Spotlight: Debbie Corrington (rcn48)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on February 13, 2012

Meet someone who calls herself a "Learnaholic." That sounds like someone who is addicted to learning new things, and Debbie has an impressive track record. She and her husband own a successful Nursery, she is an avid gardener and an accomplished crafter. Please meet Debbie Corrington.

I have been seeing posts from rcn48, mostly in the MidAtlantic Musings cubit, for a long time now.  Recently she has been talking about being laid up for some extended R&R after foot surgery.  So I thought she would have plenty of time to chat with me and tell me about herself for the Spotlight I was delighted that she said yes!  She warned me that I may be getting more than I bargained for.  She said she likes to ramble.  I said, "Go for it!"

 

When Nancy first contacted me about an interview for the “Spotlight”, I accepted with an enthusiastic “Yes”! I warned her that I love to talk but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be not to get carried away. Nancy didn't give me any restrictions so I’ll try my best to stay on track and not to lose you in the midst of all my babbling!

For those of you who haven’t met me on the forums over the years, I’ve been an avid gardener for over 20 years. Guilty as charged. I’m considered by most a Plantaholic who loves to talk about plants and gardening. I discovered Dave’s Garden in 2004 when, like most of you, I was doing some research for plants on the Internet and I eagerly joined the ranks of zealous gardeners. Most of my time was spent sharing gardening experience with members from the Mid Atlantic and Northeast regions but I also found specific interests I shared with other members. I was a frequent visitor to Shade Gardening, Hostas, Ferns, Heucheras, Perennials, and Trees and Shrubs to name a few. When I began to recognize a desire to be a little more creative in my pursuits I soon found myself wandering to Garden Art, Hypertufa and Concrete, and even Trash to Treasure! But I digress, I’ve read Who’s Who Spotlights so I’m assuming you’re interested in knowing a little more about me before I start rambling on about my creative interests? 
 
I currently live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, with views of the sun rising over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and sunsets in the west over the Allegheny Mountains.

 

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However, I’m a Yankee at heart, born and raised in Bangor, Maine. My parents were both hard working individuals, my father worked all his life at the local paper mill, following in his father’s footsteps with a lifelong career in the same mill, and my mother worked in a large department store. My poor father grew up with seven sisters and wasn’t blessed with any sons, only two daughters

My sister and I were never involved in sports during our youth but my father was a true outdoorsman, and although neither of us ever had any interest in hunting, we did enjoy joining him for brook fishing and ice fishing during the winters. It’s not difficult to see where my father inherited his love of the outdoors – although the photo shows my grandfather it could just have easily been a photo of my father – breakfast was often served with brook trout from early morning visits to his favorite brooks.


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I also inherited a love of the outdoors and was thrilled when my first husband and I purchased our own home just south of Bangor with 96 acres – a lovely hollow with wonderful, rich bottomland for gardening and a small brook surrounded by ridges of beech, oak and pine trees. My grandmother used to call it our “Little House on the Prairie” where we followed what was referred to at the time as “back to the land” living.

I became the proud mother of three children, two sons and a daughter, all of whom were delivered at home with the assistance of a Midwife. With the arrival of our first son, I became a “stay at home Mom” and we grew a lot of our own food, canned and froze vegetables from our garden and spent a few years raising pigs, chickens, turkeys and rabbits. We heated our home with wood and cut our own firewood from the property with the help of Dick, a feisty Belgian workhorse. I have so many fond memories of over 25 years spent on those 96 acres including the aromas of homemade bread rising on the antique cook stove and traditional Saturday night dinners of baked beans. My early morning walks in the woods were an inspiration, identifying the numerous wildflowers and spotting the first Ladyslippers every spring. Much to our delight, beavers discovered Thurlow Brook on the property in later years. Their hard work created a small pond which provided entertainment for us, whether we were watching the amusing antics of the beavers or spotting wildlife attracted by the new pond – elusive Wood Ducks and even a moose!

Of course there are not-so-fond memories as well, especially the long rough winters in Maine with snow and ice, frigid temperatures and mud season! Since we lived on a rural dirt road we often suffered being last on the list for the snowplow to clear our road and the two-mile drive to the main road was often difficult getting up and out of the hollow with icy roads. Mud provided another season of challenges when it was difficult to maneuver the drive up a steep slope after logging trucks had turned the road into a quagmire in the early spring.

And then of course, were my children’s complaints about living in the middle of nowhere and so far from their friends from school. Our location did offer unique opportunities however, and there were plenty of activities to keep their friends from town entertained when they visited. We even had small pond that we kept shoveled in the winter to provide a skating rink for them and it was often the site of weekend hockey games with their friends. Regardless of the complaints I heard when my children were growing up, they realize our rural setting offered a natural environment for their upbringing and now they often express their appreciation of their early years in the country.

