Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 23, 2014

Planting and potting

Garden Gate Greenhouse is into unique combinations

Tim Preston
The Independent

CARTER CITY — As the calendar winds away from winter’s cold temperatures and erratic snowstorms, people who make a living at local greenhouses say their work has only just begun.

“As we gear up for our 14th year as a retail business, we are enthusiastic and apprehensive at the same time. It’s always exciting when the first seeds germinate and the first flower blooms,” said Grace Ramey, who supervises day-to-day operations at Garden Gate Greenhouse in Carter County along with husband Dean, son Jerry, daughter and son-in-law Julie and Bill Bush and granddaughter Katie, who helps tend the register and do “dirt work” when not studying at Morehead State University.

The business on Ky. 2, roughly a dozen miles from Grayson near Carter City, specializes in “plantings in unusual containers, hard-to-find varieties and world-class customer service,” Mrs. Ramey said, explaining her daughter seems to have the magic touch most appreciated by their customers.

“Julie has a knack for beautiful plant combinations. She makes things that just grab people,” she said, explaining she can’t create the same level of combinations even at her daughter’s direction. The combinations are offered in “unusual containers,” she said, noting they enjoy using things including antique farm equipment, feed sacks, chicken feeders, baby bathtubs, wooden boxes, ladder-back chairs, coal buckets, metal sprinkling cans, minnow buckets and copper boilers, often found at auctions and estate sales.

“People come; they want to see that. They ask, ‘Do you have any planted items ready?’” Mrs. Ramey said, adding many customers also bring their own containers.

“They tell us about the colors they want and if it is sun or shade. It gives them ... instant beauty for landscaping and porches and things like that,” she said, noting most of that work and sales happen from mid-April to about the second week of May. “I think more people are doing pots now than beds in the ground.”

At this time of year, Mrs. Ramey said there is always work to be done at the family business. Among specialty items are “tall zinnias” originally cultivated for themselves until customers discovered the flowers and demanded they share their stock, she said, as well as germinating and planting 15 different types of marigold, along with lots of other flowers. Last week’s tasks included planting geraniums, including one particular variety customers have come to expect from the greenhouse.

“Rocky Mountain Red — that’s what a lot of people come asking for,” Mrs. Ramey said, explaining a beginner’s guide to the different types of geraniums popular with local planters are included.

Vegetables are also being set at Garden Gate, which opened in 2001 in the rural carter County community once known as Gesling.

“We have a lot of vegetables. People love the old-fashioned tomatoes,” Mrs. Ramey said, explaining the business offers tomato varieties from seeds saved by local growers, and name the plants for the person who saved the seeds. “We have a Dorothy Orange and a Plumber’s Tomato — that’s a yellow and red striped type — and we have a Boggs Yellow.”

The greenhouse also offers planting parties “usually in the evening,” she said, as well as after-hours shopping by appointment. Mrs. Ramey said she enjoys the social aspect of meeting friends and customers who often prearrange their meetings at the greenhouse, or enjoy spontaneous reunions there.

“The fun thing is when customers come and say ‘I want what I had last year,’” Mrs. Ramey said with a chuckle.

She said the business on a working farm, which is sometimes a surprise for first-time visitors.

“When you get here, it is a working farm and there are calves in the field and hay being mowed,” she said. “A lot of times the kids are fascinated by those calves.”

Garden Gate officially opens April 1, and Mrs. Ramey expects to sell plenty of broccoli, cauliflower and pansies during the first week of business. She advises people wait until about the third week for greater selection and adds, “Our peak is like a week before Mother’s Day.”

For more information, visit gardengateky.com or the Facebook page, or call (606) 475-9960.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.