It's that most wonderful time of the year. It’s the time that I am 100% certain that nothing could ever possibly turn green again, much less bloom. Then, holy cow, everything springs to life. It's show time! This the time I begin daydreaming about flowers and shrubs and making optimistic trips to my favorite garden center.
My parents owned a nursery and garden center business for many years. We kids were out of the nest by then, but we loved coming home each spring, eventually with our own children, to help sell plants at Gladden Garden Center. Customers traveled from miles around to buy my Dad's plants. The Early Girl Tomatoes were a huge draw. Dad's slogan was, "Great Gardens Begin at Gladden's.”
In the dead of winter, my parents would start the seedlings in the greenhouses and pray. If all went well, the heating system held and the plants would begin to peek through the soil. In February the seedlings would be transplanted to their respective flats.
The greenhouses came alive, providing an almost tropical escape in the dead of winter. Just when it seemed that Spring would never come, flats overflowing with flower and vegetable plants would be bought up rapidly and make their way to gardens near and far in the community.
The Garden Center was dad’s second career, his dream job, his glory. This was a labor intensive enterprise and when family members were not available to help, which was most of the time, Dad employed young neighbors. He never seemed to have trouble finding good help because everyone enjoyed working with him. In addition to being a really good gardener, Dad was really great with people. He treated his customers and employees with great respect and generously shared his knowledge about growing plants and gardening. You would always learn cool stuff by hanging out with Dad. He made the learning fun. The Gladden Garden Center became a hub, where local gardeners traded secrets with one another and bragged about their plots.
When my dad’s health began to fail, the garden center closed. Over the years, we've run into several former employees that have confirmed our greatest suspicion about the business. Dad was not just growing flowers and vegetables all of those years. He was apparently busy growing the young men and women who worked in the greenhouses and the garden center, as well. He turned Gladden Garden Center into a place where young people could develop a strong work ethic and cultivate winning habits and attitudes. We are told stories about how he gave young men the chance to work when others had given up on them and that he encouraged them to go for their own dreams. They have their own families now and several own and operate their own businesses.