 

Now that we’ve heard about your early years as a “stay at home Mom”, have you held other jobs outside the home?

 

Oh my, yes! I had notes written to give you an idea of the various positions I’ve held through the years, and realized I’d much rather be talking about gardening or plants, so here’s a quick history.

I worked for the Auditing Department of local bank after high school graduation and then worked for several Attorneys until my children were born. After the birth of my first son, I reluctantly accepted a position with an insurance claims office when it became apparent a supplemental income was necessary. However, my contacts through this position proved fruitful when I started my home-based business, “ExecuType”, with the arrival of my daughter. I was able to work from home as a transcriptionist, typing for insurance companies and medical offices. After the birth of my second son, my business expanded and I continued to work from home as well as hold part-time office positions that allowed me the flexibility of making my own hours and arriving home in time for the school bus. Another plus was, if I was really, really organized, I could squeeze in a couple of hours for gardening in the early morning hours and even started a small landscaping business, “Not Just Shrubs”, to introduce clients to the possibilities perennials offered.

By the time my children were entering high school and middle school, I made the transition to a full-time position. I worked a short stint with MBNA, the credit card giant who enticed many Maine residents with their above average salaries and benefits. However, I quickly became disenchanted with MBNA’s philosophies and felt I couldn’t provide the customer service I was hired for. The inquiries/complaints I received were “timed” leaving me totally frustrated in my sincere efforts to resolve customer’s calls. Within six months I was more than happy to leave MBNA and accept a position processing medical claims for a prominent plastic surgeon and within a year was promoted to Office Manager. Even though most might associate this profession with “elective” plastic surgery, the “non-elective” patients we treated provided an extremely rewarding and satisfying position for me. I would probably still be working in that position if it hadn’t been for the major life-changing decision I made over ten years ago, which brings me to my gardening endeavors.

Gardening

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I probably became interested in gardening when visiting my paternal grandparents when I was young. They always had a huge vegetable garden and I remember admiring my grandmother’s flower borders along the driveway and her houseplants on their porch. In later years the bounty of vegetables I enjoyed from my parents’ gardens definitely influenced our own vegetable gardening when we purchased our home. In the mid-80’s I became aware of a term I wasn’t familiar with – perennials! I began educating myself by checking out tons of books and manuals from the local library and started landscaping our grounds with perennials, some of which my maternal grandmother shared with me from her out of state visits to relatives’ gardens.

I began sharing my gardening experiences with friends whose children played sports with my children. After years of having an annual tour of each other’s gardens we organized an official public garden tour to raise funds for the local hockey team. The garden tour was a huge success and after the encouraging compliments I received from visitors to my gardens I embarked on my dream of developing a small nursery on my property.

My father had recently retired and was enthusiastic to help me in my endeavor. We built raised beds for growing perennials and every weekend he would arrive with his chain saw to help carve paths through the adjoining woodlands, which would enable visitors to view the wildflowers. Unfortunately most of these gardening years were ‘pre-digital’ and very few of the many photos documenting these years have found their way to my computer.
Most of the people I’ve met through the gardening forums know that I have serious ‘rock envy’ with the lack of rocks readily available to me in my new home in Virginia. I did find these two photos of the rock walls and steps I created in the perennial beds in Maine.


Sadly, my nursery plans were shattered with the arrival of the major ice storm in 1997 and my father’s passing shortly after.  The damage from the ice storm was devastating with huge pines collapsing under the weight of the ice, destroying all the paths we had worked so hard to carve through the woodlands and needless to say my nursery plans were postponed, indefinitely.


However, over the years I became acquainted with a nursery owner from Virginia through an online garden chat who had willingly offered advice and suggestions in the planning stages of developing my nursery. After delaying my nursery plans for two years I decided to visit Virginia, meet this nursery owner and see his operation in person. I’ll spare you the details but less than a year later my
major life-changing decision was my move from Maine to work at the nursery in Virginia and t wo years later married Rick, the owner of Rick’s Custom Nursery .


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Both nature lovers we were married in a small church nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains about an hour from our home. When trying to choose the location for our wedding I was immediately drawn to this quaint little church where a small stream across from the church r eve aled never-ending patches of my father’s favorite flowers, Forget Me Nots.


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In 2002, Rick’s back surgery forced us to switch gears at the nursery. Originally a wholesale operation, growing perennials in 25 hoop houses and shipping them to garden centers all over the Mid Atlantic area, we downsized to a 4-5 hoop operation and now sell our plants via mail order, botanical plant sales in Virginia and our annual Open Houses.

