserable experience this weekend but I wouldn’t wager a whole lot on it.

The other good thing about fall-ish weather is that the phone has started ringing again. I hope yours has too. Like most of my friends and neighbors in the nursery business, we have had a better year this year than in the past, but it could always be better. My late brother always used to say he wanted us to get down to the point of having only two plants left to sell – with three people fighting over them in the parking lot. We’re not there yet but there is always hope.

Whenever I write these musings I always wonder how often they’re actually read. After all, everybody I know who has even a remote association with the nursery business usually has a long to-do list. But judging from the feedback I’ve gotten regarding my feelings toward AT&T, there are apparently a whole lot of people in the world who feel just like I do. I’ve become convince that if AT&T was a single person rather than a multi-national corporate conglomerate, he would be well advised to apply for a concealed carry permit. Or maybe even ask to be taken into protective custody. I makes a person wonder how any company, even one that still borders on being a monopoly, can manage to stay in business. 

Without waxing too philosophical, I think it speaks to an aversion to change that almost all of us share. I know I am guilty in this area, probably worse than you are. I have an old friend who has been a banker here in town for years and he told me once that his bank had done an informal survey on people’s reluctance to change banks. He came to the conclusion that if they placed a gunman outside the front door and shot every tenth customer they would lose no more than 15% of their business: The 10% that was shot and another 5% that wouldn’t risk it going forward. He was joking to make a point, of course, but most of us would really rather not go through the hassle of such things as changing banks or phone service providers, or underwear if you’re from certain parts of Perry County.

Whether I like change or not, a lot of it has been foisted upon me in the last five or six years and I imagine it has happened to you too. The great recession has forced us to reconsider how and why we do just about everything. As much as it pains me to admit it, I’ll bet we’ll all be better off when the economy recovers than we were in the first place. A friend of mine, who had recently been through a rough patch in his life, told me his momma used to tell him the Lord would never put more on you than you had the capacity to bear. He said that might be true, but that he kind of wished the Lord didn’t think quite so much of him. I know the feeling but if you don’t walk through the valley from time to time you lose your appreciation for the mountain tops.

So, whether you are a customer of ours because you like getting quality stock at a good price or because you just don’t feel much like looking for another supplier, thank you very much for your business. We have large customers, small customers and in-between customers, but all are GOOD customers and I consider every sale a personal blessing. And unlike my banker friend, I have no intentions whatsoever of testing your resolve to make purchases here. All you have to do is call or e-mail. As all the old TV infomercials used to end: Call now, operators are standing by!

Hot Weather, Hot Plants and Hot Football!

The availability list is starting to grow again, and that’s a good thing. We’ll be adding more items every couple of weeks until the end of the growing season. We’re having the hottest weather of the summer (it was 98 here today) but, all things considered, I can’t complain. It has been a fairly mild summer until now, which is something you can normally say only until about the middle of June rather than the end of August. September is usually hot here too, but at least then you’re seeing news reports of fall-like weather in the northern states. It might still be 92 and miserably humid, but at least you know the end of the oppressive heat is just about over.

 

One item on the availability list I’d like to point out is a new daylily we’ve begun growing called ‘Suburban Nancy Gayle’. It is a big-growing red bloomer with a flower that must be 5 or 6 inches in diameter. They’re not blooming as much now as they were a couple of months ago, but there are still a few stray blooms here and there. It is a plant I think you’ll be hearing more about in the future. Since daylilies are generally durable and heat tolerant, I think you can sell them even this time of year.

 

And speaking of this time of year, IT’S FOOTBALL SEASON!!! High school football season kicked off this past Friday night and college ball starts this weekend and life is worth living again. It’s not that I have anything against the other sports, but for me college football is the best thing since sliced bread. Being a Mississippi State fan means that I’m accustomed to heartbreak and despair, but like all other foolish optimists I have high hopes for the upcoming season. I hate to jinx my Bulldogs by getting my hopes up, but we could claw our way to the upper reaches of mediocrity if we get a few breaks this fall.

 

I’m generally not as excited about professional football as I am about college ball, but this year is a little different for me. One of my son’s high school teammates was drafted by the Houston Texans, so now I’m now a Texans fan. His name is Jay Prosch and he plays fullback. He’s a good kid and a physical marvel. Fullbacks are not normally premier players so you won’t likely see him on a box of Wheaties (if they still make those things), but he’s somebody you can feel good about pulling for. He holds most of the weightlifting records at his old high school. Maybe all of them, actually. The only number I can remember is that he bench-pressed 440 pounds as a senior in high school. I wouldn’t try to lift that much weight without a jack or a front-end loader.

 

If you want to see a heartwarming YouTube video, look up the one about Jay and his mother. As I think of it, maybe tearjerking is a better word than heartwarming. Anyway, I won’t spoil it for you, but it was made right after his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It’s a very moving story about Jay and his family and how they dealt with her illness. I hope Jay has a long and illustrious NFL career. He’s one of the good guys and I wish him well.

 

Ruby Slippers, a Zebra, a Snake in the Woods, and Miracle Prayers for Keith please!

Summer has finally arrived and we’re having typical summertime weather here on the Gulf Coast. It’s hot and humid, but after the winter we had I have promised not to whine about the heat anymore, or at least for a while. We’re very lucky we got all the way to June before it got hot in the first place. So, for now, I will forbear to complain about it. As the popular saying goes, it is what it is.

We’re still adding items to the availability list, as I hope you noticed. One of the things I’m particularly excited about is the new (to us) Oakleaf Hydrangea called ‘Ruby Slippers’. It is a compact grower for an Oakleaf Hydrangea and it is a profuse bloomer. The flowers emerge white and supposedly deepen to a nice red color as they age. I say supposedly because I have not seen it do this myself – this is the first crop we’ve grown. I do know this, however; the fall foliage is really impressive. We had ‘Ruby Slippers’ liners growing right next to the ‘Ellen Huff’ liners last fall and there was a striking foliage color contrast between the two. I will freely admit to being an admirer of Oakleaf Hydrangeas, but I think ‘Ruby Slippers’ is going to be a winner.

We have another Hydrangea selection waiting in the wings that I think is going to be a winner also. It’s a macrophylly cultivar called ‘Zebra’, because it has black stems and white flowers. We’ve had this one on the farm for about a year and a half but have not had any to sell just yet. We’ll have some full-gallons ready in about another 30 days or so. I’ve been very impressed with this plant and I expect you will be too. I can’t quite make myself believe that the world is screaming out for more Hydrangea varieties, but I think these two will sell very well.

A month or so ago I wrote about some of the funny things I’d seen happen at the golf course when we used to play. I thought of another story the other day, and it really was one of those “you really had to be there” incidents, but I’ll tell you as best I can what happened. As with a lot of my other funny golf stories, this one involves my late brother, Lee.

We were playing with a friend of his that I had not met before. The fourth hole at the Lucedale Golf and Country Club – and if the idea of Lucedale having, or needing, a “country” club strikes you as amusing, it should. If you had ever seen the place it would be even funnier. I’ve seen better kept pastures than our golf course was. At any rate, the fourth hole was a short par 3 and Lee had knocked his ball over the green and into the woods, a situation that happened with amazing regularity.

I had kept my ball in play, as had his friend, and in an effort to help speed things along some, I was down in the woods trying to help him find his ball. Like all normal people in this end of the world, anytime I’m in the woods or weeds in the summertime I am paying close attention to the ground around my feet so as not to step on a snake. If you think I have an irrational fear of snakes it is because you have probably had fewer close calls with snakes than I have. It’s not that I live in fear of snakes, I just don’t like them.

On this occasion I did not find a snake (or his ball), but I nearly stepped on an old black water hose that somebody had thrown down in the woods. When you’re already on edge watching for a snake, a black hose has pretty much the same effect on you as a real snake, and this one scared me. I was fortunate enough to flinch without screaming, because Lee was working his way toward me, still searching for his golf ball. I waited until he was just about to step on the hose and said very loudly, “Watch it”! It worked like a charm. He didn’t faint or wet his pants, but it scared the snot out of him.

The friend, who had been standing on the green and getting a little impatient, heard the commotion and started walking our way and asked what was the matter. Lee, recovering his wits quickly, looked at me and said, “Watch this”. He grabbed up the end of the water hose and started out of the woods in a trot, hoping to burst through a screen of native yaupon at just about the time his friend got there, throw the hose at him and scream “SNAKE”. 

If you are the sort that finds scaring people amusing, as am I, this is a tactic that works every time - unless something happens to derail your efforts. In Lee’s case, at just about the time he came crashing through the underbrush, and at the precise instant he was going to scream snake, he ran out of slack. Part of the hose, at about the middle, was wrapped around a good sized root several times and wasn’t going anywhere. Lee looked for all the world like a dog that forgets he’s on a chain.  The first thing to hit the ground was his shoulder blades.

My brother was lucky not to have dislocated his shoulder because neither his friend nor I would’ve been able to render even the most rudimentary aid. We were on our hands and knees with tears streaming down our cheeks laughing at Lee. Like I said earlier, you really had to be there.

On a more somber note, last time I asked you to remember my friend Keith Hinton in your prayers. He was involved in a traffic accident and suffered a broken neck. I’d appreciate it if you’d keep praying for him and for his wife, Paula. Keith is now in the Shepard Rehab Center in Atlanta and progress is coming very slowly. At the moment he still has little or no feeling from the neck down and it appears that his paralysis might indeed be permanent. This is something you’d hate to see happen to somebody you didn’t like, but to see such a good and decent person endure this is heartbreaking. But God is good, and I’m a firm believer in miracles, so please keep it up!

My Lindbergh Experiences and a Good Friend Needing Our Prayers...

I have a couple of friends who got into flying several years ago, both of whom fell in love with it whole-heartedly. Between the two of them they’ve bought and flown all sorts of ultra-lights and kit planes. They even have para-gliders, those gizmos where you actually wear the engine strapped to your back. With this contraption you actually have to run into the wind while simultaneously maneuvering the chute and throttling up the engine. Eventually, if all goes well, you fill the airfoil and are lifted off the ground. I have flown with both of them in their ultra-lights but have passed on the invitation to try the para-gliders. Even if I am coordinated enough to fly one, and that’s a big if, I don’t think I can currently afford the inevitable alimony payments that would come with it.

A few weeks ago, right before Easter, my wife talked these two Lindbergh types into flying over the school where she teaches to drop plastic Easter eggs onto the playground for the kindergarten egg-hunt. As fate would have it, one of them picked up a stomach virus and I had to fill in. Since it’s been a long time since I took flying lessons we decided it would be my duty to dump the eggs. Simple, right? The operation got off to a bit of a rocky start.

To begin with, the plane was too small for the pilot, a friend of mine named Keith Hinton, and me to sit side by side while I held a large garbage bag filled with the Easter eggs – and still be able to close the doors. So we took the doors off. I’d flown in an open cockpit ultra-light before so I figured it couldn’t be much different. And it probably wouldn’t have been had it not been for the sack full of Easter eggs. If you’re curious about how that is, try standing in the back of a pickup going 80 mph down the road while holding a big garbage bag. You’ll get flapped to death if you’re not careful.

We made it there and back alright, and at least some of the eggs landed on the school campus, if not exactly on the playground. But you can’t have everything. Keith didn’t want to fly lower than 700 feet and from that altitude it’s hard to judge exactly when to drop your missiles to land in the target zone. But it sure was fun trying.

 I have lived the last 5 or 6 years with a secret dread that one of my friends would get maimed or killed while flying or skydiving – they do that too. I’ve been told that in the Air Force there is an old saying that there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots. One of my friends is something of a daredevil, and has been since I first met him when we were in the 7th grade. Keith, the other one, is by nature much more cautious and careful. Logic would dictate then that he’d be the one least likely to get hurt. Logic, as you may have come to learn, sometimes takes you down the wrong path.

This past Friday, while Keith and his wife were on the way to Destin for a weekend getaway, they got rear-ended on I-10 in Pensacola. The impact wasn’t all that great (I’m told the doors on his car will still open and close), but because of an odd confluence of physics and extraordinary bad luck, Keith’s neck was broken and he is now paralyzed from the chest down. It is unclear at the moment whether his paralysis is temporary or permanent.

