Category Archives: History

Our New Work/Design Space – Change is Good!

This Will Be Our New Work Area

Taking the hard goods area apart…

Last year I recounted some of the changes Oak Street Garden Shop has been a part of, or witness to, in the “25 Years, …A Look Back” blog posts, observing that years ago we didn’t have the luxury of camera phones to help us easily document events of importance for our little garden shop in the heart of Crestline Village in Mountain Brook, Alabama. How far technology (and we) have come!

Our website and blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all allow us to be “out there” and connected, for better or worse. So, here’s the story, in almost real time, of the big switcharoo of hard goods area into design area and vice versa.

The New Work Area In Progress

Getting worse before getting better…

Last fall, when Pinkie, Jamie, and Molly brought up the idea of moving our work area from the far end of the greenhouse to behind the cash-out area right up front, I was immediately on board. We’d been idly discussing on and off for about two years how uninviting it looked behind the cash registers.

In a space dark and hard to get to, our sales of fertilizer and other hard goods were steadily declining. Add to that the fact that our present design area was far from customers and we couldn’t always see if people needed help (Owner Billy Angell was never happy about that.), switching the two areas made perfect sense.

Billy's Plan For The New Work Area

The plan…

I knew Billy would be pleasantly surprised that we wanted to make this move, and, after discussing what we would like, he came up with a plan in January, 2016, and we were ready to go.

We all decided that a light color would open up the space and would be a welcome change from the dark brown and eggplant shades. Jamie, Molly, Pinkie, Angie, and Danielle spent countless January hours painting the ceiling structure, posts, and everything in between a lovely blue (When they were finally finished in March, none of them wanted to lay eyes on another paintbrush!).Storage For The New Work Area

Thank goodness that January and February are relatively slow months, because we continued to work in the old design area even as it was being dismantled and packed up. Boxes and boxes of burlap rolls, florist picks and wire, ribbon, scissors, rock and pebbles for terrariums, moss, glue guns and glue sticks, sold tags, Sharpies…it felt like nothing was where it used to be and everything I needed was somewhere else. This obviously went on for weeks as the new work area was slowly transformed from dingy and dark to light and open, becoming a welcoming entrance to the greenhouse.

Potting Bench and Storage - New Work Area

New potting bench and storage…

Bert began building the steps that would display finished arrangements and serve as end caps to the two work tables,  two potting benches to anchor the far ends of the design area, and storage shelves for moss boxes, ribbon and other materials.

Taking A Break From Painting - Molly, Jamie, Danielle

Molly, Jamie, and Danielle taking a break..

Angie, Jamie, and Molly picked up their paintbrushes again. Danielle wasn’t out of the woods on painting either, spending countless days covering the shelves that were moved into the new hard goods area. It was coming together slowly but surely.

Pinkie has great organizational skills, so I asked her to get whatever she thought would work best for our new space. Since we would be right up front, I wanted to be sure all of our work items were organized and easily accessible.

New Work Area - Billy and friend, Pratt

Billy and friend Pratt…

 

 

 

New Work Area - Getting Lights

The electrician adding more light…

She measured all the storage areas, decided what we needed, and made shopping trip after shopping trip to start us out right with a clean, neat, and organized design area. I’ve said over and over that one of  my favorite things are the baskets she found  that an entire box of sheet moss fits in (No more ugly moss boxes everywhere!!) and that slide onto the back shelf within easy reach.

We needed more light, and everyone wanted fans to keep us as cool as possible, especially in the summertime heat. The old fans we were using were barely working, and we wanted something better.

Design Area - Finished

We love our new design area!

Our electrician, Ken, installed new lighting and plugs, and Billy order two brand new wall mounted fans that caused a lot of excitement when they arrived. Finally, with the two fans mounted, our new design area was complete.  What a transformation!

 

The new hard goods area looks so much different  too, in what used to be our work/design area.  It’s now home to all the fertilizer, potting soil, samples of mulch, topsoil, soil conditioner and topsoil, tools, children’s tools, gloves, pruners, organic products, chemicals, mache liners, and some of our light weight pots, and is shaded too. Billy and Pinkie took charge of organizing it, and it’s much more inviting by a country mile!New Hard Goods Area

With the busy spring season upon us, we hope you’ll stop in to browse the nursery for any plants you need for the garden or planters. And, when  you come in the greenhouse, be sure to take a look at our new layout too!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Botanical Interests Spring Seeds – So Much Promise In A Packet

On a gray, cold day in the middle of February, the promise of a beautiful spring and all the summer days to follow arrived in two nondescript boxes. Tearing them open, I looked at brightly colored seed packet after seed packet of herbs, flowers, vines, and vegetables, and began sorting them out.Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

This was easier said than done, as we’re still in the midst of a major rearrange of the greenhouse, moving our work/design area from one end to the other, in the process cleaning, painting, reorganizing, and generally going through the proverbial “mess before it gets into some semblance of order” phase.

Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

 

 

 

Jamie and I had prepared though, setting up seed racks by the front table where our garden shop cat, Liam, likes to sleep. I pulled all the fall “cool season” seeds and set out a 50% off sale sign on them.

Purchasing them now at a discount is a smart move. Keep them cool and dry, since humidity and warmth may shorten a seed’s shelf life.  Knowing this, the best way to store any seed you purchase is in plastic food storage bags, glass jars with tight fitting lids, or any other container that will stay sealed. Place them in your refrigerator (Not the freezer!) until you’re ready to use them.image

Once you’ve browsed the sale seeds, don’t forget to check out this season’s selection for your summer flowers and vegetables.  I’ve already set aside some of them for the Better Late Than Never Garden – assortments of tall cutting zinnias, sunflowers, tithonia (Remember the tall, beautiful orange flowers that bloomed late in the season?), spider flower, moonvine, ‘Red Burgundy’ okra (It’s ornamental and edible!) and more. I’ll be putting them in my refrigerator at home until I sow them sometime in late spring/early summer.Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

Of course there are many things that can be started inside under grow lights or in a greenhouse much earlier, and this can be a fun and educational project for anyone with children. Simply follow the directions on the seed packet to ensure success. It will say how many days to sow before or after the last average frost (For us, that magic date is April 15th.). Knowing that will help you start your seeds at just the right time.

So plant some seeds this year. You just might be surprised at what comes up!

By Kris Blevons

Celebrating 25 Years With A Look Back – A Decade Of Change 2000-2010

The first 10 years of Oak Street Garden Shop were marked by slow and steady growth. Of course, any successful business has to “go with the flow” and roll with the sometimes sucker punches of weather, employee turnover, and unforeseen expenses.

9/11Memorial

9/11 memorial

The decade of the 2000’s certainly held its share of surprises though. It began with the national tragedy of 9/11, a memory seared into the collective conscience of every one of us. No one would have dreamed in Oak Street Garden Shop’s beginnings in 1990 that a piece of New York City’s  World Trade Center would have a place directly across the street (many years after the tragedy, as part of a memorial in front of a newly constructed City Hall and fire station complex  in the next decade), or that a completely rebuilt 2-story library would be completed in the spring of 2001, or that a devastating drought would bring the business to its knees, simultaneously giving birth to a recognized and respected ‘green industry’.

Emmet O'Neal Library

Emmet O’Neal Library

Looking back, it just doesn’t seem possible we lived through all of that and more. The old Emmet O’Neal library came down quickly and went up just as fast, though it began with the incessant pounding day after day after day of the piledrivers, driving deep into the Mountain Brook bedrock.

My head had never hurt so badly as it did those weeks of that early construction. The pounding continued in our heads even after we left for the day and the next day and the day after…until finally, blessedly, it ended and the building began to rise and rise and rise across the corner from Oak Street Garden Shop.

The one-two punch of an historic drought of 2007 and a downturn in the economy in 2008 were the next big tests of the now established business. Until 2007, the shop had been running  like clockwork, and new customers continued to find our little shop across from the library.

Things were looking good. But then, in 2007, the rains stopped.  Birmingham received barely 29 inches of rainfall – well below normal rainfall of nearly 54.  A mere 31.85 inches fell in Atlanta, also well below the average, and Huntsville was just as bad. The entire southeast was going into a drought.

With such serious water shortages, the Birmingham Water Board directed the full force of its weight toward outdoor watering restrictions, and we found ourselves in the direct line of fire.  Because the BWW  publicly declared all garden related businesses “non-essential“, by their new rules  we were not allowed to water even any of the very few plants we were stocking.

Put in the bluntest terms, since they considered our work “non-essential”, it wouldn’t matter to them  if we went out of business.  Billy Angell knew right away that, if he couldn’t convince the Mountain Brook City Council to create a special ordinance allowing Oak Street Garden Shop to water its plant inventory, he might as well close his doors for good.