I always smile when someone comments that they would LOVE to own a nursery and grow plants. I quickly learned that owning a nursery is not an easy life! Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I love the friendships we’ve created with returning customers every year and I love growing plants! However, it
is a physically demanding job which requires 24/7 attention to every detail. Whether it’s watering during the unbearable heat and humidity in the summer, covering to protect dormant plants during frigid winter temperatures, checking for damage to the hoop houses after severe winds or rushing in the wee hours of the morning to protect delicate plants from a frost that wasn’t in the forecast.  

And let’s not forget the scary run-in with the doe one summer.  She was suspicious of my activities and charged me when she thought I was too close to her young fawns! I even had a rare opportunity last spring when I witnessed a doe giving birth in one of the abandoned hoop houses! There are also cattle occasionally breaking through the fences at the nursery from the adjacent property. Although we’ve had “words” over the years with the cattle farmer, she was very appreciative once when I recognized a problem with one of her cattle when he “blindly” stumbled INTO our hoop houses! The health issue was quickly diagnosed as an eye infection that might have resulted in loss of sight but was avoided after my report of his weird activities to the owner. There’s never a dull moment around here! 

In addition to our nursery responsibilities we’ve spent long hours creating our display gardens. After sharing our gardening photos on forums several years ago I created a history of our gardens documenting the progress on the Photo Galley which is linked to our website. Although we’ve continued with major expansions of the gardens, the photos haven’t been updated for a few years but you can view our past progress at "Our Landscape...a Journey through the years." 


  

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Alhough I have no formal training in landscape design, I utilize my hands-on experience with the plants we grow and strive for pleasing combinations in the gardens and in containers. A few years ago I entered what I hoped would be a winning combo for Fine Gardening’s Container contest. Even though my combo didn’t receive first prize, it did rank in the top ten and was published in their magazine. I continued to create more container combos and while none have received any honors they do provide a colorful display by our front entry.

Without “official” landscaping software I’ve managed to use my Photoshop experience for the development of my planting designs. It not only helps me with my planning it also helps me better explain my ideas to Rick so he can see the “vision” in my head. It not only worked for gardening but with DIY projects I tackled for upgrades of our kitchen and bathrooms! Here are a few photos to give you an idea of the progression of just a few of my many “visions”.


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This method was also extremely useful a few years ago when I was able to help my daughter with the landscaping of their new home. I arrived in Maine with the design I had been planning for six months, a van full of plants, trees and shrubs from our nursery and a list of additional plants needed to purchase at her local nursery. A week later the bare landscape had been transformed with new plantings surrounding their home!


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It was a miserable summer in Maine that year with extensive rain causing flooding throughout the Northeast. The rain plagued our planting efforts for the first few days but we were able to keep ourselves busy constructing a fire pit while we waited for the rains to subside.


Phoebe is a beautiful dog!  Have you other pets, Debbie?

 

Yes, actually we have two dogs, both with the sweetest personalities. Phoebe was a pup from a rescue litter in Northern VA and didn’t hesitate to join us at the nursery every day.

Two years later Lucy joined our crew, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, who loves the water! This is where I often find her cooling off after a romp through the field with Phoebe!


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The nursery is a short drive from our home and both dogs used to spend every day there with us. Unfortunately, they’re not allowed to join us anymore after we’re forced to leave them at home with the scary sighting of regular visits from a large bobcat there last spring!

Our cat, Lucky, is the oldest member of our crew and Rick often jokes that he acts more like a dog than a cat! He’s a relentless hunter and often manages to sneak some of his victims inside, still alive, much to the delight of the dogs! Although he’s a skilled hunter he still hasn’t been successful in completely ridding our gardens of our worst pests, moles and voles, even though he spends most of his time in the gardens!


What would you consider your favorite plants to grow?

 

It would be tough to identify “favorite” plants, although we do have a few. Since the nursery’s specialty is shade plants most of our gardens are planted beneath the canopy of hundreds of trees we’ve planted to create shade and Hostas and Ferns dominate the landscape. There are so many others that might qualify as favorites but since I could ramble on forever about them, here’s a quick glimpse of some of our favorites from the gardens.


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Euphorbias are another favorite which prompted the article I wrote for Dave’s Garden: 'Hardy Euphorbias in the Garden – An Untamed Passion for 'Shrubby Spurges'


The nursery obviously keeps you busy – do you ever find time to travel?

 

Yes, although I didn’t travel far from home when I was younger we have some wonderful memories of our travels in the last ten years. With our full-time responsibilities at the nursery, we were able to squeeze in a few vacations, but in recent years Rick’s back problems have prevented us from planning any major trips.

One of our most memorable trips was our honeymoon with a weeklong cruise down the Columbia River commemorating the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It was a fascinating cruise on National Geographic’s Sea Lion with incredible scenery and excellent food as we followed the historical trail of Lewis & Clark.