I don’t know why bad things happen to good people, but they always have and they always will. Keith is as good a man as I’ve ever met; a rock-solid pillar of the community, an honest and savvy businessman and a stalwart member of the First United Methodist Church. He absolutely doesn’t deserve this.

I would appreciate it if you’d join me in praying for Keith. I believe in miracles and he and his family need one now. He will be moved to the Shepard Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta later this week to start his therapy. I’ve known several other people who were treated there, in some cases with amazing results. I know that God has a plan and a purpose, but for the life of me I don’t understand what it is here. Please pray hard.

The Challenges of New Hires, Men on the Moon, and Lots more Great Plants Coming!

We’re about to hit that “in between” time as we transition from spring to summer. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than load truck, but we’re falling behind on other exciting activities like weed pulling, pruning and fertilizing. In an effort to play catch-up a little bit, I’ve hired some extra help in the last few weeks. What I’ve seen makes me very afraid for the future of our country if this is what’s really out there.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re in Mississippi and you should expect to be drawing from the shallow end of the labor pool. I know that. With the wages we can afford to pay it is unreasonable to expect to get top-shelf, highly motivated self-starters, but this is ridiculous. 

I imagine if you’ve been in any position of having to hire people, for whatever job, you probably have some stories to tell as well. Following are just a few of the doozies I’ve heard from the local brain trust. I’m sure I’ve covered some of this before, but I’ve just gotten myself a refresher course in the thought processes of some of my neighbors. 

As I was showing one of the recently hired (and fired) geniuses how to pull weeds I mentioned that we might not be able to make a full day. The forecast called that day for a very good chance of severe weather. As I recall, WKRG in Mobile (our nearest city with a TV station) pegged the rain chance at 90%. When I brought it up I was informed, very matter of factly, that it wasn’t going to rain that day because, as she put it, “The moon wasn’t right”. We got 4” that afternoon and evening. When we all showed up the next day I suggested the moon owed her a heartfelt apology. When you are born dumb to begin with and then fry your brain with crystal methamphetamine it leads to some interesting opinions. 

I had a guy tell me some years ago that we wouldn’t have had the AIDS outbreak if we hadn’t sent people to the moon. As ludicrous as that sounds, it represented a great step forward in the thinking of the individual who said it. Prior to that, I’d heard him argue rather fiercely that the moon landings were all faked anyway. He knew that because he and his brother, then both in their late teens, had gone outside and looked up at the moon while our astronauts were supposedly there. They could clearly see the moon and there wasn’t a soul there. In the words of Dave Barry, I am not making this up.

I had a young employee once that wondered aloud how a rain gauge worked. He asked if you just stuck it in a mudhole to see how much rain had fallen. I explained how it worked but I couldn’t help but to imagine wading around checking puddles to gauge the rainfall. “We got an inch here, but whoa, we got 4” right over here…”

I had a guy tell me recently that we ought to be using water to fuel our cars instead of gasoline. The fact that we aren’t is, in his mind, proof positive that the evil oil companies are in absolute control of our government, and indeed all facets of our civilization. When I asked him how you run an engine with water, his response was, “Think about it; when a house explodes it’s always the water heater. When you take the oxygen offen’ water it’s gonna make a terrible explosion.” I kid you not. I was so dumbfounded that I couldn’t find the words to explain to him that when a water heater explodes it is more often caused by the gas that fuels the burner than by oxygen starved water. I can only speculate that he thinks the little bit of air space in bottled water is left there specifically to prevent the loss of life and limb. I’m pretty sure if I thought that we’d all be taking cold showers at my house. In fact, I’m certain of it.

Circling back to the nursery business, you probably noticed that I’ve added a lot of items to the availability list. We’ve got a good bit more stuff that’ll be getting ready in the next few weeks. I hope your spring has been good and that we’ll all keep moving material even into the heat of the summer. Finally, finally, I think better times are ahead.

Great Azalea Options, Goat Ranch Golf, Dazed Yetis, and great times!

It has been a wild and wooly couple of weeks here, and I hope you’ve been busy too. It hasn’t been a record-setting spring for us but it’s been better than the last few. If we could beat the weeds into submission we’d be cooking with gas here.

We’re between bloom times for our azaleas right now. Pretty much everything but the Satsukis have bloomed already and the Satuskis are just beginning to show a little color. If you’ve never tried varieties like Aikoku, Osakazuki, Tama-no-Hada, Matsuyo and Wakaebisu, you ought to think about it. They’ll be putting on a show in the next few weeks - and we all know color sells. I think you’ll be impressed.

I have always made fun of middle-aged and elderly people for telling and writing these “you should’a been there” reminiscences but I had occasion to take a stroll down memory lane a few weeks ago, and it came rather unexpectedly.

I had delivered a few plants to a landscape customer of mine here in town who was working on a project in an area where I hadn’t been in quite a while. Just for fun, I decided to take a route home that would take me past the back side of the little goat ranch of a golf course we used to have here in Lucedale. I took up golf about the time I got out of high school and played regularly until 10 or twelve years ago. There was a time when I thought if I didn’t have time to play I’d be miserable, but I don’t really even miss it. 

As I passed by the now grown up course I had a flood of memories wash over me that was a little bit surprising. I had an older brother who, I can categorically state, was one of the worst golfers in the world. But I never saw anybody who had more fun at it. He and I and our cousin and our nephew spent a lot of time out there and you never knew what might happen. The only one of us who was any good at all was our nephew, but we ridiculed him as mercilessly as we did everybody else. If you didn’t have skin like an armadillo you’d either quit and go home crying or resort to violence.

I thought about the time Lee, my late brother, and a friend of ours were playing an early morning round and Lee pushed Tim out of the golf cart (sometimes there’s nothing quite so funny as somebody else getting hurt). They were just over the crest of a little hill in the second fairway headed to find where their drives had gone. Tim was in the passenger seat with his arms crossed and his feet propped up on the dashboard with his ankles crossed. Lee caught him not paying attention and whipped the cart hard left while simultaneously giving Tim a good, stiff elbow to the shoulder. When he hit the ground his arms and legs were still crossed and he tumbled for ten yards along in the wet grass. Lee said that when Tim stood up he had a bewildered look on his face and was covered with so much grass he looked like a dazed yeti.

I also thought about the time I hit my ball into the left rough on number 8. When I found my ball amongst the pines, it was laying in little depression, but I had a pretty clear shot to the green. I took mighty rake at it (I could never think of a reason not to hit it hard) and as I watched to see where it was going, discovered that the little depression the ball had been in was actually the entrance to a yellowjacket’s nest. And they were mad. I have never been a fast runner, even way back then, but, by God, that’ll get you in gear. I ran a hundred yards or so with those things swarming me. I eventually had to pick a bunch of them off my clothes but, as fate would have it, I only had two stings. It certainly could have been much worse.

I could go on for days with golf-related stories, or stories about the gravity of life’s seemingly innocuous trivialities, but the take-home lesson for me is to enjoy each day as it comes. I am as happy now as I’ve ever been and, even if I could, I wouldn’t want to go back re-live that period of my life. But, man, it was fun.

March Madness... and a few other things!

Right now it seems the whole world is consumed by two very different things: The search for the missing Malaysian jetliner and the NCAA basketball tournament, otherwise known as March Madness. We in the nursery industry are familiar with our own brand of March Madness, that of trying to sell plants as hard as we can go while dealing with typically fickle weather. From the feedback I’ve been getting it would seem that we’re all pretty busy at the moment, and that’s a very good thing. My late brother used to say he hoped we got down to having just one plant left to sell, with two people fighting over it in the parking lot. Here, here.

The deal with the Malaysian jet is one of the strangest things I’ve seen in a while. I can only imagine how the families of the passengers and crew must feel, and I’m beginning to fear we’ll never know exactly what went wrong. It seems pretty obvious that it wasn’t mechanical failure, but terrorism seems rather unlikely too. Terrorists just about always want the whole world who did it, and why, and that’s missing here.

I have heard some pretty interesting theories put forth about what might have happened to flight 370. One guy, on CNN I think, mused that maybe it had flown through a black hole. Seriously. And to think I grew up believing you had to be at least semi-intelligent to be a newscaster. Myth buster indeed.

This statement got me to thinking about some of the stupid stuff I’ve heard people say they thought over the years. To be fair, I’ve said and thought a lot of dumb stuff too. But that’ll be another topic for another day. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite doozies:

1. If you pick up a calf every day of his life you will be able to lift a full-grown cow. Yes, I had a young man tell me this at work one day. His rationale was that there was no way a calf could gain weight so fast that you could lift him one day and be unable to do it the next. I didn’t even try to explain it to him. Ignorance is fixable but stupidity like this is a different matter altogether.

2. You can’t lift a midget because they can somehow make themselves very heavy. Obviously this wasn’t the same guy mentioned above, but the gentleman I heard say this was as earnest as he could be. Just as wrong, too. It kind of makes you wonder if he ever tested this postulate.

3. If it thunders in February you’ll have frost in April. This one is difficult to argue because, well, we do often get thunder in February and we do often get frost in April. It’s just a matter of cause and effect. In a similar vein I had a friend tell me last fall that we were going to have a tough winter because we didn’t have even a single hurricane last summer. I have no doubt whatsoever that he is now telling everybody he meets how he saw this one coming all the way. One of the worst things you can have happen is the apparent validation of lunacy like this. Then it becomes gospel. Because my mama taught me some manners I managed just nod and say “Hmmmm.” What I really wanted to say was, “That’s preposterous”, or some less refined version of the statement, such as the one that references bovine organic fertilizer.

4. The Hank Johnson Congressional hearing. If you haven’t seen this on YouTube you have done yourself a great disservice. I won’t spoil the scene for you, but evidently Congressman Johnson missed a couple of days of 5th grade geography. Or maybe the whole 5th grade. If this genius got elected for being among the best and the brightest of his district, not only would I not want to live there, I’d hate to even drive through there. Do yourself a favor and do a YouTube search of Hank Johnson, Guam. It’s hilarious - until you realize this guy is up there making laws that affect all of us. It gets un-funny in a hurry if you think about it like that.

I could go on for days with these things, and I’m sure you’ve heard a million of them too. I just hope you haven’t heard too many of them from me.

As for business, we’ll be able to start adding more material to the availability list as the weather continues to warm up. Late March and most of April are what constitute “crunch time” for all of us. I hope your spring is a barn-burner. And maybe you’ll have folks fighting in your parking lot too.

A "Rocking" Spring and more great plants coming!

Spring is rocking here and I hope it is for you too. As you can see from the ever-shrinking availability list, we’ve shipped a lot of material lately. Of the retail garden centers I’ve talked to this week, all were very busy last weekend. As much as it pains me to say it, given the amount of time, money and effort I put into the business, we’re all at the mercy of the weather to a frightening extent. The last two springs have been lackluster to say the least, so I’m hoping we all have a better spring this year. As I’ve said before, we deserve it. All I can say at the moment is so far, so good.

We have a lot of inventory that will be very nice when we get a spring flush. I expect that by the first of May we’re going to be in much better shape for availability. I realize that this arrangement does very little for either one of us at the moment, but, as the current saying goes; it is what it is.

We grew fewer Heucheras this year but we grew them in a heated house as opposed to covered, unheated one. The difference, even with the drastic weather we had, is striking. Both varieties are outstanding right now. If you haven’t tried Heuchera you might want to think about it. They’re shade-loving perennials, like Hosta, that have very impressive foliage. Brass Lantern, as you might expect, is bronze colored and Black Beauty is a deep maroon. I have not had a wealth of experience with these plants but I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far.

The other plant I want to spotlight, although it’s a little late now, is Magnolia stellata ‘Water Lily’. They’re in full bloom, at least for the next couple of hours, and they are absolutely beautiful. I normally don’t fool around with growing something that doesn’t sell all that well but I’m breaking my rule here. I think, given a little time and some promotion, this could be an outstanding retail seller. If I’m wrong I’ll have a spectacular yard in a few years but I believe in my soul that when displayed in any garden center in America, this thing will sell itself.

