ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
This weekend is your once-a-year chance to take a peek inside Marilyn Jones’ greenhouse and meander around the Jones sheep farm just south of Peabody.
Forty-two years of tending the gardens have turned the farm into an oasis. Trails wind through herb and flower gardens past the restored bunkhouse and the “Little House” built to resemble the one room house of Little House on the Prairie fame.
Delicate orange and pink bougainvillea blossoms trail across the walls and ceiling of the greenhouse.
And there are plants-hundreds of them-many of which are rare or unusual and have colorful names.
Jones has had a greenhouse since 1960. When a teaching position brought the Joneses to Peabody in 1961, they brought their greenhouse with them.
Since Peabody had no greenhouse at the time, growing her own plants was a necessity.
Jones said she never intended for the greenhouse to become a business.
“I just wanted a few tomatoes,” she said.
She soon found herself growing plants for others in the area, and she outgrew the original greenhouse.
“We expanded and built a different one,” she said.
That greenhouse was destroyed by fire several years ago, and Jones replaced it with a new, larger greenhouse.
“We decided we should build something state of the art,” she said.
Local craftsman Jim Unruh designed the greenhouse especially for Jones.
“The doors are wide enough so I can unload, the benches are lower just for me, and the center section is off center so I can reach the plants,” she said.
Unruh also designed the cold frames on the south side of the greenhouse.
“The cold frames work extremely well,” said Jones. “They are a double thickness of plastic with air in between. It makes good insulation.”
The greenhouse itself has Styrofoam block on the north side.
“That is a wonderful insulator-it works as a heat trap,” Jones said.
The greenhouse is heated with wood and has gas as a back up for particularly cold days. The temperature must be kept above 40 degrees to protect the plants.
“Most things will do well even in the 40s,” Jones said.
Jones raises many plants from seed, and others are raised from cuttings taken from older plants. She purchases some plants from large greenhouses.
“I buy the more common plants like petunias,” she said. “I used to grow everything myself and then I learned it was s a lot easier to buy some things. Now I just grow things I really want and something I can’t find someplace else-like a lot of the heirloom tomatoes.”
Jones described one of her favorite tomatoes-the Porter tomato.
“It is plum shaped and pink,” she said. “It came out in the 1930s, and it will produce when nothing else is producing in hot weather.”
The heirloom tomatoes are one of Jones’ specialties, as are herbs, perennials, and coleus with names like “Swingin’ Linda.” Jones also has a wide variety of rare artemisias, decorative sweet potatoes and scented geraniums, which many customers find to be a good Mother’s Day gift.
Every year, she experiments with new plants with curious names or special properties.
This year, Jones is trying a grass called “Bad Hair Day” and a sedum that’s supposed to be hardy to 40 degrees below zero.
Jones said the most unusual plant she has grown is ramie-a fiber plant.
“It has the most distinctive leaf -it is a real pebbly,” she said.
Another unusual plant she is growing is vetiver. She ran across the vetiver scent in some lotion and liked it so well she decided to hunt down the plant.
Jones said vetiver grows in India where it is used for erosion control. Its leaves and roots are used to make mats, which she said smell “lovely then they let the breezes blow through.”
Surprisingly, Jones’ college degree is in home economics rather than horticulture, but she did take some horticulture courses along the way, she said.
“Horticulture was an easy way to get an A,” she said. “We’d always gardened, and I took horticulture classes just for fun.”
Botanical names for plants roll easily off Jones’ tongue.
“How I ever learned them I don’t know-it must be osmosis because I never particularly studied them,” she said.
Jones is member of the Herb Society and has found that group helpful.
“They always have wonderful food and edible decorations,” she said.
Jones uses herbs and edible flowers in many of the dishes she concocts, and she is known locally for her talent in food preparation and presentation.
She is also talented in floral design, although it is not something she wants to do commercially. For years, she made corsages for the prom, and has also done a few weddings.
“I swore that when my kids got through with high school, I would quit making corsages,” she said.
Today she is doing what she loves most-growing interesting plants and sharing her knowledge and love of gardening with others.
Jones opens her greenhouse to the public just once a year. At other times, her plants are available at the Mayesville Mercantile, the store she and husband Gary own in downtown Peabody
In the past, Jones sold plants to customers who stopped by the farm.
“People would stop by anytime,” she said.
During the planting season, it was hard to get any work done with all the customer traffic.
“When we got the store, I decided we’d just sell plants downtown,” she said.
Now, Jones opens the greenhouse for a weekend every May. It gives customers a chance to see the plants in natural settings.
“It’s nice to see how you are using it,” Jones said. “There’s nothing I like better than poking in someone else’s greenhouse.
“Nobody’s obligated to buy anything,” she said. “Some years people bring out their kids to see the animals. Another time a couple ladies in straw hats sat all day in front of the root cellar.”