Undoubtedly my favorite trip was our unforgettable two-weeks in Belize in 2005. We’ll continue to share the cherished memories of this trip with the group of friends we traveled with for years!

We also spent Christmas in Mexico one year, have had several trips to Florida to visit friends and joined a botanical team searching for wild orchids on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. 

 

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I’m content to stay a little closer to home these days with the exception of trips to visit my family. With a two-“man” operation it’s difficult for both of us to leave the nursery at the same time and unfortunately Rick is unable to join me on most of these visits. I’ve flown to Phoenix several times to visit my oldest son and plan at least one long drive to Maine every summer to visit family. In 2010 I was able to join my family on a trip to Prince Edward Island to visit my grandmother’s birthplace.

And last, but definitely not LEAST, was last summer’s visit when I was able to arrive in Maine just in time to witness the birth of my first grandchild!

I was even able to squeeze in a second trip to Maine this year to surprise my mother on Christmas, and of  course get smooches from my adorable grandson.


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You mentioned your “creative interests."  What are your specific hobbies?


How much time do you have?  I’ll try to be brief!

I recently found a term which I wasn’t familiar with - “Learnaholic”, i.e. always looking for the next craft to try, which describes me to a “T”!

Several years ago I started searching forums and blogs to collect ideas for creative projects to keep me busy during the winter months when the nursery didn’t require as much of my time. A desire for more ‘objects’ in the garden persuaded me to attempt creating my own art and my first ‘object’ was a new address plaque for the end of our driveway. I completed the plaque in April, but with our busy schedule it was November before I had the structure built to display it!


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For years I had admired concrete sculptures for the garden but their price tags were always staggering. I decided to try making my own and equipped with the numerous notes I had collected, I created my first hollow concrete sphere for the gardens. You might be surprised how easy they are to make if you read the tutorial I wrote last summer for All Things Plants.

About the same time I became interested in working with concrete, I started developing an interest in mosaics. I was making a concrete post to support a metal sculpture I had recently purchased. When I was discouraged with the post’s boring design I decided to add a little humor. The design was altered and now supports the ‘Birds in Flight’ sculpture as well as my first mosaic, a cat clinging to the post!

I have several WIP (work in progress) concrete projects whose completion was interrupted when I suffered an ankle injury last July and I won’t have an opportunity to finish them until after my surgery in March. However, in October I did manage to create a sculpture as a birthday gift for my husband to celebrate his 30 years in the nursery business. Customers are always asking him if he has any helpful advice for planting when they purchase plants from us. His response is always the same and prompted the theme – “Plant it green side up”! Unfortunately we had a little accident when we moved the sculpture from the workshop to our front deck but once I’m back on my feet the broken leaf will be re-attached.

In addition to my “crete-activity” I’ve continued to explore mosaics, making a lot of Christmas gifts this year. I’m currently working on mosaic birdhouses that I hope to get installed this spring along a border of the gardens I’m going to call my Birdhouse Alley. Unfortunately I'm running out of time, and space, to post photos of all them  


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My other hobbies include knitting and I’ve had knitting fever since my injury forced me off my feet. I’ve been knitting for my grandson and most are things I chose to knit for him (sweaters, hats, etc.). However, when my daughter indicated she’d like me to knit a sock monkey for him I had a plan of my own. Since my daughter and son-in-law are ‘Soxaholics’ (Red Sox) I designed a special sock monkey for Chase. 


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If you’re interested I posted some of the other items I’ve knit and some of my mosaics. You can see them on this thread in the MAM Cubit (Mid Atlantic Musings).


With an injury slowing you down now, what’s in store for your future?

 

R&R (rest and relaxation) have never been part of my vocabulary and there’s not much that stops me once I set my mind to it. My mother says I’m stubborn, probably either my Yankee upbringing or my French heritage showing! My recent injury is
forcing R&R on me with a short hiatus from the nursery. With any luck I’ll beat the odds of the recommended six month recovery period and I’ll be back at the nursery by mid-summer, feverishly working to catch up in the gardens and maybe even get my outside workshop done to create more art for the garden. I may be temporarily “physically” disabled but mentally my mind’s still exploding with new challenges!


Before we close, Debbie, talk about your involvement with Cubits.

 

Oh my gosh, how could I forget Cubits? I joined the fun when Dave created Cubits and became one of the Administrators to help Stormyla with her Mid Atlantic Musings forum. I had so much fun with the new opportunities available for customizing our forums, and created the banner and graphics for the MAM forums.

I also enthusiastically joined Dave’s challenge to create the banner for the Cubits site. I was honored not only when he chose my banner design for Cubits but also chose the logo I designed last summer for All Things Plants!  