We finished up Mardi Gras last weekend, thank God. Mardi Gras might not be a big deal where you live, but in Mobile, where an awful lot of our friends live, it is huge. It’s even huger amongst Catholics, which a lot of our friends are. I can’t say I have a real gripe with the whole concept of Mardi Gras. As a protestant it has always been something of a non-issue for me; that is, it was a non-issue until several of our good friends had girls who were members of the court. What I do have a gripe with is being forced to dress up. Like most farmers, I detest even wearing a necktie, let alone tails. But my wife loves to go, and one of my most recited phrases is “Happy wife, happy life”. Amen, brother. 

I don’t know how these twenty or so young ladies are selected to be members of the court or by what criteria they are chosen, but I will be forever grateful that we only have boys. I wouldn’t even want to speculate how much it costs to have a daughter as part of Mardi Gras royalty, but it’s a bunch. At the King’s Ball, the one we got invited to, all of the girls and their escorts parade around the ballroom (actually the Mobile convention center all gussied up) to the applause and adulation of several thousand people. Thus far in my life I have never suffered from kidney stones, but I have a hard time believing they could be all that much worse than attending one of these affairs.

But this year I got tossed a bone of sorts, even if in a fairly minor way. The young man (they’re all 21) who was escorting the daughter of one of our friends, while standing on the rostrum with the entire court in all its pageantry and majesty, and while basking in the gaze of three thousand admirers, fainted dead away. Because the platform they were all standing on was carpet covered scaffolding, it sounded like thunder when he hit. Luckily the only injuries he suffered were to his jaw and to his pride, both relatively minor.

I realize this may sound cruel to the uninitiated but, to me, it’s like these minor disasters that occur at weddings sometimes (like the trumpet player at ours). It makes them memorable and infinitely more bearable. Naturally I didn’t guffaw at this young man’s mishap, even after we found out he wasn’t hurt, but it sure did go a long way toward turning an insufferable highbrow affair into The Three Stooges. I am forever grateful for that too!

Winter in Lucedale... Ready for Spring!

We had the Gulf States Horticultural Expo last week in Mobile amid some of the craziest winter weather we’ve had in quite a while. Despite the ice and sleet we had, the show was pretty busy – as is evidenced by our somewhat truncated availability list. But don’t worry, we’ll be loaded for bear after a spring flush.

It all started Sunday before last as I was piddling around in the woods when I got a text message alert about an impending winter storm. It was clear and 60 degrees or so at the time so it was hard to believe we were going to get ice and snow within 48 hours. I have learned from past experience not to discount these weather alerts no matter how absurd they seem at the time. Although, I must confess, I’ve had a lot more experience with hurricanes than with snow.

The following day, Monday, we shucked all the shadecloth off the greenhouses that had it so the predicted snow load wouldn’t flatten them. When you live this far south building overwintering structures to withstand snow constitutes overkill. Even then, less than 24 hours before the weather was supposed to turn, we were working in tee shirts in complete comfort. I must admit that while we were working I was beginning to wonder if the weather gurus might miss this one. At that time they were still forecasting rain by daybreak Tuesday, turning to sleet during the day and finishing off as snow, maybe even 3 or 4 inches, which is about as close to blizzard conditions as we ever get on the gulf coast.

As it happened, the forecasters weren’t completely right, but they weren’t completely wrong either. We never did get our expected rain or snow, we got sleet. It started out as sleet and it finished as sleet, and we got as much of it as I’ve ever seen. I’m sure you saw the news reports from Birmingham and Atlanta, just as I did. It was a mess here as well, we just have a lot fewer people to foul the roads with, and a three-car traffic jam doesn’t exactly bring the news crews running.

Incidentally, one of the more interesting reports I saw from Birmingham was of lower elementary schoolchildren having to spend the night in the classroom with their teachers. This arrangement has subsequently caused my wife, a kindergarten teacher herself, to awaken in the night shrieking in terror and soaked in sweat at the idea it could someday happen here. She genuinely loves her students, but I think she’d need Valium to make it through a night with all 26 of her little sweeties. I’d need something substantially more potent than that.

As for the GSHE, the golf tournament that accompanies it was cancelled, which came as a surprise to no one. At this point in my life I can think of a number of things I’d rather do than play golf, even when the weather is fine. It would’ve been as miserable as deer hunting to try to grind out 18 holes when it was cold and wet, or in this case, icy. Like all good Mississippi State fans, about all I can say for the golf tournament is… wait till next year.

The drive over to the show on Thursday morning was quite a bit hairier that I’d expected it to be. We waited until about 8:30 to head over (it’s only about a 45 minute drive from here to the convention center in Mobile), thinking everything would be thawed by then. It wasn’t. The first bridge we came to is the one over the Escatawpa River on Hwy. 98 and it was pretty much a sheet of ice. I’d driven my truck, which has 4-wheel drive, just in case and I was glad I did. We made it safely over that bridge and the next two, although we did it at a snail’s pace.

The excitement came when we started across the overpass at Semmes. A little red BMW just ahead of us began to slide sideways and then went into compete loop-to-loops, or however that’s supposed to be spelled. He wasn’t going all that fast but, totally out of control, he slid over into the westbound lanes and came to an eventual stop. To my great relief, and his too I’m sure, all the westbound traffic was stopped at the light at the bottom of the overpass. Although it turned out to be a non-event it scared me just to watch it happening. I’m sure that poor guy was puckered up tight when he realized he’d lost all control of the situation and was, for all practical purposes, just along for the ride.

I’m not sure how this extra cold winter we’re having will affect spring sales, but I’d be willing to bet that when we do finally get some spring-like weather it’ll break things wide open. If you’re from Wisconsin it’s laughable to even suggest we might suffer from cabin fever down here. But I’ve had just about enough of this cold, wet, nasty weather, and everybody else I’ve talked to feels the same way. I think that unless the weather is really screwy all the way ‘til May we’re going to have the best spring we’ve had since’07. I’m just going to have to remind myself not to complain when it gets hot again.

A Great Spring Ahead - and encouragements from Mr. Bowel Voice.

I concluded my remarks last time by saying I thought the nursery business was getting better, and that I had a specific reason for thinking so. Since that time I had to chance to attend the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show in Baltimore, and the general mood of most of the folks I talked to there reinforced my opinion. But there has been a potential setback of sorts.

It got cold. And I don’t mean south Mississippi’s normal version of cold, I mean Highway Patrolman’s heart cold. We bottomed out around 15 degrees at the nursery. That’s not the coldest weather I’ve ever seen but it’s pretty unusual to get that cold down here.

Fortunately for us we’ve been buying freeze protection cloth for years and storing it in an old barn here on the nursery, and so were able to cover just about everything that needed it. We are also fortunate that we’ve had a good number of 25 degree mornings to harden everything off. While it’s still a little too early to tell for sure, it looks like we might’ve dodged a bullet in that I’ve seen some tip burn so far. We’ll know a lot more in a week or so, I imagine.

We did have a bit of a hiccup during the covering process last Monday. Two of the guys were in the barn loading up a wagon with some of the freeze cloth that had been rolled up and placed there several years ago, the last time we had a major cold snap. When they got to the bottom of the stack they awoke a sleeping skunk that had made himself at home under the pile. Lucky for them it was groggy and didn’t spray anybody. We made a gallant effort to remove him from the barn but he eluded us on all fronts (we gave him a pretty wide berth, I must confess) and, as far as I know, remains there somewhere. I welcome skunk removal advice you may have to offer.

At any rate, nobody got sprayed, almost everything got covered and it looks like all the plants are going to be ok. We could have done without all the expense, drama and excitement and it would have suited me just fine, but all’s well that ends well.

If you never read any of Lewis Grizzard’s work, you have missed out. He was about as funny as anybody I ever read, and had a knack for coming up with catchy titles for his books. Off the top of my head, I can remember reading “Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself”, “Shoot Low Boys, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies” and “Don’t Bend Over In the Garden, Granny, Them Taters Got Eyes”. To say he had an unusual wit would be the understatement of the month. But he hung a name on a common phenomenon and that’s the basis for my belief that things are going to get better.

In one of his books, he wrote so many I can’t remember which, Mr. Grizzard talks about that voice that speaks to each of us from deep within our bowels. Naturally, he called it “Mr. Bowel Voice”. It’s something we all have, although some people simply refer to it as “gut feel”, but I have one too. And right now, my Mr. Bowel Voice is telling me that things are on the upswing. 

I have not kept track over my lifetime of how often Mr. Bowel Voice has lied to me, but it seems to have been a pretty rare occurrence. I will freely admit that I may well be caught up in a classic case of selective memory. It has been said, after all, that convictions are a greater threat to the truth than lies are. I have no doubt whatsoever that that statement is true. But still, I’m convinced things are improving, convinced to the point that I’m gambling on it by increasing our production numbers some this year. 

It’s a roll of the dice, I know, and a pretty large one at that, but fortune favors the bold. And besides, if it all goes to pot, again, I’ll have Mr. Bowel Voice to keep me company in the poorhouse. And maybe a few Lewis Grizzard books too!

Happy New Year!

I expect you’ve heard the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, I’ve had good intentions of getting this availability list out for the last two or three weeks and just have not gotten it done. We’ve been shipping a good bit of stuff lately, as you can see from our diminished inventory numbers, and we’ve had the boys home for Christmas. I heard a preacher say one time that most excuses were little more that the skin of the truth stuffed with a lie. I’m not even going to bother with trying to make a plausible sounding explanation for my delay.

Had I been punctual with this list I would have taken the time to wish you a Merry Christmas. Now about all I can say is that I hope yours was good, as ours was, and that you have a Happy New Year.

Having grown children changes Christmas in a very pronounced way, or at least is has for us. Gone are the nights of having to stay up late playing Santa Claus, as are the really fun toys. I used to be just about as excited as the kids were about playing with four-wheelers, guns and sports gear. Now that they’re both in college it’s mostly clothes and an occasional electronic gadget or two, many of which are incomprehensible and useless to me.

I don’t know what it was that brought it to mind, but yesterday I was reminded of a toy we got for Christmas when my brothers and I were little. It must’ve been along about 1970 or so, because I think it was around the time of my first year in the 3rd grade. The gizmos were called Clackers, or that’s what we called them, and they were nothing more than two balls made of some type of acrylic or glass attached by roughly two feet of string. Each ball, if my memory serves me properly, was a little bigger than a golf ball. The trick to using them as intended was to grab the string in the middle, give a little up and down motion to get the balls bouncing off one another, and then flail like crazy to get the balls to collide above and below your hand.

It was not an easy thing to do, but if you ever got them going it sounded like a machine gun, which, now that I think of it, explains why we were only allowed to play with them outside. And beyond the issue of the racket they made, these things had some other problems that caused more than a little bit of parental concern. There were stories, unsubstantiated by us elementary schoolers, of the balls chipping during use and putting out children’s eyes. There were other stories, much more believable, of Clackers being left out in the yard and setting the grass on fire. When the sun shone through them they acted exactly like a magnifying glass. 

Even if these stories were untrue, I can tell you from experience that the price of learning how to work them was quite high. We all kept bruises and knots on our forearms because, if the two balls didn’t strike each other on exactly the same plane, your arm was definitely going to take a hit. It is amusing to me now to think this is what passed for fun in rural south Mississippi in 1970. My own two boys, in their jaded age of extravagant toys, would’ve thrown these things in the scrap pile in five minutes or less.  Like all good toys, Clackers were eventually banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

I hope you and your family have a fantastic, productive, profitable 2014. I am far more optimistic about the state of the nursery industry now than I was at this time last year. 

Next time I’ll tell you why.

Learning About Plants, Standing Ovations and Amazing People!

I just got back last night from a meeting of the International Plant Propagator’s Society. This year’s meeting was held on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens. IPPS, as we all call it for short, is an outstanding organization dedicated to disseminating information about the propagation and production of plants. It is always, for me at least, a very educational meeting. This year I learned, or was reminded really, that you can live your whole life on a nursery and not know diddly-squat about plants compared to some people.