It was a very scary and depressing time for us all.  The stress was etched on Billy Angell’s face as he stood before the Mountain Brook city council that Tuesday evening.  He had totaled all the water bills for Oak Street Garden Shop from the previous year – a grand total of $500.  His personal home usage had been much more.  Thankfully, the city leaders at the time valued Oak Street Garden Shop enough to allow the hand watering with hoses of our plants, a practice which continues to this day. It still surprises people that the amount of water we use irrigating plants is not more significant.  In fact, we found hand irrigating to be even more efficient and  eventually completely  dismantled the irrigation system for good a few years later.

The battle certainly wasn’t over though, as the ripple effects of this historic drought were astounding. Many growers and nurseries, because of outright outdoor watering bans in surrounding areas and states, went out of business. We were witnessing the industry  we had worked in for years casually tossed off as not worth listening to, helping, or being of any value at all to the community or state.

It was a mind-numbing thought. Garden shops and wholesale nurseries  watched as car washes continued without restriction, though people were told they shouldn’t wash their cars so much. Large industrial plants continued to use enormous amounts of water unabated, and indoor usage of water was never threatened beyond suggestions of how to conserve water inside and the discussion of a tiered billing system.

In fact, by their rules, we could water with abandon inside the greenhouse. Of course, that hardly mattered since only a few were buying plants they’d have to water, be it inside or out.  And, while we understood that cutting back on outdoor water usage was absolutely necessary, it seemed to us that a more balanced approach, and one which included the monitoring of indoor water usage in homes and businesses, needed to be a more focused part of the discussion. Clearly, and most importantly, our industry needed to join forces to prove our worth.

So, at this critical  juncture in the shop’s history, Billy Angell found himself part of a small but determined group of nursery owners, growers, and industry leaders. They had watched with mounting concern the outright and complete water bans going into effect in the Atlanta area and in many other parts of Georgia and had seen the serious toll they were taking on the green industry in that state. They also remembered the outright water ban that had affected Birmingham during a drought in the fall of 2001. So, feeling as though they were fighting for their livelihoods, they persevered, going to and speaking out at many Birmingham Waterworks Board meetings, pushing for more even-handed  conservation measures.

In large part due to this pressure, the water restrictions imposed did not include an outright ban. The drought continued into 2008 and segued into the downturn in the economy, so we all breathed a sigh of relief when the rains finally came again. This crisis had energized the Alabama Landscape and Nurseryman’s Association, though, and an economic impact study was commissioned which showed the extent of the newly-coined ‘Green Industry’s’ worth to the state of Alabama. Now there were solid numbers to back up our words.

What a decade, indeed…

By Kris Blevons

For me, 2007 and 2008  were difficult years for other reasons too. In June 2008, following the summer of the southeast drought, the Rock River in Wisconsin, where my parents’ home is (and where I grew up), went through historic and devastating flooding. For weeks their home, in Fort Atkinson,  and many others were on the brink of  being lost as torrential rains continued non-stop on top of  soil saturated from more than 100″ of snowmelt. The stress was palpable for them, and  for me too, being at such a distance and feeling so helpless. At the height of the flooding, as the river crested, my sister and brother-in-law drove to my parents’ home from theirs in Milwaukee to evacuate them if necessary. They made it across the final bridge as swiftly moving river water crept over the road.  My parents’ home miraculously was spared, but thousands of people and many communities throughout the Midwest were severely impacted. Looking back now, the incredible juxtaposition of flood and drought and the effect both had on my life is still difficult to think about.  

 

 

 

 

Celebrating 25 Years With A Look Back – Our Cats

Gracie could always find a good spot...

Gracie could always
find a good spot…

When I started at Oak Street Garden Shop there weren’t any shop cats. This didn’t seem unusual at the time; they just hadn’t found us yet.  Billy and Ellen had tried to introduce a couple of kittens the first year, but the stories I heard were of potting benches being used for…well, you possibly get the picture. At any rate, by the time I arrived the following year, there weren’t any.

Gracie loved catnip...

Gracie loved catnip…

To be honest, I don’t remember when the very first cat found us (He probably wandered over from the country club golf course just down the street.). He was black and white and hiding under Mauby’s restaurant’s outdoor eating deck next door, so we named him Dexie. He didn’t hang around long though; he was very feral and we never could get too close.