I’d like to thank Nancy for the opportunity to share my story. Initially I was tongue-tied trying to think of things to tell you but obviously once I started putting my memories on paper it wasn’t long before my chattering nature took over! I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about me. 

 

I hope you are as impressed with this woman's talents as I am.  I can't wait to see what projects she completes during her recovery from foot surgery.  Maybe I can talk her into keeping us updated on new threads with this interview.  So be sure to click "Watch This Article" so you'll know when she posts something.

 

Thank you, Debbie.  It's been a pleasure.

Rcn48

 

When Nancy first contacted me about an interview for the “Spotlight”, I accepted with an enthusiastic “Yes”! I warned her that I love to talk but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be not to get carried away. Nancy didn't give me any restrictions so I’ll try my best to stay on track and not to lose you in the midst of all my babbling!

For those of you who haven’t met me on the forums over the years, I’ve been an avid gardener for over 20 years. Guilty as charged, I’m considered by most a Plantaholic who loves to talk about plants and gardening. I discovered Dave’s Garden in 2004 when, like most of you, I was doing some research for plants on the Internet and I eagerly joined the ranks of zealous gardeners. Most of my time was spent sharing gardening experience with members from the Mid Atlantic and Northeast regions but I also found specific interests I shared with members. I was a frequent visitor to Shade Gardening, Hostas, Ferns, Heucheras, Perennials, and Trees and Shrubs to name a few. When I began to recognize a desire to be a little more creative in my pursuits I soon found myself wandering to Garden Art, Hypertufa and Concrete, and even Trash to Treasure! But I digress, I’ve read Who’s Who Spotlights so I’m assuming you’re interested in knowing a little more about me before I start rambling on about my creative interests? Rolling my eyes.

I currently live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, with views of the sun rising over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and sunsets in the west over the Allegheny Mountains.

 

However, I’m a Yankee at heart, born and raised in Bangor, Maine. My parents were both hard working individuals, my father worked all his life at the local paper mill, following in his father’s footsteps with a lifelong career in the same mill, and my mother worked in a large department store. My poor father grew up with seven sisters and wasn’t blessed with any sons, only two daughters!

 

My sister and I were never involved in sports during our youth but my father was a true outdoorsman and although neither of us ever had any interest in hunting we did enjoy joining him for brook fishing and ice fishing during the winters. It’s not difficult to see where my father inherited his love of the outdoors – although the photo shows my grandfather it could just have easily been a photo of my father – breakfast was often served with brook trout from early morning visits to his favorite brooks.


I also inherited a love of the outdoors and was thrilled when my first husband and I purchased our own home just south of Bangor with 96 acres – a lovely hollow with wonderful, rich bottomland for gardening and a small brook surrounded by ridges of beech, oak and pine trees. My grandmother used to call it our “Little House on the Prairie” where we followed what was referred to at the time as “back to the land” living.


 



 

 

I became the proud mother of three children, two sons and a daughter, all of whom were delivered at home with the assistance of a Midwife. With the arrival of our first son, I became a “stay at home Mom” and we grew a lot of our own food, canned and froze vegetables from our garden and spent a few years raising pigs, chickens, turkeys and rabbits. We heated our home with wood and cut our own firewood from the property with the help of Dick, a feisty Belgian workhorse. I have so many fond memories of over 25 years spent on those 96 acres including the aromas of homemade bread rising on the antique cook stove and traditional Saturday night dinners of baked beans. My early morning walks in the woods were an inspiration, identifying the numerous wildflowers and spotting the first Ladyslippers every spring. Much to our delight, beavers discovered Thurlow Brook on the property in later years. Their hard work created a small pond which provided entertainment for us, whether we were watching the amusing antics of the beavers or spotting wildlife attracted by the new pond – elusive Wood Ducks and even a moose!

Of course there are not so fond memories as well, especially the long rough winters in Maine with snow and ice, frigid temperatures and mud season! Since we lived on a rural dirt road we often suffered being last on the list for the snowplow to clear our road and the two-mile drive to the main road was often difficult getting up and out of the hollow with icy roads. Mud provided another season of challenges when it was difficult to maneuver the drive up a steep slope after logging trucks had turned the road into a quagmire in the early spring.

And then of course, my children’s complaints about living in the middle of nowhere and so far from their friends from school. Our location did offer unique opportunities however and there were plenty of activities to keep their friends from town entertained when they visited. We even had small pond that we kept shoveled in the winter to provide a skating rink for them and it was often the site of weekend hockey games with their friends. Regardless of the complaints I heard when my children were growing up they realize our rural setting offered a natural environment for their upbringing and now they often express their appreciation of their early years in the country.

 

Nancy: Now that we’ve heard about your early years as a “stay at home Mom”, have you held other jobs outside the home?