 

In my defense, I love plants but I view them mostly as a means of earning a living and not as an all-consuming passion. When I have time off, which has gotten to be pretty rare, I’d rather hunt, fish or kayak than think about plants. A good sized portion of the folks at IPPS are true plant people. When they have time off they’re scouring swamps, valleys and mountain-tops the world over looking for new and unusual plants. Thank God there are people like that. If it was left up to people like me we’d have a lot less plant variety at our disposal than we do now.

 

I was also reminded of what it is that makes this entire industry special; the people. IPPS meetings are made up of lecture sessions, nursery tours, catching up with old friends, eating out and beer drinking, but mostly the first two. Each lecture session consists of 3 or 4 speakers who are allotted about 20 minutes each, with a question and answer time at the end. Each session is hosted by a moderator who introduces the speakers, usually with some basic biographical information about whoever it is that’s doing the speaking. The moderators are also tasked with keeping everybody on schedule. Some folks, and we both some of them, are obsessed with hearing themselves talk and almost have to forcibly separated from a microphone.

 

To be asked to speak is a big honor, as is being asked to moderate a session, although being the moderator requires much less preparation than being a speaker does. When you’re the speaker you are expected to use visual aids, mostly power-point presentations, and to hold everybody’s attention for 15 or 20 minutes, a feat much more difficult than you’d think. Being the moderator is considerably easier since about all you really have to do is say a few nice things about each speaker you introduce. Being asked to moderate is roughly the equivalent of, say, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Not a huge deal, but an honor just the same.

 

But I saw something at this year’s IPPS that I’ve never seen before. Mrs. Margie Jenkins, of Amite, Louisiana, was introduced as the moderator of a session and she got a standing ovation. This is not all that different from getting a standing O for doing the dishes or mowing the lawn. But Mrs. Margie, who is 90ish, is so loved and so respected that the entire assembly, 200 people or so, stood in her honor. It was a very touching and well-deserved show of affection for an exceptional lady, one who has made an incredible contribution to our industry.

 

There are numerous PhDs at IPPS on a regular basis. These are people who have devoted their careers to the discovery and cultivation of new and improved (mostly) plant species and cultivars. There are a few, like Drs. Mike Dirr and David Creech, who rightfully qualify as firsts among equals. But I’m sure that even at the age of 90 or thereabouts, Mrs. Jenkins can keep up with the best of them. If she has lost any of her mental acuity, I am unable to detect it. She is truly an extraordinary person who, believe it or not, is as humble as she is brilliant. It is not usual for that level of intelligence and accomplishment to be paired with humility. If you get to know her you run out of superlatives to describe her.

 

There is a lot to like about our industry, but as far as I’m concerned nothing compares to the people. To call Mrs. Jenkins a one-in-a-million would fall far short of her true uniqueness. I’d call her a one-of-a-kind. And while I feel like a complete dunce when I’m in her presence, I consider myself quite blessed to know her.

Kate Upton, Zebras, What's New and Great Little Surprises

From the “Let’s Try Something New” file, we’re putting a couple of items on sale for the month of October (see above list). All four of the items on special are prettier than Kate Upton. Well, the Sky Pencil in 3s are more along the lines of, say, Jennifer Aniston or somebody like that, but still very nice. You can’t beat a deal like that with a stick. 

I want to shine the spotlight on a new plant we’re trying out and that I added to the availability list last time. It’s a really interesting looking Hydrangea macrophylla called ‘Zebra’. It has very dark, almost black, stems and deep green foliage. It puts on an impressive display of white blooms in early summer that contrast very starkly with the stems, thus giving them their name. Most hydranges tend to look a little forlorn this time of year, but the ‘Zebras’ are still very pretty. We don’t have many of them this year but we’ll be in much better shape by next summer. Try some. I think you’ll be impressed as well.

I had mentioned last time that we’d be adding material to our inventory at a pretty good clip. I think I added 23 new items this time, all of which look very good. We normally have a little sales spike in the fall, and since the weather is beginning to moderate some I’m looking forward to a gust of business. In addition to some cooler weather, the price of gas had come down a bit, in most places anyway, and that ought to help everybody. If we weren’t optimists we’d all be doing something else, wouldn’t we?

I had an unusual and very nice thing happen to me a few weeks ago, and that was that I got to see how the other half lives. My wife, as you know, is recovering from breast cancer surgery (and doing exceptionally well, thank you) and we had gone to a football game at Mississippi State. With two boys in school there momma is just about always trying to think of a reason to get up there anyhow, and a ballgame was more of a temptation than she could bear.

It was a typical early September day in Starkville: 94 degrees with suffocating humidity and not a cloud in the sky. If you stop and think about it for a moment, you’d just about have to be a practicing masochist of the highest order to even consider sitting on baking concrete to watch a ballgame under those conditions. My only defense is that there were fifty-something thousand more dunces willing to sit out there and watch with us.

My wife and I had decided in advance that we wouldn’t punish ourselves too much by trying to stay for the whole game. We had a three hour drive home anyhow, and made up our minds we’d leave at halftime - if we made it that long. At just about the time we were to head into the stadium from where we were tailgating, a friend of mine who knew about Melinda’s surgery eased up beside me and asked if I thought she’d be able to stand the heat. I informed him of our plans to leave when she got tired and he handed me two passes to a skybox a friend of his owned and couldn’t attend that day. He asked if we’d rather watch the game in air-conditioned comfort and, as nonchalantly as I could manage, I said, “Yeah, I guess so.”

If you’ve never had the experience of sitting in an air-conditioned suite and looking down upon poor people sweating, you have missed out. I highly recommend it, although it is doubtful I’ll ever have the opportunity again. I didn’t ask how much a skybox costs because, for one, I thought it was rude, and, for two, I know I’m never going to be in the market anyway. I must confess, however, that it was awfully nice to have had the pleasure that one time. Such luxury could ruin a man if he wasn’t careful.

Even though we’ll be sitting outside for the LSU game this weekend, if we go, the weather is supposed to be very nearly perfect. I think everything will be fun except the game itself, but at least we’ll take our beating in autumnal comfort. And who knows, we got so lucky last time, getting free tickets to a suite like that, maybe lightning will strike twice and State will beat LSU. I’ve probably got a better chance of getting more tickets to a skybox for the remainder of my days, but like I said before, “If we weren’t all optimists…” 

It’s a long shot, I know, but maybe God likes our Bulldogs as much as he does those eastern ones. Don’t laugh, it just might be.

Southern Support

There is a relatively famous comedian here in the south named James Gregory, who bills himself as the funniest man in America. I say relatively famous simply because he is not as well-known as Jeff Foxworthy and some of the other  blue-collar comedy guys. It’s a shame, really, because he’s about as funny as anybody I ever heard. He has made some very pertinent observations about the culture down here, and they are spot-on and hilarious.

One of the things he had commented on at some length is the fact that in the rural south, during a time of illness, tragedy or personal crisis, the standard operating procedure is to bring food to whomever is in distress. Specifically, I heard him say one time, on a tape a friend had loaned me, that if you give a bunch of southerners a dead body and some potato salad they can throw a funeral. 

In the last few weeks I have been the recipient of just such deep-rooted generosity. My wife had surgery three weeks ago and you wouldn’t believe the mountain of food that has been brought to the house. I think I’ve gained about 10 pounds, which is problem enough when you’re 6’4”. When you’re 5’8” standing on your tiptoes it borders on a disaster. I’m very near to the point of needing to buy a whole bunch of new pants. 

We’ve had casseroles of every sort delivered and all of the ones we’ve tasted have been good. We’ve been forced to freeze a good number of them, which guarantees nobody around here will go hungry anytime soon. The truly mixed blessing has been in the number of desserts we’ve gotten. I am not normally a dessert eater, not because I don’t like them, but because I can’t afford the extra calories. But to me it would seem quite rude not to eat the things our friends have gone to the trouble of making for us. Ingratitude may very well be the least forgivable sin in the entire south, and I’d hate to transgress in such an unmannerly and disrespectful way.

I have a nephew who lives in Dothan, Alabama. He has a friend, a retired Baptist preacher, who has always been a stickler for healthy eating and who once said he wouldn’t eat a doughnut for a thousand dollars. The Reverend, while he was pastoring a church, had a heart attack and, true to form, all the little old ladies of the church inundated him with food. Naturally there were a ton of desserts delivered to his home.

Had he not been so clever he’d have been in a dilemma. He knew he couldn’t give the sweets away or he’d be caught for sure. But he knew he wasn’t going to eat all those cakes, pies and all that banana pudding either. He also knew, with 100% certainty, that he was sure to be asked about all those delicacies later on. So, as soon as the deliverers made it down the front steps, all the unhealthy stuff was dumped in the trash. Right then and there. Whenever Aunt Lucy asked later on how he’d enjoyed her blueberry pie, he was able to answer in complete truthfulness, “That stuff doesn’t last long around my house”!

I am happy to report that none of the good stuff has lasted very long at my house either. And not a scrap of it was thrown in the trash.

And just so you know, a whole lot of prayers have been answered in the last three weeks. My wife is not going to need chemo. We are more grateful for that than for the desserts!

Optimistic as a Survivor...

As we hurtle toward the end of August, the odd weather continues. It seems to rain every day now and, as much as it pains me to say it, I kind of wish we’d get a dry week or two. It takes a lot of rain for me to start wishing it would quit, but we’re about there now.

In addition to the abundance of rainfall, which I still prefer to a drought every time, this past Saturday saw a long-standing weather record fall. In Mobile, the nearest town of any size from here, the high temperature was 78 degrees. That stands as a record low high for August 17th in Mobile, Alabama. If we’re going to set weather records in August, this is the kind I like. Cool weather in August might not be as big a deal as winning the lottery, but it’s definitely up there pretty close.

As I mentioned in my last commentary, we had the SNA trade show in Atlanta last week for the first time in 5 or 6 years. Like most people, I went with a distinct feeling of uncertainty, but it turned out pretty well. It is a much smaller show than it used to be, like most of them are now, but it was fairly well attended. And maybe more importantly, there was a good bit of optimism amongst the conventioneers. I have no way of knowing how to quantify optimism, although I’m sure somebody must know. After all, we seem to see another consumer outlook poll every other day. But overall there was a feeling among the folks I visited with that things are slowly on the mend.

I have waffled as I write this whether or not to tell the following story – just as I waffled before the show about whether or not put up a certain political sign in my booth. Nobody has ever accused me of being all that smart, but I didn’t fall off the turnip truck just yesterday either. I know that, as a salesman, you never venture into the realm of politics, just as it’s considered wise not to discuss religion or politics with people you don’t know very well. Oddly enough, I have never been all that bashful about discussing either topic. You have probably figured out by now that I have a firmly held opinion concerning just about everything, whether it’s an informed one or not.

At any rate, I had a sign made a month or so ago just for SNA. A picture of it is attached. I was thinking about how difficult it has been just to keep the doors open for the last five years and thought it would be funny, sort of, to base it on the Survivor show. I’ve never watched it, but I’ve seen bits and pieces and I know what the logo looks like. To a certain degree I’m proud of myself. I haven’t the slightest bit of creativity in me and the sign pretty well hit the mark.

At the risk of sounding cliché, I have some good friends who lean to the left when it comes to politics. I have no problem with this set of circumstances; they have just as much right to their opinions, wrong as they may be, as I do. And luckily, none of them seemed to be too terribly offended by my sign. It was meant to be funny in the first place. Sort of.

Likewise, I hope you are not offended by my stroke of artistic mediocrity either. I had a couple of folks stop by the booth to tell me they were supporters of the President, although I’m sure there were others who just didn’t say anything. 

If you are offended I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart. I was just trying to be funny. Sort of. (If you would like to see the logo, send me an email and I can send it to you - CLICK HERE for my email address)



Great weather and Prayers for Melinda

Well, the uncharacteristically mild summer weather continues here. We’ve had an abundance of rain for the last few weeks and it’s been pretty rare for the mercury to rise above the 90 degree mark, a blessing for the month of July if ever I saw one. I realize that 90 degrees with high humidity isn’t going to fool anybody into thinking they’re in Vermont, but altogether it hasn’t been too bad. Hopefully we’ll be able to make it through the worst of the summer months without any extreme heat or a hurricane. That would be extra nice.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank all of you who have called and sent notes to say you’re praying for my wife, Melinda, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last week. I have always known the nursery industry was made up of the best of the best of people in the world, but the last week and a half has been a humbling, heartwarming example of just how true that is. Words cannot say how much I appreciate the outpouring of love and concern we’ve experienced in the last 10 days or so.

