Gardeners find variety in Madison; Hanging baskets, patio pots ideal for Mother's Day

STORE MANAGER Julie Janssen waters petunias in the garden center at Lewis Drug on Thursday afternoon. With the cool spring, the plants are either covered at night or taken indoors to ensure they are in good condition.

Last year took those with pop-up greenhouses by surprise. As a result of the pandemic, they found their shelves were bare as early as a month before their normal closing time.

"We had no idea that many people were going to start gardening," said Gayle Cole, who has operated the Garden Spot on Washington Avenue for nearly 30 years.

This year, with fresh stock rolling in from wholesale suppliers, four greenhouses in Madison are open and ready for area gardeners. Lewis Drug moved its greenhouse from the east parking lot to the south parking lot.

"It's kind of like a little park back here," said store manager Julie Janssen on Thursday as she watered plants. Having taken the Master Gardener class through South Dakota State University Extension, she enjoys being outside, working in the garden center and assisting customers.

"I know a couple things," she said modestly, "not a lot, but a little."

The Lewis Garden Center offers a variety of plants which the store gets from a Michigan wholesaler. Spread out in the sheltered area are annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. Most have tags with care instructions.

Among the most immediately eye-catching are the flamboyant hydrangeas with their pom-pom heads of small flowers. However, a wide range of flowers, including hanging baskets and the ever-popular petunias, are spread out in colorful rows. The garden center also offers related products such as garden ornaments and pots.

Thus far, interest has been strong, but the temperatures have not been conducive to planting, according to Janssen. They are covering plants or moving them indoors to protect them as nighttime temperatures dip near freezing.

At the Garden Spot, a steady stream of customers wanders up one aisle and down the other, picking up plants which they will carry out on cardboard trays after paying.

"They're so happy to be out. They want to put a little color in their house or in the yard," said Sharon Hansen, who works with Cole in the greenhouse.

Over the course of the short planting season, Cole receives on average three shipments a week from local wholesalers, constantly replenishing the stock which goes out nearly as quickly as it comes in. She believes that buying locally ensures growers will have greater success.

"They're meant to be here, and they come in extremely good shape," she said.

While a wide range of flowers, including begonias, calla lilies, geraniums and fuchsia, immediately attract attention, the west wall is lined with vegetables for those who look forward to growing their own produce. Cole said she picked up her passion for gardening from her dad, who maintained a two-acre garden.

"Growing up, we didn't know stores sold vegetables," she laughed.

Cole makes an effort to acquaint herself with all of the plants she sells, planting them in her own yard and intentionally stressing them so that she can better advise her customers. However, what she enjoys most is helping customers select plants for custom pots.

"Martha Stewart taught me you have to have a thriller, a spiller and a filler," she said.

The thriller attracts attention, the spiller cascades down the side, and the filler completes the look. Cole can help people select plants in a variety of price ranges for a unique and personal arrangement.

For those seeking an easier route, she does have hanging baskets and patio pots available. These -- as well as gift certificates -- are popular Mother's Day gifts, Cole said. She did note that with an early Mother's Day, those gifts may need a little extra care.

"We tell people not to plant until after the 10th or 15th because it will freeze and freeze hard," she indicated. Portable plants may need to be brought in overnight.

Like Cole, Rodney Goth at the Pawn Shop uses a local wholesaler for the plants they offer in their greenhouse. He said they are "in good shape" as far as their stock. However, the cool spring did affect when they started selling.

"It's going to be a short season, because we usually start in the middle of April," Goth said. This year, they didn't open until May and will take down the greenhouse by early June.

Ace Hardware added a greenhouse this year, giving local gardeners another option.

"Our greenhouses do pretty well at all our other stores," said store manager Lofton Covington. With the new location on S. Washington, the parking lot offers an ideal spot for a greenhouse.

Their stock comes from Ymker Greenhouse and Landscaping in Armour. Because the Ace stores use a different wholesaler than other local pop-up greenhouses in Madison, he believes the varieties available will be a little different.

"We have a pretty good selection of all sorts of stuff," Covington said.

Gardeners may enjoy checking out all four sites. They will definitely be welcome.