Oh my, yes! I had notes written to give you an idea of the various positions I’ve held through the years and realized I’d much rather be talking about gardening or plants so here’s a quick history.

 

 

I worked for the Auditing Department of local bank after high school graduation and then worked for several Attorneys until my children were born. After the birth of my first son, I reluctantly accepted a position with an insurance claims office when it became apparent a supplemental income was necessary. However, my contacts through this position proved fruitful when I started my home-based business, “ExecuType”, with the arrival of my daughter. I was able to work from home as a transcriptionist, typing for insurance companies and medical offices. After the birth of my second son, my business expanded and I continued to work from home as well as hold part-time office positions that allowed me the flexibility of making my own hours and arriving home in time for the school bus. Another plus was if I was really, really organized, I could squeeze in a couple of hours for gardening in the early morning hours and even started a small landscaping business, “Not Just Shrubs”, to introduce clients to the possibilities perennials offered.

By the time my children were entering high school and middle school, I made the transition to a full-time position. I worked a short stint with MBNA, the credit card giant who enticed many Maine residents with their above average salaries and benefits. However, I quickly became disenchanted with MBNA’s philosophies and felt I couldn’t provide the customer service I was hired for. Inquiries/complaints I received were “timed” leaving me totally frustrated in my sincere efforts to resolve customer’s calls. Within six months I was more than happy to leave MBNA and accept a position processing medical claims for a prominent plastic surgeon and within a year was promoted to Office Manager. Even though most might associate this profession with “elective” plastic surgery, the “non-elective” patients we treated provided an extremely rewarding and satisfying position for me. I would probably still be working in that position if it hadn’t been for the major life-changing decision I made over ten years ago, which brings me to my gardening endeavors.

 

Gardening

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I probably became interested in gardening when visiting my paternal grandparents when I was young. They always had a huge vegetable garden and I remember admiring my grandmother’s flower borders along the driveway and her houseplants on their porch. In later years the bounty of vegetables I enjoyed from my parents’ gardens definitely influenced our own vegetable gardening when we purchased our home. In the mid-80’s I became aware of a term I wasn’t familiar with – perennials! I began educating myself by checking out tons of books and manuals from the local library and started landscaping our grounds with perennials, some of which my maternal grandmother shared with me from her out of state visits to relatives’ gardens.

 

 

I began sharing my gardening experiences with friends whose children played sports with my children. After years of having an annual tour of each other’s gardens we organized an official public garden tour to raise funds for the local hockey team. The garden tour was a huge success and after the encouraging compliments I received from visitors to my gardens I embarked on my dream of developing a small nursery on my property.

 

My father had recently retired and was enthusiastic to help me in my endeavor. We built raised beds for growing perennials and every weekend he would arrive with his chain saw to help carve paths through the adjoining woodlands, which would enable visitors to view the wildflowers. Unfortunately most of these gardening years were ‘pre-digital’ and very few of the many photos documenting these years have found their way to my computer.

Most of the people I’ve met through the gardening forums know I have serious ‘rock envy’ with the lack of rocks readily available to me in my new home in Virginia. I did find these two photos of the rock walls and steps I created in the perennial beds in Maine.


Sadly, my nursery plans were shattered with the arrival of the major ice storm in 1997 and my father’s passing shortly after. Sad The damage from the ice storm was devastating with huge pines collapsing under the weight of the ice, destroying all the paths we had worked so hard to carve through the woodlands and needless to say my nursery plans were postponed, indefinitely.

However, over the years I became acquainted with a nursery owner from Virginia through an online garden chat who had willingly offered advice and suggestions in the planning stages of developing my nursery. After delaying my nursery plans for two years I decided to visit Virginia, meet this nursery owner and see his operation in person. I’ll spare you the details but less than a year later my
major life-changing decision was my move from Maine to work at the nursery in Virginia and two years later married Rick, the owner of Rick’s Custom Nursery http://rickscustomnursery.com/

Both nature lovers we were married in a small church nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains about an hour from our home. When trying to choose the location of our wedding I was immediately drawn to this quaint little church where a small stream across from the church revealed never-ending patches of my father’s favorite flowers, Forget me Nots.

 

 

 

In 2002, Rick’s back surgery forced us to switch gears at the nursery. Originally a wholesale operation, growing perennials in 25 hoop houses and shipping them to garden centers all over the Mid Atlantic area, we downsized to a 4-5 hoop operation and now sell our plants via mail order, botanical plant sales in Virginia and our annual Open Houses (http://www.rickscustomnursery.com/openhouse.htm).