We are indeed fortunate that her cancer was caught very early. Because Melinda has always been faithful to get her mammograms done on time her prognosis is excellent, albeit mostly fun-less for the next few months. From what we know now, it looks like surgery will cure her without having to go through the difficulties of chemo or radiation. My wife, being the girly-girl she is, was initially much more concerned with the prospect of losing her hair than with the possibility of dying. I, of course, am of the opinion that hair is vastly overrated anyway. I just want her to be ok.

If we can get by this thing (and by we I mean she) without chemotherapy, that would be huge. To be sure, the surgery is not going to be easy but at least the knowledge that it’ll be behind us in a few months is comforting. If you are the praying sort I’d appreciate it if you’d put Melinda on your prayer list. As I’ve been telling all our friends who promise to pray for her; “she needs the prayer and you need the practice.” We all do.

As for the happenings at the nursery, the moderate weather and abundant rainfall has kicked the plants into overdrive. Some things in particular, like Loropetalum, Confederate Jasmine and Ligustrum are growing like well-fertilized kudzu. Unfortunately it has had the same effect on the weeds, which we are battling to a possible stalemate. I know you know this already, but it is amazing how much work there is to do on a nursery. Always. I’ve said it so many times before but one of the most accurate statements I’ve ever heard is that there are only two things more confining than a nursery; a dairy and jail. To be perfectly honest about it, I’ve never spent a whole lot of time on a dairy farm, but I don’t need to. I can tell you for certain, even from just the limited exposure I’ve had, growing plants is a heck of a lot more fun than milking cows. Smells a lot better too.

See You at SNA 2013 - August 5-7!

I hope you had a nice and restful 4th of July, as I did. We have had plenty of rain during the last week or so, and really all summer long as I think of it. It has been hot here some, but just the normal summertime hot. And hot and wet is much better than hot and dry.

 

My younger brother lives in Houston, Texas (there is a Houston in Mississippi for those of you with only a rudimentary knowledge of Mississippi geography) and he sent me a text Saturday before last to say it was 106 degrees there. Not 106 heat index, 106 degrees. I wouldn’t wish that off on anybody.

 

I would like to call your attention not to a plant at the moment, but to an event. Coming up in just under a month we will have the first Southern Nursery Association trade show in more than 4 years. The exact dates are August 5th – 7th  and it’ll be held at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, Georgia. I haven’t been there myself yet, but I know it’s down near the airport, away from the downtown area.

 

The marketplace will be held in conjunction with the Southern Plant Conference, the SNA Research Conference and the State Officers Conference. To be sure, it is a slimmed-down, streamlined version of its former self, but so are most of our businesses. I have heard some nay-saying regarding this revival, I’ve probably uttered a few nays myself about it, but I think it’s time for us to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and move ahead. You’ve heard me say before, just recently in fact, that if you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got (yep, that’s why we’re growing bananas now). If for no other reason than that, you will find me – complete with a display – at the show this year.

 

If you’re interested in finding out more, and I can’t imagine you wouldn’t by now, you can call or e-mail me. If you want factual information you can visit the SNA website at www.sna.org to get all the details. If you want to know the latest and greatest with the goings on of the nursery industry and to associate with the survivors, make plans to be in attendance. I hope to see you there!

Great Hydrangeas, Heucheras, and a whole lot of God's Grace!

On my last availability list I mentioned that the Hydrangea paniculatas (Phantom and Limelight) were beginning to look good. Now they are spectacular. If you want something to make your customers stop and look, I suggest you try some of these. It would take a natural born plant hater not to like these guys.

We grew our first crop of Heucheras this year. They are colorful, shade-loving perennials that I’d seen in a landscape at a resort a couple of years ago. I heard somewhere once that if you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got. I’m thinking that’s a very true truism. Plus, growing new plants is usually an interesting proposition for me, if for no other reason than having a little break in the monotony.  You know what they say about variety being the spice of life and all.

Since I had no idea which varieties would grow well here, and more importantly which ones would sell well, I had to rely on the advice of the salesman I bought them from, a situation fraught with peril if you don’t know who you’re dealing with. In this case I lucked out for the most part, because at the time I didn’t know the salesman at all. He suggested four varieties for starters so that’s what I did. Three of the four turned out good, one of them especially so. We still have a few Fire Chief and Brass Lantern on hand, both of which are nice. We sold out of one called Black Beauty very early, so guess which one I’m going to grow more of next year? The real dog of the bunch is a white one called Paris. I’ll scratch that one for sure next year. I don’t think it’s all that happy in south Mississippi anyway.

I don’t know if it made the news where you live or not, but there was an incident at my neighbor’s farm, about a mile from here, week before last that was all the buzz in the community for a few days. A good friend of mine and his wife own a very large produce farm, about 80 acres of which is in a “U-Pick” field. You wouldn’t believe how many folks show up on Saturday mornings, especially early in the season, ready to get out there and pick a bunch of tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplants and okra. I am not exaggerating when I say it’s something like 3,000 people on a decent Saturday. By sunup it looks like you kicked open an ant bed around there.

At any rate, on Wednesday night, the 5th of June, we got a little over two inches of rain. On Thursday morning a charter bus load of first graders from Baldwin County, Alabama showed up for a summer field trip. Unbeknownst to anybody there, the rain from the night before had opened up a long abandoned well bore, about a foot in diameter, but still covered by a layer of grass. A six year old girl walked off the bus, shepherded by one of the farm employees, and walked straight into the hole.

It is only by the grace of God that it happened right there where everybody saw it. If it had been out in the middle of the field, between rows of chest-high vegetable plants, they might never have known what happened to her. As it was, a couple of employees, both friends of mine, sprang into action immediately. What they didn’t know at the time was how far she’d fallen. You couldn’t see very far down into the hole, but she was answering them when they called her. As it turned out, she fell 35 feet.

The next time you think about it, look up a light pole or a tall tree and see if you can judge just how far 35’ is. Or better yet, if you really want to get some perspective on it, climb up a tree 35 feet and look down. I promise you it’ll make your stomach feel queasy if you’re looking down that far. Luckily for the little girl there was a lot of mud in the bottom of the well and she didn’t break her legs and back when she landed.

Within a couple of minutes my friends had found some rope, lowered it down into the blackness, and instructed the child to hang on while they pulled her out. She made it about halfway up before falling back down, unable to hold on. The local authorities had been alerted almost instantly and were there within a few minutes, but nobody had any idea of how to effect the rescue. The general consensus was that it was too dangerous to try pulling her out with the rope again.

My friends on the scene tell me that during the whole ordeal, or the hole ordeal if you want to be glib about it, even shining a flashlight into the well you couldn’t see the child. Fortunately for everybody involved, one of my friends who works at the farm is also a youth minister and, somehow, he was able to keep his wits and talk to the child, keeping her calm. I have never thought of myself as particularly claustrophobic, but I don’t know how I would’ve handled being so far in the ground in such a tight spot.

A special rescue team was called in from Hattiesburg to try and make the extraction. Hattiesburg is an hour away from here if you’re in a hurry. They did get here eventually and took charge of the situation. They set up a tripod right over the hole and lowered, but use of a pulley, a special harness into the well. They managed to tell the child how to slip the cuffs over her wrists and, once they got her positioned, hoisted her to safety. She was caked in red mud from head to toe, everything except her eyeballs.  She didn’t have a scratch on her.

From the time she fell in till the time she got out was just over three and a half hours. God is truly good. I get choked up just thinking about how relieved everybody there was. Certainly there were a whole bunch of prayers answered in Rocky Creek that day.

My great hope now that the child is safely home is that lawyers don’t get involved. My friends who own the farm are very good and decent people who could not possibly have prevented the whole affair. The well bore, which might have been a hundred years old, was filled in with concrete the very next day. Being the kind of person I am I had briefly considered making a big plywood sign that said “Watch For Holes” and putting it up at the entrance to the U-Pick field before daylight last Saturday morning. I decided against it. My friend has a good sense of humor, but it might not be that good. And there is the little issue of his excellent marksmanship. He is a dove hunting buddy of mine and I’ve seen him shoot enough birds to know that he sure as heck wouldn’t miss me if, in fact, he didn’t see the humor in the situation.

It would be funny, though. Maybe I’ll give it a year or so and try it then.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Phantom', great perennials, and then remembering how times have changed!

I hope you all had a happy and restful Memorial Day, if you had the day off. It’s a shame that so few people really spend much time thinking about the whole reason for the holiday in the first place, although I’m sure all of you get it. At any rate, say a prayer for those who serve in the military, and especially for the families of those whom we’ve lost. 

The macrophylla Hydrangeas are blooming and are beautiful, and the paniculatas are not far behind. I don’t know if you got a chance to see the ‘Phantom’ Hydrangeas bloom last year or not, but they are very impressive. As you may know, Phantom is a non-patented relative - a sister, I think - of Limelight. I think I like Phantom better because it has thicker stems, and therefore doesn’t tend to droop as much. I know I very much like the fact that it’s not patented and does not have to be planted in a special container. If you’re looking for a way to extend sales into early summer, look no further; Phantom Hydrangea, like Limelight, will stop traffic when it’s blooming.

The Rudbeckias are also especially nice at the moment. They’re just starting to send up some blooms too, and will be very eye-catching for the next three weeks or so. And although we don’t have many of them left, the New Gold Lantana are looking really good. I tell all the lay people I meet, when we’re talking about gardening, that a Lantana’s three favorite things are heat, drought and neglect. It’s no wonder they’re so popular.

If you’re into container gardening, you might want to try the Carex ‘Bronzita’. It is a most unusual color (for a live plant, anyway) of bronzy-brown. They tend to look very good and to thrive in mixed container plantings. For lack of a better analogy, they’re kind of like khaki pants, they look good with almost anything.

I have gotten a good bit of feedback lately about the stories I tell in this commentary. So far, all of it has been positive, which is good because I have to struggle to keep from getting too political when I speak or write. As you might expect, I have some very firmly held opinions on politics, and just about everything else for that matter. But unlike some of the talking heads I see on TV, I don’t find it absolutely necessary to impress my views upon you. So, rather than start an argument, I’ll try to stay clear of any real controversy. 

Having said that, I am struck by how much our culture has changed its views on guns in the last couple of decades. I have read recently about small kids getting suspended from school for drawing guns, for pointing their fingers and pretending to shoot guns, and, in one case, of a boy who bit his sandwich into the shape of a gun and pointed it at someone. Like all normal people, I am heartsick when I hear of a school shooting and am of the opinion that all rational steps should be taken to prevent them. But to suspend a second grader for something like that shows that a big chunk of our society has completely taken leave of its senses.

I know you are not going to believe this story, but it’s true, and it’ll show you just how much our attitudes have changed since I was a boy. I have written a number of times about my parents’ sense of humor, especially my mother’s. This time it’s all on my dad, because this little stunt was his idea.

Every year at Rocky Creek Elementary, which ran from 1st through 8th grades, we had what we called a Halloween Carnival, and it was a very big to-do. There weren’t all that many entertainment opportunities in rural south Mississippi at the time and a lot of folks came to the Halloween Carnival whether they had any real ties to the school or not. There is the real possibility that I’m remembering big here, like we all do sometimes, but as I recall it the Halloween Carnival was almost as popular as the county fair.

My parents were in charge of the haunted house one year, and it must’ve been when I was in the 6th or 7th grade. My dad, in collaboration with the principal and a couple of teachers decided they needed to set the stage for the carnival that night by having an “incident” at an assembly during the day. 

Sometime after lunch the entire school was gathered in the gym and Mr. Dossett, our 7th grade science teacher, hiding in one of the dressing rooms, put on a pair of shoulder pads, a big, loose-fitting jacket and one of those rubber masks that covers the entire head. He bore a striking resemblance to the hunchback of Notre Dame by the time they got him fixed up and would have been startling to any adult who happened upon him. For a bunch of elementary school kids he might as well have been a real, live werewolf.

