This greenhouse veteran is a farm woman, wife, and mother of four and grandmother to nine. She is my personal landscaping consultant, with a wealth of knowledge on a wide variety of subjects and a knack for dealing with plants and people. In fact, she’s taught me much of what I know about life. I’ve known this woman literally all of my life—my mother, Ann Harke.
How did you get started working with plants? I always loved flowers, and years ago when our younger sons attended a private school in Troy, Missouri, I happened to stop by a small produce stand called Sugar Grove to check out their produce. The lady (the owner named Ellyn) who helped me find what I wanted was conversing with me about vegetables and flowers. I found that she and her husband Bill had greenhouses and grew plants. That piqued my interest! So I asked if they needed help and she said yes and that she’d call me in the spring. I truly thought she would forget. But Ellyn did call me, and that spring started my greenhouse and flower adventure. Thirty-one years later I am still transplanting in the greenhouse and selling flowers from their business on Cherry Street.
What is the most asked question you get from customers? “What is the best tomato plant” because we have many varieties from hybrid to heirloom. So I always quiz the person about what they want from a tomato, and we quickly find the right variety.
What’s the biggest mistake home gardeners make? Gardeners either overwater or underwater. For newbies I instruct them on which flowers love hot and dry and which need more water. It’s all about whether planting in containers or in the ground, so I like to help someone find the right flower for their situation.
What flowers and vegetables were the most popular this year? This year was a different year—wet and cold spring—so people were hesitant about planting some flowers. Tomatoes and peppers always rank highest and then flowers like vinca, begonias, and marigolds seemed to be wanted the most. Purslane baskets and trailing vinca baskets were very popular.
What’s the most unusual plant you’ve ever grown? Probably fiber optic grass. It’s a small accent grass that’s annual but actually looks like fiber optic. It goes all summer and doesn’t give out.
Do you have any tips for gardeners on a budget? I would say plant seeds in small Styrofoam cups as early as March, but if that isn’t your thing, concentrate on small areas where you want beauty. Buy plants a few at a time. You can plant until July. Some people think if you do not have it all done by the middle of May you shouldn’t plant anymore. My best vegetable garden ever was planted the middle of June. Also depends on the weather. I would suggest adding a few perennials every year, but remember annuals are instant beauty in your yard or container.
If you could only grow one flower, what would it be and why? After all these years I think begonias are my favorite. They thrive in hot and dry weather and by late August are absolutely beautiful. There are many varieties—regular begonias, tuberous begonias, Dragon Wing begonias, and Santa Cruz begonias. All are beautiful and practically maintenance free once established.
Any parting words of gardening wisdom? Gardening takes on many forms and can be different for different people. Some like instant beauty for a few months and that’s all. Some like to plant seeds and watch them grow, but then it becomes too much work. Some like getting their fingers in the dirt and get excited when they see a seed pop forth from the ground. My take is since we are all made unique and special, enjoy your plants in whatever way makes you happy. All of my gardening wisdom I learned through Ellyn (who has since gone to her heavenly home) and through experience. I have had really good years and some not so good, but I never give up. Around February I’m itching to get my fingers back in the dirt transplanting. Working with plants can be extremely therapeutic as I have found this year due to changes in my personal life.
My final word: Ellyn and I always said, “Vegetables are food for the body, but flowers are food for the soul.”