"Would you like to ride along with me to the plant sale at the jail?" I asked my friend Verna Dickey. "I could pick you up about 9."
"No, I have to be there at 8 when they open, standing by the plants I want most," she said.
This sale is held every few months in front of the jail at 520 N. Falkenburg Road, on the west side not far north of Woodbery Road, from 8 am until noon.
Of course, the earliest comers get the best selection. They also get the crowds. For my first visit at the sale in March, I was glad to get there at 8:45. Since I already have more plants than I need, I trust God to save for me anything I am supposed to have.
I had a list of the possibilities: almost 100 different plants and varieties, and pared it down to what I wanted most. I was concerned with prices since I am a cheapo and nothing was marked, but when told the1 gallon pots were $1, I knew I couldn't afford to pass anything by that I could use. I got several of those $1 pots with three or four amaryllis seedlings in each.
By then Allen Boatman, Instructor of Horticulture, was available to share his amazing knowledge and point out things we would have missed otherwise. We all set our selections on the sidewalk by the street and when we were finished, someone come to add them up and collect the money.
Allen Boatman, Instructor of Horticulture, helps sale customers make their selections.
There were quite a some very polite and personable young men there to help us load and to help keep the display in order. All of us gardeners know that anyone who works in a nursery has much good growing in them and we enjoyed their help, their presence, and the result of their work.
There were also several Master Gardeners to share their knowledge and help. One lady said, "I bring them cuttings and any extra plants I have and empty pots. You just have to call or email ahead to be sure they are ready for what you have and need it."
They filled my trunk. Cost was only $17. I got some plants I've never had before, varied melons and beans, and some I wanted more of: the African and shasta daisies, and lemon grass. I can't get enough of the later to keep sharing with my friends who have cancer.
Verna and I were privileged to see the nursery operation recently, 6.5 acres including a classroom and a large greenhouse, vegetable, fruit, butterfly, herb, and cactus gardens outside.
"There are between 19 and 22 men in the program at a time and each must past security requirements as a trusty. They have a class first thing in the morning and then spend the rest of the day working in the nursery. About 10% have gone on to work in the nursery trade after release," says Allen Boatman, who is in charge of the program.
He runs it wisely using as little tax money as possible. They save water in rain barrels and buckets, sift donated horse manure to cut the cost of potting soil by 50% and for mulch. The greenhouse was built from the inmates canteen fund. Labels are cut from old blinds. They save seeds and trade them with others, like Charles Novak of the RFCI to get new plants and seeds.
"We have 400 different species with vastly different needs. We teach a wide gambit of culture," says Allen. You will find plants here that you won't find elsewhere. Many of the gardeners I've interview have quoted Allen and shown me plants they bought at these sales.
In addition the men contribute food to the kitchen, do landscaping projects on the property, and maintain a median planting on the south side of SR60 where it crosses SR39.
This excellent program is 20 years old now and it is one that can make a positive difference in the lives of these men. Even if they never go into the business, they are learning a valuable resource to make the rest of their lives more sensible and satisfying. "It is something that they can have in common with their parents and grandparents or someone in the older generation," says Allen.
The sales are also a rewarding event for gardeners who can help others while they gain more plants, information and inspiration. I'll probably go to every sale from now on.
Above: Jesse Mills and Mr. Miller pot tiny seedlings in the greenhouse.
Left: Jack Downard is in charge of the butterfly garden beside the classroom.