At the appointed time, as the principal was reminding everybody about the big carnival that night, Mr. Dossett burst into the gym. As if the sight of a monster wasn’t traumatic enough, my dad ran in right behind him, shooting at him with a .22 caliber blank pistol. Almost none of the teachers were aware of the hoax and were just as horrified as the children, a situation that only made the whole thing more frightening for the students. It is very unsettling, when you’re eight years old, to see your teacher hysterical. Pandemonium doesn’t even begin to describe the scene.

What is beyond my comprehension now is that, once Mr. Dossett took off his mask and everything settled down (it took a while), everybody there thought it was funny. Nobody in his right mind would even think of pulling a stunt like that now, and if you did you’d wind up with a very long time to contemplate the error of your ways. And rightly so.

Jeff's Weather Opinions

Well, the crazy weather continues. As I write this, on the 4th day of May, it is 45 degrees outside. I realize 45 on May 4th might not make news if you live in, say, Nebraska or somewhere. But for the northern gulf coast it is pretty chilly for this time of year. I don’t think we broke a record this morning but we just might do it tonight. I’m of the opinion that, if you’re going to set new record lows, May is a better time to do it than January. We probably ought to all soak up as much cool as we can before summer gets here.

In addition to the unseasonably cool weather we’re having, we got a couple of deluges this week. Wednesday, during the day, we got just under an inch of rain. Wednesday night we got more than 5 inches. I know this because our gauge here at the nursery goes up to 5 inches and it was full. WKRG, in Mobile, said our area of the county got between 6 and 9 inches overnight. We got another three quarters of an inch last night before the weather finally cleared and turned cooler. As a grower it takes a lot of rain for me to start wishing it would quit, but I would be ok with a couple of dry weeks now. Mark Twain said it best, “Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”

Personally, I hate getting record weather of any sort because it sets the Chicken Little, global warming / global cooling, sky-is-falling-and-it’s-all-our-fault hysterics atwitter. I have read a considerable amount of the argument from both sides of the debate and have made up my mind that I really don’t know who’s right. And I’m not too sure anybody else does either. What I do know is that we, and by we I mean the intelligentsia who claim to fully understand the dynamics of global weather patterns, are being more than a little presumptuous in insisting we know how weather is supposed to be in the first place.

For me it is a simple question of considering the following numbers; if you take the literalist stance on the book of Genesis, the earth is about 6,000 years old. If you take the generally accepted opinion of geological academics, the earth is about 14,000,000,000 years old. Weather records have been kept for some 140 years now and if you divide 140 by 6,000 you get 2%. If you try to divide 140 by 14 billion, and I can’t because my calculator won’t allow that many digits, you get a number that is too small to comprehend. For anybody, no matter how learned or how loftily elected, to insist that the weather anywhere is supposed to be as it has been for the last 140 years is beyond absurd.

What I tell everybody who will listen is this: the take-home message in the whole climate change debate is that God gave us natural resources to use wisely, and we should. Whether you are an Al Gore acolyte or are dubious about the whole thing the proper course of action is the same. Reduce, re-use and recycle – and plant something to counteract the possible consequences of CO2 in the atmosphere. And for God’s sake quit worrying about it all the time and enjoy life a little bit. It really is going to be ok.

New Additions to Availability (and some other thoughts from Jeff)

You may have noticed a good number of additions to this list if you’re paying attention, and I certainly hope you are. There are a couple of reasons for the new listings. First, we’re finally getting some growing weather after a protracted winter. It wasn’t all that cold here this year, the coldest morning we had it was 27 degrees, but it seemed like winter would never end. Even as I write this we’re having a near-record cool snap for this, the 21st day of April. But we’re getting more warm days than cool ones now and stuff has finally started to flush. You’ll be seeing a lot more new items being added in the next few editions.

The other reason for the new listings is that we’ve finished shipping all the early-booking orders and we have some odds and ends left over here and there. As a grower, you want to try to cover your bookings as closely as possible because you don’t want to come to the end of the season with a lot of plants left sitting around. But on the other hand, there are few aspects of my job I enjoy less than having to call a customer who placed an order in January, one whom I’ve solemnly promised to hold plants for, and try and explain why some of his order isn’t going to ship. It ranks right in there with explaining to the State Trooper why you were in such a hurry before he pulled you over. Mishaps like this happen sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid them, but it’s a tightrope all growers walk.

I will be most interested to see how the weather affects the industry over the next two months. March, for us and for everybody else I’ve talked with, was pretty slow due to the cold, wet weather. Now that we’re having unusually cool weather as we head into May I’ll be curious to see if we have an extension of spring sales. Nothing would suit me any better than that.

One of the most widely held articles of faith around here is that all the cold weather is gone when the pecan trees leaf out, and they’re leafed out now. There are exceptions to every rule but I must say, even as one who views most of these old husband’s tales with suspicion, I can’t remember getting any serious cold after pecans begin to bud out. Hopefully this year won’t be any different. 

It has been an extraordinary week of news following the terrorist attack in Boston. Like many of you, I have been riveted to the television and to various online news sources as everything unfolded up there. I was stunned when the perpetrators turned out to be Muslim extremists and not Presbyterians or Methodists. Never would’ve seen that one coming. Religion of peace, my foot.

I hope all of you who pray will join me in praying for those impacted by the attack. For all the problems we face as a country, and they are numerous and varied, it’s still the best place in the world to live. When I see the way people reacted in the aftermath of the bombings, and especially the way the police worked to identify the suspects so quickly, I am reminded of an old Lee Greenwood song and I, too, am proud to be an American.

Experience Brings Appreciation!

In my last commentary I made reference to the fact that I’d grown up with a large Reeves Spiraea growing at the end of our sidewalk, and that it had served as a perpetual supply of switches for keeping three rambunctious boys in line. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way being critical of the tactics my parents used to get us into adulthood. In fact, as I’ve gotten into advanced middle-age myself, I have come to more fully appreciate all that my parents did for us. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we never really lacked for anything either. I know now that for my parents to have provided for us as well as they did must have been a Herculean struggle indeed.

 

But I got to thinking of some of the whippings I got (and some I should’ve gotten but didn’t) and two particular incidents stand out among all the rest. Now let’s face it, no child ever understands why he needs to have his seat warmed up, but in the case of the two incidents I have in mind, I was convinced I was the victim of the most unjust, unfair cases of child abuse ever perpetrated in all of human history.

 

Both events must have occurred in the very early 70s because I think I must’ve been about 8 or 9 years old. The first incident happened at my grandmother’s house at some sort of family gathering or another when I got into trouble for following my dad’s advice. I have a cousin who’s maybe 3 or 4 years younger than I am who was a terrible child. Luckily for him, us and the rest of society he outgrew most of his flaws and is now, in fact, a very decent and hard-working family man.

 

At any rate, this youngster had, among a lot of other undesirable characteristics, the nasty habit of spitting on people. On the way to the function I’d complained to my parents about his proclivity to do this and my dad said, and I quote, “Well, if he spits on you, slap him.” We didn’t get in the door good before he did, and I did. There is a considerable developmental difference between an 8 year old and a 5 year old, and I know I shouldn’t have done it – I knew it even then – but he needed it and I had been given a green light, so I gave him an open-handed belt across the chops.

 

He screamed like he was on fire and every adult in the house came running. Before I could say anything my cousin pointed at me and said “He hit me!” I suspect my dad already knew the reason why but because the boy’s parents were standing there he asked my why I’d done it. And I replied, right there in front of the entire family, “You told me to!” He said “I did not!” and, like lightning, pulled off his belt and flailed the daylights out of me. I couldn’t believe the rank injustice of it at the time, but now, given the same situation, would do exactly the same to either of my boys. As you grow up you learn there are some things you just can’t say in some places, true or not, and I had left my dad no choice at all.

 

The other one happened because I thought I’d pull a funny prank on my mother. Both of my parents had a sense of humor, but my mom was a gifted practical joker. I just didn’t know at the time that some things are not funny to your momma.

 

At that time, and maybe even now for all I know, you could buy at the dime store a toothpaste sized tube of a product called Vampire Blood. The stuff actually did look pretty real, too. I had gotten a tube and, in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, stood in front of the mirror and emptied the entire package into my hair. It oozed out of my hairline and down across my face. I distinctly remember having to sneak past the bathroom door, where my mother was, to get out of the house and pull off the ruse. I could barely contain my laughter at the thought of scaring my mom like that and I knew she’d think it was hilarious too, once the shock wore off.

 

I got out of the house undetected and went a little way out into the yard, turned around, and ran screaming toward the house. At just about the time I got half-way up the sidewalk my mom, hearing the calamity, appeared at the screen door. I still remember the look on her face. I looked like I’d been hit in the top of the head with an axe and my mom looked like she thought I’d been hit in the top of the head with an axe, which was precisely the effect I’d hoped for.

 

Try as I might I couldn’t keep from laughing at her expression. I thought for sure she’d double over and laugh with me at how well I’d gotten her. As a child, you have no idea of how much a parent, the good ones anyway, worry about their children getting hurt. As such, you have no idea how unfunny a prank like this is to a mother and how unlikely it is she’s going to immediately laugh it off.

 

She tore my ass up, is what she did. She stomped down the steps, grabbed me by my wrist, and started dragging me toward the house. She marched me back up the steps, through the dining room and to their bedroom. My dad kept his belts hanging on a tie rack just inside the bedroom door and that’s as far as we made it. She wasn’t big enough to inflict any real pain, but it didn’t stop her from trying. I was, at the time, stunned at her reaction. In hindsight, once again, I’m certain I’d have reacted the same way.

 

It’s odd, really, the strange little things that make you miss your parents. And to be honest about it, if I could talk to them again I’d just as soon not get another whipping, but no children were ever raised who were more loved than my siblings and me. I am in no hurry to get there, but we’re going to have a lot to laugh about whenever I join them on the other side!

What's New at Rocky Creek...

I guess you can tell from our shrinking availability list that we’ve been shipping a good bit of stuff here lately. But, oddly enough, we grow these things to sell so I’m ok with turning our inventory loose. I can tell you from bitter experience that it’s better to be selling plants than throwing them on the dump pile. There aren’t a lot of things in business more disheartening than that.

 

I would like to mention a couple of plants I think you might be interested in, or that you at least ought to consider. The first is Physocarpus, commonly called Ninebark. The first time I ever saw this plant it was in the yard of a good turkey hunting buddy of mine in Nelson County, Virginia. I thought it was beautiful so I came home and ordered some to try for myself. I wouldn’t care to consider how many times I have fallen into the trap of growing things that I like, rather than things customers will buy, but it has happened a lot. Some of us are slow learners, but sometimes even slow learners get it right. This appears to be just such a case.

 

Physocarpus reminds me somewhat of one of my all-time favorite plants, Bridal Wreath Spiraea, in that it has a loose, cascading growth habit. I don’t know, and I never will, if a Ninebark makes as good a switch as does Spiraea. We had a fully mature Spiraea growing at the end of our sidewalk when I was a boy and it served as a permanent and convenient source of behavior modification tools for my parents. I can truthfully say I never got a whipping I didn’t deserve, and, in fact, probably needed a few I didn’t get. But if my parents ever heard of the concept of putting unruly children into “time out” they dismissed it post-haste in favor of the less contemporary “spare the rod and spoil the child” tactic. It worked too.

 

But back to Ninebark; the foliage is a beautiful maroon – bronze and the stems absolutely cover themselves with tiny pinkish white flowers in the spring. The blooms look almost identical to Crabapple blooms to me. I have noticed a few buds popping here in the last couple of days. I imagine it’ll be in full bloom by the last week of the month.

 

I think we are on the southern edge of Ninebark’s range, judging from the way it has performed on the nursery. I nearly drowned the first few of them I grew by putting them in an area that tended to hold water, so I would not recommend treating it like a Wax Myrtle or an Itea. They need full sun and a well-drained site to thrive. They will stop traffic when they bloom. If you haven’t tried Ninebark you might want to think about it. I think it’ll sell for you.