I always smile when someone comments that they would LOVE to own a nursery and grow plants. I quickly learned that owning a nursery is not an easy life! Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I love the friendships we’ve created with returning customers every year and I love growing plants! However, it
is a physically demanding job which requires 24/7 attention to every detail. Whether it’s watering during the unbearable heat and humidity in the summer, covering to protect dormant plants during frigid winter temperatures, checking for damage to the hoop houses after severe winds or rushing in the wee hours of the morning to protect delicate plants from a frost that wasn’t in the forecast – there’s never a dull moment around here!

 

In addition to our nursery responsibilities we’ve spent long hours creating our display gardens. After sharing our gardening photos on forums several years ago I created a history of our gardens documenting the progress on the Photo Galley which is linked to our website. Although we’ve continued with major expansions of the gardens, the photos haven’t been updated for a few years but you can view our past progress "Our Landscape...a Journey through the years" http://www.pbase.com/rickscustomnursery/our_landscape

Alhough I have no formal training in landscape design, I utilize my hands-on experience with the plants we grow and strive for pleasing combinations in the gardens and in containers. A few years ago I entered what I hoped would be a winning combo for Fine Gardening’s Container contest. Even though my combo didn’t receive first prize it did rank in the top ten and was published in their magazine. I continued to create more container combos and while none have received any honors they do provide a colorful display by our front entry.


Without “official” landscaping software I’ve managed to use my Photoshop experience for the development of my planting designs. It not only helps me with my planning it also helps me better explain my ideas to Rick so he can see the “vision” in my head. It not only worked for gardening but with DIY projects I tackled for upgrades of our kitchen and bathrooms! Here are a few photos to give you an idea of the progression of just a few of my many “visions”.

 

 

 

 

This method was also extremely useful a few years ago when I was able to help my daughter with the landscaping of their new home. I arrived in Maine with the design I had been planning for six months, a van full of plants, trees and shrubs from our nursery and a list of additional plants needed to purchase at her local nursery. A week later the bare landscape had been transformed with new plantings surrounding their home!

 

It was a miserable summer in Maine that year with extensive rain causing flooding throughout the Northeast. The rain plagued our planting efforts for the first few days but we were able to keep ourselves busy constructing a fire pit while we waited for the rains to subside.

Nancy: After seeing the photo of Phoebe, I’m wondering if you have any other pets?

Yes, actually we have two dogs, both with the sweetest personalities. Phoebe was a pup from a rescue litter in Northern VA and didn’t hesitate to join us at the nursery every day.

 

Two years later Lucy joined our crew, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, who loves the water! This is where I often find her cooling off after a romp through the field with Phoebe!

The nursery is a short drive from our home and both dogs used to spend every day there with us. Unfortunately, they’re not allowed to join us anymore after we’re forced to leave them at home with the scary sighting of regular visits from a large bobcat there last spring!

Our cat, Lucky, is the oldest member of our crew and Rick often jokes that he acts more like a dog than a cat! He’s a relentless hunter and often manages to sneak some of his victims inside, still alive, much to the delight of the dogs! Although he’s a skilled hunter he still hasn’t been successful in completely ridding our gardens of our worst pests, moles and voles, even though he spends most of his time in the gardens!

Nancy: All this gardening talk makes me wonder, do you have any favorite plants?

It would be tough to identify “favorite” plants although we do have a few. Since the nursery’s specialty is shade plants most of our gardens are planted beneath the canopy of hundreds of trees we’ve planted to create shade and Hostas and Ferns dominate the landscape. There are so many others that might qualify as favorites but since I could ramble on forever about them, here’s a quick glimpse of some of our favorites from the gardens.

 

 

 

 

Nancy: The nursery obviously keeps you busy – do you ever find time to travel?

Yes, although I didn’t travel far from home when I was younger we have some wonderful memories of our travels in the last ten years. With the full-time responsibilities at the nursery we were able to squeeze in a few vacations but in recent years Rick’s back problems have prevented us from planning any major trips.

One of our most memorable trips was our honeymoon with a weeklong cruise down the Columbia River commemorating the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It was a fascinating cruise on National Geographic’s Sea Lion with incredible scenery and excellent food as we followed the historical trail of Lewis & Clark.

 

Undoubtedly my favorite trip was our unforgettable two-weeks in Belize in 2005. We’ll continue to share the cherished memories of this trip with the group of friends we traveled with for years!

We also spent Christmas in Mexico one year, have had several trips to Florida to visit friends and joined a botanical team searching for wild orchids on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario

 

I’m content to stay a little closer to home these days with the exception of trips to visit my family. With a two-“man” operation it’s difficult for both of us to leave the nursery at the same time and unfortunately Rick is unable to join me on most of these visits. I’ve flown to Phoenix several times to visit my oldest son and plan at least one long drive to Maine every summer to visit family. In 2010 I was able to join my family on a trip to Prince Edward Island to visit my grandmother’s birthplace.

