Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Brooks Greenhouse

My love of plants came at a very early age. Mom always had a large garden out of necessity - the food she raised fed us year-round. We had fresh vegetables during the growing season and canned ones the rest of the year.
One of my most favourite things about spring was going to Brooks to buy plants for the garden. I got so I could almost 'taste' the day when the trip was imminent. It was warm, but not hot; humid but not raining. Corning was our usual shopping destination but for plants we always went to Brooks - which was an adventure in itself. The greenhouse was on the north side of the street on the west side of town. It was operated by Jim and Elsie Stalder. The greenhouses were at the back of the lot next to their home. A series of "cold frames" were in front of the greenhouses.
Mom would park the car along the street in front then we had to climb a long set of cement steps. Their property set up on a high bank. There was a handrail made out of pipe that I remember playing on. If no one was outside or in the greenhouse, we went to the porch door and knocked. I can remember being invited into the house one time. There were so many flowers and plants growing - kind of like at Grandma Ridnour's only more so.
Mom always knew what she wanted - two dozen each of tomato and cabbage plants, a dozen pepper plants. What I wanted was flowers, but we never got them. Money was spent on what we needed, not what we wanted. But I loved going into the greenhouses and seeing all the flowers. I loved the moist smell of the earth and seeing all the different colors and types of flowers.
Even when new tomato varieties became popular, Mom always stuck to her tried and true Rutgers. Once she gave her order, the plants were lifted out of the flats and wrapped in newspaper. The prices were a little less in Brooks and there were always a few extra plants when we got them home. An article in the April 21, 1955 Free Press says that growing plants in flats was a method the Stalders learned from the Japanese when they lived in California for three years - that it was unheard of when they first started to do it back in Brooks. (Years later when we lived near Grimes, I started a packet of tomato seeds in two flats and ended up with 75 tomato plants in my garden that year.)
Once we got home a bucket of water was pumped and carried to the garden. Mom used the hoe to make the holes at appropriate distances. We set a plant in each hole, then went back to "water them in". That meant taking a dipper of water out of the bucket and pouring it into the hole as Mom pushed dirt in and set the plant upright. Once we were old enough we were allowed to set the plants while she poured the water. If we didn't do it just right, she would come back and straighten the plant. That was how we learned to garden. That was the fun part. Later would come the weeding and picking - the parts I never learned to like.
While I was still living outside Des Moines, I took the Greenhouse Management Course at DMACC. That was around the time I was planning on moving back to SW Iowa. I had no idea what I would do for income when I moved back home. Then I saw a 'For Sale' ad in the Free Press for a property in Brooks. I thought it was the Stalders property. I went home that weekend all excited about the possibility of buying and operating the greenhouse in Brooks. What surprised me the most about my pipe dream was that Dad was willing to back me. I forget the price being asked, but Dad said we would figure out someway to buy it if that was what I wanted. He and I drove to Brooks. That was when I realized it wasn't the Stalders property that was for sale. And for the first time, I realized the greenhouses were no longer even there.
I no longer dream of having my own, but I still love going into greenhouses - the smell, the color, the possibilities. I haven't had a vegetable garden for years. Now I buy those flowers I didn't get to buy sixty years ago.

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