 

The other new plant I’d like to point out, or new to us at least, is a shade-loving perennial called Heuchera. The only ones we have ready at the moment are the ‘Black Beauty’, which is actually a very deep maroon in color. The foliage is the thing on this plant, although they do flower. In that sense they’re a lot like Hostas. They aren’t normally grown for their floral display.

 

Heucheras come in all different colors. We have, waiting in the wings, a green and white variety called ‘Paris’, a bright red one called ‘Fire Chief’ and a bronze one called ‘Brass Lantern’. My guess is that all of these varieties will be ready in another 2 or 3 weeks.

 

I saw a stunning display of Heucheras a few years ago at a resort in north Mississippi. Until then I’d never paid much attention to them, but when used in mass they are make quite a statement. I have had a number of garden center customers tell me recently that they also do very well in mixed containers, which are all the rage these days. To me, Heucheras look like something you’d find on an upscale salad bar. I have never tasted them, although I have been tempted to do so. It’s just that, with age, you lose some of that try-anything-once mentality. I’m told that wisdom comes from good judgment, which comes from experience, which mostly comes from poor judgment. I can show you the scars to prove it.

 

Getting Ready for a Great Spring!

Ok, I don’t want to gloat here, because I hate gloaters as much as anybody, but we’ve had a run of very beautiful weather for the last week or 10 days along the northern gulf coast. I’ve noticed as I’ve watched the news that those of you who live a good ways inland are still in the midst of winter, and I really hate it for you. 

The Japanese Magnolias are absolutely stunning down here at the moment. Normally this is about as good an indicator of an imminent bark-busting freeze as anything I can think of, but I think they’re going to get away with it this year. We’re supposed to get some ugly weather mid-week and then some colder weather by Friday, but even then I think we’re headed for lows in the mid-30s at night. That’ll actually do us some good because I don’t want everything to begin to grow and bloom too early. Last year there were a whole bunch of azaleas in the Mobile area that bloomed so early on the nursery they were rendered temporarily unsellable. We sure don’t need that again.  

Last Wednesday while I was eating lunch I saw on the weather report that it was 22 degrees in St. Louis at noon. I realize that St. Louis is not all that close to the Gulf of Mexico, but it ain’t at the North Pole either. All I can say to you good people is hang on, spring will make it there eventually. Or you could move down this way and save yourself a whole lot of misery, at least until July.

I said in my last commentary that I thought the show in Mobile was going to be a good one, and it was. We had very good traffic at the booth pretty much all day Thursday, the first day of the show. Friday was a little slower – it almost always is, but even then it was better than it had been in several years. I think things are going to be better for most of us than they have been for the last 4 or 5 years. I guess we’ll see. As the old saying goes, time will tell, but it FEELS like things are on the upswing. 

I don’t know if you were ever involved or not, or if you even remember it, but way back in the days before we had the Gulf States show in Mobile there were two shows in its place; the Mississippi-Louisiana show, which rotated between Jackson and Baton Rouge, and the Alabama show, which alternated between Mobile and Birmingham. The having two shows part was bad enough, but the real 40-yard penalty was that they were held on Saturdays and Sundays. I can remember actually watching the Super Bowl on a TV some clever soul had set up in his booth. Everybody in the trade show hall, all 12 of us, were huddled around watching the game. Needless to say, commerce was at a very slow pace by the end of the show.

I, for one, am glad we don’t do weekend trade shows anymore. Working a booth at an event like that is harder than it would seem even in the best of circumstances, but to have to do so while the Super Bowl is being played would be drudgery indeed. The nursery business is a lot of work, although it’s not nearly as physical as it was 50 years ago. My granddaddy, given the state of the industry in his day, would undoubtedly consider me a softie, or worse. And I would have a difficult time in defending the charge. But I am mighty glad we can stay in business and not spend Super Bowl Sunday in a nearly deserted convention center somewhere.

January Show Update and 2013 Outlook...

Well, we all made it through another year it looks like. I usually don’t think too much about the changing of the calendar, but this time I can actually say I’m glad that one’s over. I won’t say 2013 couldn’t be worse than 2012 was, pronouncements like that tend to come back to haunt you, but it would take a lot to make it so.

I won’t bore you with a litany of my problems because I imagine you have enough of your own. If you don’t, just be patient, I promise they’ll find you eventually. We used to have a preacher at our church who said that, basically, life has three phases: entering a time of trial, living in a time of trial, and exiting a time of trial. I have no idea if he had a therapist or not, but you’d think anybody that pessimistic would probably need a good one. My theory is that life pretty much boils down to what you make of it, and I choose to make it good. I will admit, though, that the last five years have been very challenging on a number of fronts.

I just got back from the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show in Baltimore. I’ve been there to walk the show before but this time I had a booth. Since this was my first time to exhibit I don’t really have a frame of reference, but I was pleasantly surprised at how it went. There were still some tales of woe to be heard, but for the most part the crowd was decidedly optimistic. I hope (believe, actually) that optimism is contagious and that this spring is going to see better sales growth than we’ve had in the last 5 years. 

I went to MANTS just hoping to make some new contacts; ones that show some promise anyway. To my great surprise I actually wrote a few orders and I did, in fact, meet some people who were very interested in our products. I have been to shows in the past where you could’ve fired a cannonball down the aisle and not endangered a soul. That wasn’t the case in Baltimore. Being a first-time exhibitor my booth was somewhat in the nether regions of the convention center, but even there the foot-traffic wasn’t bad. The whole thing led me to believe that, for all of us, things are finally looking up.

As you may have noticed from browsing our availability list, we are a little light on inventory at the moment. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, because I’d much rather be sold out than throwing plants on the dump pile. But you can’t sell out of an empty wagon no matter how charming and persuasive you may be.

If the weather behaves normally we should have a good flush of growth on everything by around the middle of April. I’m not going to say we’ll be loaded for bear at that point, but we will have a lot more stuff ready to sell by then. One of the things that makes the nursery business so difficult is trying to match production to sales, given that we’re shooting at a target that is 3 – 4 years in the future. That has been especially so in the last five years. I can remember an old joke from back in the eighties, when farming was so tough, that John Deere had introduced a new model tractor that had no seat and no steering wheel. It was said to be for those farmers that had lost their rear-ends and didn’t know which way to turn. I know exactly how they felt.

One of the more popular items we had at the MANTS show was our line of 8” azaleas. We took orders for a good number of them there and had promises of more orders to come in the next few weeks. If you are going to need any of those you probably want to get your orders in sometime in the next two or three weeks. We’re a long way from running out, but they are going pretty quickly.

The Gulf States Horticultural Expo in Mobile starts this coming Thursday and I think it’s going to be a very good show; the best we’ve had since 2007. If you happen to be coming to the show I hope you’ll set aside a little time to come out and tour the nursery. We’re only about 30 minutes from west Mobile and I’m pretty sure you’d be glad you took the time to look us up. We’re a little off the beaten path, like just about everybody else in Mississippi is, but it’s an easy drive from the Semmes / Mobile area to get to our place. So, give us a call if you need directions and come on out. We’d love to show you around!

We're receiving Spring Orders now - Do we have yours yet?

Last time I left off in discussing the current political state of affairs in the U.S., at least as I see them. I promised to put forth a couple of possible solutions to what I think is a serious problem; namely the fact that people can vote who pay no taxes. If the following prospective remedies seem overly simplified to you, you should consider the source.

 

It would seem to me that we need to either disallow the non-taxpayer to vote, or ensure that everybody pays something in income taxes. The first seems harsh and unfeeling, even to me. And given that we live in a society where even the requirement to provide identification to vote sets off a firestorm of controversy, I don’t think there’s much chance of that ever happening. As an aside, I, personally, am very suspicious of any person who would refuse to show their ID to vote, but that is another matter for another time.

 

So then, my proposal to save the world is to make sure every adult pays something in income taxes, even if only a small amount. My hope is that people would become better informed about the actions of Congress if they had a vested interest in it. People being what they are, that might be little more than wishful thinking. As my good friend Larry Barrett always says, “We better watch out, we’re about to get as much government as we’re paying for.”

 

Ok, enough of the political and on to the horticultural. Our policy at the nursery has always been that we begin to take spring bookings after Thanksgiving. If you are going to need plants in the spring, and would like for us to hold them for you, I’d suggest you get your orders in as early as possible. There is plenty of Wal-Mart grade nursery stock out there, but good plants are getting harder to come by.

 

Also, just so you know, we normally tag 10% - 15% of each variety shipped so everything can be properly sorted upon arrival. But if you’d like, we can individually tag your plants. We can even put your nursery name, your prices and even bar-codes on every plant, if it suits you. We charge 10 cents extra per plant to cover our labor costs, but many of our customers love the service, especially the pricing. Let us know if you want that and we’ll be glad to do it for you!

 

Finally, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. We did, with the minor exception of my wife’s insistence that we have our Christmas card photo taken while the boys were home from school. Three-ring circuses have been staged with less activity than we had trying to pose two very unwilling college boys and a trio of active Labrador retrievers. But it was fun. I’ll attach the card with the next update.

Problems and Solutions...

Of all the segments of our economy, manufacturing has had almost as rough a time for the last five years as we in the nursery business have had. But if you look carefully you can find isolated instances here and there of shining successes amongst the wreckage. A few diamonds in the goat dung, as it were.

 

I have a very good friend who has made a fortune in the manufacturing business, mostly in the last few years. I don’t know what his secret is, but I have come to suspect that his inborn wisdom might have a little something to do with it. He is a person, as country as country gets, that you might suspect of being, well, not too bright, at first brush. You would be very, very wrong indeed if you jumped to this conclusion.

 

He told me something a couple of years ago that has stuck with me and that I have tried to adopt as policy at Rocky Creek Nursery. He said he’d had a steady stream of guys from his shop coming into his office to point out one problem or another. He finally called a meeting and told them all that, henceforth, nobody was to bring him a problem unless they also provided him with two possible solutions, so that he could pick the one he liked best. If that isn’t simple brilliance, I don’t know what is. He informs me that he still has problems laid upon his desk, but that he has had some very intelligent solutions delivered as well.

 

It has been said that you should never discuss religion or politics with anybody outside of your immediate family. I have never been bashful about doing either one, mostly because I have never really had a problem with people disagreeing with me, so long as we can disagree respectfully. But the election last week confirmed my fear that, nationally, we have a major problem. Fortunately, I do have a couple of possible solutions, although they are both very politically incorrect.

 

The problem, just for the sake of clarity, is that anybody can vote. You don’t have to know anything – you just show up and vote. As much as it pains me to say it, empty headedness is not exclusive to liberals. I saw a video clip last week of a long line of Obama supporters, I think in Boston, and an interviewer was asking them some very basic questions about our government and its structure. These were all articulate, apparently well-educated people who had not a clue about anything. They all just “felt” like government should be there to “help” us more. Scary.

 

I’m always glad when people who are made to look like dunces, or who are actually shown to be dunces, are from somewhere besides Mississippi. I am fair-minded enough to know that if the same reporter had shown up at almost any of the polling places in conservative areas, the same thing would’ve happened. The number of people on both sides of the debate who lack even a rudimentary understanding of government is absolutely appalling.

 

But to my thinking, the real problem is not that simpletons are allowed to vote, it is that people can vote who contribute nothing to the treasury. They pay nothing in taxes, they own no land, and yet their vote counts just as much as mine does. There is a reason why the founding fathers originally set it up so that only landowners could vote. It’s because they knew that if the people on the receiving end of government largess could vote, they would always vote for the candidate that promised to take care of them. I’ve seen the slogan before that “The government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.” If you could reduce the whole conundrum that we’re in to just one sentence, that would be it.

 

In the interest of brevity I am going to wait until the next update to put forth my politically incorrect solutions to the problem. In the meantime, I hope you will join me in praying for ALL of our elected leaders, like them or not. They (and we, if we’re honest) certainly need God’s divine guidance and protection. For all our problems, and there are some very serious ones, this is still the best place in the world to live. God bless America, and Thank You to our veterans. Without them we wouldn’t be here to complain in the first place.

 

Knowing when to be quiet...

Those of you who do not know me personally have probably already figured out from reading these lines that I like to talk. A lot. In the spirit of objectivity I must confess that not being informed about a particular subject has never really kept me from having an opinion about it; and furthermore, I have been fearlessly expressing these opinions for most of my life. Confession may be good for the soul but bad it’s for the reputation.