 

And last, but definitely not LEAST, was last summer’s visit when I was able to arrive in Maine just in time to witness the birth of my first grandchild!

I was even able to squeeze in a second trip to Maine this year to surprise my mother on Christmas, and of course get smooches from my adorable grandson.

 

Nancy: You mentioned your “creative interests”, do you have specific hobbies?

How much time do you have? Rolling on the floor laughing I’ll try to be brief!

I recently found a term which I wasn’t familiar with - “Learnaholic”, i.e. always looking for the next craft to try, which describes me to a “T”!


 

 

 

Several years ago I started searching forums and blogs to collect ideas for creative projects to keep me busy during the winter months when the nursery didn’t require as much of my time. A desire for more ‘objects’ in the garden persuaded me to attempt creating my own art and my first ‘object’ was a new address plaque for the end of our driveway. I completed the plaque in April but with our busy schedule it was November before I had the structure built to display it!

 

For years I had admired concrete sculptures for the garden but their price tags were always staggering. I decided to try making my own and equipped with the numerous notes I had collected, I created my first hollow concrete sphere for the gardens. You might be surprised how easy they are to make if you read the tutorial I wrote last summer for All Things Plants. http://allthingsplants.com/articles/view/rcn48/135/Tutorial-...

About the same time I became interested in working with concrete I started developing an interest in mosaics. I was making a concrete post to support a metal sculpture I had recently purchased. When I was discouraged with the post’s boring design I decided to add a little humor. The design was altered and now supports the ‘Birds in Flight’ sculpture as well as my first mosaic, a cat clinging to the post!

I have several WIP (work in progress) concrete projects whose completion was interrupted when I suffered an ankle injury last July and I won’t have an opportunity to finish them until after my surgery in March. However, in October I did manage to create a sculpture as a birthday gift for my husband to celebrate his 30 years in the nursery business. Customers are always asking him if he has any helpful advice for planting when they purchase plants from us. His response is always the same and prompted the theme – “Plant it green side up”! Unfortunately we had a little accident when we moved the sculpture from the workshop to our front deck but once I’m back on my feet the broken leaf will be re-attached.

In addition to my “crete-activity” I’ve continued to explore mosaics, making a lot of Christmas gifts this year. I’m currently working on mosaic birdhouses that I hope to get installed this spring along a border of the gardens I’m going to call my Birdhouse Alley. Unfortunately I'm running out of time, and space, to post photos of all them!

 

 

My other hobbies include knitting and I’ve had knitting fever since my injury forced me off my feet. I’ve been knitting for my grandson and most are things I chose to knit for him (sweaters, hats, etc.). However, when my daughter indicated she’d like me to knit a sock monkey for him I had a plan of my own. Since my daughter and son-in-law are ‘Soxaholics’ (Red Sox) I designed a special sock monkey for Chase.

 

 

If you’re interested I posted some of the other items I’ve knit and you can see them on this thread in the MAM Cubit (Mid Atlantic Musings). http://cubits.org/MidAtlanticMusings/thread/view/66535/

Nancy: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Oh my gosh, how could I forget Cubits? I joined the fun when Dave created Cubits and became one of the Administrators to help Stormyla with her Mid Atlantic Musings forum. I had so much fun with the new opportunities available for customizing our forums and created the banner and graphics the MAM forums. http://cubits.org/MidAtlanticMusings/

I also enthusiastically joined Dave’s challenge to create the banner for the Cubits site. I was honored not only when he chose my banner design for Cubits but also chose the logo I designed last summer for All Things Plants!

Nancy: With an injury slowing you down, what’s in store for your future?

R&R (rest and relaxation) have never been part of my vocabulary and there’s not much that stops me once I set my mind to it. My mother says I’m stubborn, probably either my Yankee upbringing or my French heritage showing! My recent injury is
forcing R&R on me with a short hiatus from the nursery. With any luck I’ll beat the odds of the recommended six month recovery period and I’ll be back at the nursery by mid-summer, feverishly working to catch up in the gardens and maybe even get my outside workshop done to create more art for the garden. I may be temporarily “physically” disabled but mentally my mind’s still exploding with new challenges!

I’d like to thank Nancy for the opportunity to share my story. Initially I was tongue-tied trying to think of things to tell you but obviously once I started putting my memories on paper it wasn’t long before my chattering nature took over! I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about me. Big Grin

 

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About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Great read~~ kaglic Apr 1, 2012 6:59 PM 2
Hey Deb!! Sharon Feb 17, 2012 12:39 AM 23
a fellow Virginian! Lance Feb 13, 2012 12:02 PM 2

Who's Who Spotlight

Who's Who Spotlight articles feature personal interviews and photos of individual Cubits members, sharing with you their talents and expertise in a variety of areas and interests.

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