 

Last week I very nearly let my alligator mouth get me into a scrape again. I was in Auburn, Alabama for the International Plant Production Society meeting (more on this group later) and a few of us, maybe 6 or 7, walked up the street to get some lunch. We were waiting in line at Moe’s Southwestern Grill and I was the last one in our group shuffling along, picking out the stuff I wanted on my burrito, or whatever it was that I’d ordered. From the corner of my eye I saw someone walk up behind me in line and when I turned my head to look I was looking straight at the midsection of a very, very tall gentleman.

 

Now, I wasn’t born yesterday and despite my remarks in the first paragraph above, I have learned a few things along the way. I know not to ask a woman when her baby is due no matter how pregnant she looks, unless I know her and know for a fact that she is indeed expecting. I know not to ask a fat person how much they weigh. I may be a little more talkative than is necessary, but I am not rude. I wouldn’t ask a very short person how tall they are, because some of us are a little touchy about that. But I never knew very tall people were sensitive about it. I have said before, on a number of occasions, that I hope to be tall in my next life. If this particular subject wasn’t 7 feet tall he wasn’t an inch.

 

Having never met a stranger in my life I spoke to the individual and said “Now, I know you must get asked this all the time...”, at which time he answered, “Then don’t.” Well, I thought he was kidding and I continued, “but how tall are you”? This obviously greatly displeased Captain Highpockets and he scowled and said “are you deaf”? I said “no, I’m just curious”, but I realized he was NOT kidding. He just scowled some more and looked away. Maybe he’d already been asked 28 times that day how tall he was. Maybe he’d cracked his head on the top of the door coming in, I don’t know. But I’m of the opinion that people like that ought to wear a badge or a T-shirt that says “I’m 7’2”, and don’t ask”. I can file this one as another of those good-times-to-keep-your-mouth-shut-categories.

 

I mentioned earlier the I.P.P.S. I am involved in a number of civic and industry organizations but I’d like to briefly mention two of them that you might want to consider yourself. The I.P.P.S. is an outstanding educational society that focuses on improving all aspects of the nursery industry. At our annual meeting we have interesting (mostly) speakers and very informative nursery tours. You can learn an awful lot about what to do and what NOT to do if you’re paying attention when you look around somebody else’s operation. If you’re interested in learning more about our industry, especially if you like doing things the right way, you ought to go online and check out the International Plant Production Society (it was formerly known as the International Plant Propagation Society).

 

The other organization I want to mention is the resurrected Southern Nursery Association. I serve on the board of this venerable trade association, which, like just about everybody else in our industry, has had to overcome some difficulties in the last few years. It is an ongoing struggle but we are gaining momentum.

 

I believe there is a need for a regional trade organization like SNA to help deal with things like labor, environmental and governmental regulatory issues. If you enjoy not only growing plants, but also selling them, there is additional benefit of networking with other industry professionals who just might be like-minded.

I would strongly encourage you to go online and find the Southern Nursery Association’s website and take a look at it. I think you’ll be impressed!

Fall is here and, man, am I ever glad!

I know we’ll still have some pretty warm days but the worst is over for now. Our phone has started ringing again and I’m really grateful for that. I hope you’re busy now too. It’s just awfully nice to be able to work outside and not feel like you’re going to die from it.

Last week I told you an allegedly true story about something funny that was said by a little boy at church. I have another allegedly true story about something funny a grown man said at church. I heard this story directly from the man who said it and I only state that it is allegedly true because of this individual’s knack for telling hilarious tales, some of which may or may not be 100% factual.

 

I am also allowing myself a little wiggle room here. It has been a long time since I was told this story and it may not have been told to me exactly as I remember it. I once heard a professor at Mississippi State discussing the fact that, for most of us, memory function tends to become diminished with the advance of years. This particular instructor said he had had no such experience in his own life and that, if fact, his recall was so good he could remember stuff that never even happened. I think I have that ability too.

 

At any rate, the gentleman in question, and he really is the embodiment of the term, was fortunate enough to have escaped from occupied Holland during WWII. He must’ve been in his early 20s at the time and somehow he made his way to America and befriended a young lady who would eventually become his wife.

 

Like all good girls in the rural and small-town south in the 40s, she took him to church with her on Sunday morning whereupon the young man was hailed as a hero for having made it to freedom. He was urged to address the congregation and tell them all about his harrowing, intrepid journey from the clutches of Hitler’s army.

 

He obliged, but the only problem was that he had a very limited command of the English language, the entirety of which he’d learned from American G.I.s. So he stood before a rapt audience and said, “I am very lucky to escape the *@%#@*# Germans.” At that point the preacher took him by the elbow and said, “OK son, you can sit down now”.

 

Although this incident took place some 20 years before I was born, I know what had to have happened in the aftermath. I feel certain that there were people, men mostly, who had to bend over and pretend to tie their shoes or something while they giggled throughout the remainder of the service. Times may have changed but people haven’t.

 

I have one other story about my Dutch friend, whom we’ll call “Peter” to protect the guilty. I was going to save this one for another time but since I’m already onto another page, and since I can’t take out any of the above and still get the story straight, I’ll press on.

 

It seems that “Peter” took a job as a sales rep for a national lawn and garden products company and he was based in Memphis. He came home from a week on the road one winter Friday afternoon and, after few stiff belts, decided his dormant lawn would look much better if he painted it green. Lawn paint just happened to be one of the products he was asked to sell, and he just happened to have a good supply of it in the trunk of his car.

 

And so, with yet another drink in hand, he set to work painting. The project took longer than expected, with several refills being necessary - both of lawn paint and of refreshing adult beverages. But eventually he finished his work and stood, beaming with pride and a feeling of accomplishment, marveling at the beauty of his now verdant lawn.

 

The problem came when he walked outside the next morning, clear-eyed and sober. He said that, true enough, his lawn was now green. So was his driveway, his sidewalk and three bricks up on his house. He said you could fly over Memphis and pick out his yard as an oasis of green in a sea of brown. It stayed that way all winter.

 

There is a long list of things you should not do while drinking, and you know most of them as well as I do. But, just in case you should ever feel the temptation to do it, please don’t ever drink and paint at the same time – at least not outside!

 

On the Road

I hit the road a week and half ago (before our 15" rain) to see some old friends and make some new ones. I was accompanied on my journey by my first cousin, Kyle McCaskey, of Camellia Nursery. He and I come from the same nurseryman grandfather, Dewey Howell, whom a lot of older nursery people remember. Sometime, when I have time, I’ll tell you some stories about Grandaddy. He was a cantankerous little fellow, but a heck of a nurseryman.

 

It is completely beside the point but worth mentioning that Kyle, before he saved off his beard, bore a striking resemblance to Osama bin Laden. Now he just looks like Kramer, from Seinfeld.

 

We had a chance to visit nurseries and garden centers in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. I always enjoy getting out and looking at other folks’ operations because it’s a good way to see some things you should do and some things you should not do. It’s kind of like the story I heard about a rooster that walked into a henhouse carrying an ostrich egg. He cleared his throat loudly and said “now ladies, I’m not trying to imply that I’m dissatisfied with your efforts, but I would like for you to see what other people in other places are doing.” We saw a number of places last week where it was clear that SOMEBODY was putting forth a ton of effort. It’s good to see a nursery where the owner takes pride in what he’s doing.

 

I realize that what I’m about to say is a lot like telling Noah about a rainstorm, but to keep a nursery or garden center looking good requires a whole bunch of work. I’ve always said, and I think I’ve written it here before, that there are only two things more confining than a nursery; a dairy and jail. I have managed to make it this far without being incarcerated, and I hope I can make it all the way on in without it, but I can’t believe sitting in the county lock-up could be all that much worse than milking cows twice a day, every day.

 

 

The other thing I was glad to see whilst out and about, aside from the industriousness of plant people, were some pockets of guarded optimism. Granted, nobody rolled out the red carpet for a couple of traveling salesmen, but nobody threw any rocks either. Most people, like me, are just looking forward to the onset of some cooler weather. I had an old pastor friend who said it best. He said that one of the most comforting phrases in the Bible is “and it came to pass”. August, too, shall come to pass and nobody will be any happier about it than me. I’m hoping that since spring came 5 or six weeks early fall will too.

 

 

Operating on the premise that “you can’t sell what you ain’t got”, we have a decent sized crop of stuff coming on for fall. And while, like most other nurseries, we don’t have as large a crop as we used to have, what we DO have looks really good. Try some. I think you’ll agree.

 

Little Point in Complaining...

I suppose there’s very little point in my complaining that it’s hot. It’s mid-July and I’m in south Mississippi so it’s not exactly newsworthy to note that it’s been a trifle warm here lately. And when I watch the weather and see that from about Memphis on up it’s been REALLY hot, I shouldn’t whine at all. After all, we haven’t hit 100 yet and we’re getting a fair bit of rain, which is one of the greatest summertime blessings of all. For those of you in the true heat and drought, I hope the weather gets better soon.


One very good thing about hot, wet weather is that our plants are growing like fertilized Kudzu. We’re adding stuff to the availability list at a fairly steady clip and will continue to do so up until fall. Like most other growers, we’re going to have a smaller crop this year than we’ve had in the past but the things we have look very good. You will not mistake anything that comes from here with those fine specimens of botanical excellence you see on the shelves of chain stores, thank God.


Somebody e-mailed me a joke last week that I thought was pretty funny. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: It seems a girl of about 10 asked her grandfather what “couple sex” was. Grandpa hesitated for a few seconds and finally decided that if she was old enough to ask the question then she was old enough for an honest answer.


So he told her the whole, unvarnished truth in painstaking detail. He left out nothing, including all the joys and responsibilities that come with human reproduction. When he finished, the little girl was standing there with her mouth agape and a look of absolute horror and disgust on her face. After several awkward moments she blurted out “Grandma said to tell you that supper will be ready in a couple secs, and I didn’t know what she meant!”


I have, on more than one occasion, misunderstood somebody’s questions or comments and gotten myself into embarrassing and awkward situations by saying something dumb, but not quite like that.  At least not yet…

Memorial Day Greetings

I hope you had a safe and fun Memorial Day (and maybe even profitable, if you were open). Like a lot of other people, I have always viewed this particular holiday as somewhat minor, but the older I get the more I have come to appreciate the sacrifice those who serve our country really make. And that’s the ones who are still alive. The ones who’ve made the supreme sacrifice are all heroes in my book.


I just happened to finish up a book over the weekend that you ought to read if you haven’t already. It’s called Lone Survivor, by Marcus Lutrell. Mr. Lutrell is a Navy Seal who lost the rest of his platoon in a battle in the mountains of Afghanistan. The book was, for me, a real page turner. I had never given much  thought to the extreme amount of training some of our soldiers endure, nor the extraordinary amount of worrying their families must go through to protect the freedoms we often take for granted. Lone Survivor puts it all into very sharp focus. It truly is incredible just how committed our men and women in uniform really are.


If you know a soldier, thank them for their service. If you have one in your family, please tell them I said thank you. Were it not for them and their selflessness we, and a heck of a lot of the rest of the world, would all be much less free than we are right now.

Getting Our Coldest Weather...

Getting our coldest weather of the season in mid-February is not really newsworthy. What is a bit unusual is that we’re getting this kind of cold (25F is forecast for tonight) after having had a month or so of really warm weather. I don’t think we’re going to have any plants killed, but I imagine we’ll have some new growth singed off some things tonight. We just try to think of it as natural pruning.


From what I’m hearing, plants are getting harder to find. Good ones, anyway. We are currently very low on good plants ourselves but we’ll be loaded for bear by around the middle of April, depending on the weather. If you haven’t placed your spring booking yet you probably want to go ahead and get that in pretty soon.


For those of you who call the office, you’ll now be speaking to Erica Garza. She’s going to be handling the reception / inside sales duties for us. I think you’ll find her to be just as pleasant and gracious as Mrs. Pat was. One plus for Erica is that she is fully bilingual. She’ll be a huge help for those of you who read only English but speak only Spanish.