Gracie loved tummy rubs...

Gracie loved tummy rubs…

Our first true garden shop cat was Gracie. A big feral gray cat, he came a long, long  way in the approximately 20 years he was with us. At the beginning no one could get anywhere near. Being such a big beautiful cat, we were sure this cat was a girl and decided Gracie was a fitting name for such a beauty. Getting this one to the vet proved to be quite an ordeal.

Trapping was the only answer because there was absolutely no getting near this cat to coax it into a regular cat carrier. But we knew we had to get it shots and neutered too. It took weeks of trying, but finally we had this big gray fur ball  trapped and to the vet…and discovered he was a boy. We’d been calling him Gracie for so long by now though that there was no going back!

Gracie - strectched out on a hot day...

Gracie – strectched out
on a hot day…

Once that was done he seemed to know he was safe at the shop, and he would come and go.  He never liked to be locked in the greenhouse and would always find a way out, to Billy’s dismay since it usually involved creating a hole somewhere to slip out of, which of course let cold air in.

I’ll never forget having to get him to the vet for shots. We’d come far, by this point  and could get close enough to grab him to push him into a cat carrier – but we had to do it quickly!  He was the loudest, most obnoxious sounding  cat in the waiting room and shot out of that carrier like a bullet when the vet opened the door.  They had quite a time catching him to take care of his shots.

Gracie disappeared for months during the construction of city hall, and we thought something terrible had happened to him. We’d finally resigned ourselves that he was gone, though we still held out hope he was okay and would come back “any day now.”  I was home the Sunday that our friend Ann Blake, who helps feed other stray cats in the area, called me. “Guess who’s back!”, she said excitedly. “Gracie!”  Much thinner, and his entire stomach and back legs covered with dried up mud, he’d somehow  made his way back to us from wherever he’d been.

Gracie...4th of July

Gracie…4th of July

It may just be me, but I think that was his turning point. After that he was okay about being petted, even rolling over on his back and showing his tummy. He put up with occasional accidental watering (He could be hard to see, lying on tables behind plants!). In fact, Gracie was around so long he overlapped 3 other cats: Abby, Daisy and Ozzie.

One day, as we were all working in the back of the greenhouse, a shadow up above caught our eye. There was Gracie, on the very top of the greenhouse, nonchalantly taking a stroll across the roof. Days later Billy happened to see him too. To say he was not happy is an understatement,  as Gracie’s claws were poking holes in the poly covering…not good at all. Thank you, Billy, for not sending Gracie away! Unfortunately, we never could break our big gray cat of this practice, and the roof suffered for it. Finally, in his old age, he stopped, and thankfully no other cats have taken it up after him.

Every now and then Abby would get on someone's lap...

Every now and then Abby
would get on someone’s lap…

Abbie found us next, a tiny little tortoise shell cat with a stocky body and short, stubby legs. I still remember my first sight of her peaking around some pots at me.  It turned out she was pregnant. Fortunately an employee at the time, Andrea, was able to take her in until she had her kittens. We got her “fixed” quickly after that!

People would look at her and say, “What an ugly cat.” I thought that was terribly rude, especially since I thought she was very pretty. Neither Abby nor Gracie were the cats that kids could come and pet, and Abby actually liked to play hard to get, though she would follow me around the greenhouse and I became quite attached to her.

Abby - I never thought she was ugly...

Abby – I never thought she was ugly…

One day a customer brought in an unlikely addition to a centerpiece – a stuffed bobcat. Jamie had the interesting job of centering this scary looking piece on a tray and working plants around it for the customer’s dinner party. When Abby caught sight of that bobcat, our poor kitty  was terrified. She did not want anything to do with it, and we were all so happy when it left the greenhouse!

 

Abby disappeared for a few long weeks too. Again, we thought, well she’s gone and Gracie will be the lone garden shop cat again. I will never forget the day she came tearing through the greenhouse doors wild-eyed and collapsed in the entrance, heaving from having been running so quickly.

I’m not sure what happened to her when she was gone; she had problems with her ears after her disappearance, even after we took her to the vet to have them checked out.

Abby would follow me around...

Abby would follow me around…

 

 

But to see her racing through that door…she must have been so happy to be back. It was after that vet visit, when I took her home to recover, and after she’d been hit by a car, that I decided to keep her.

She became my garden cat, following me everywhere, just as she’d done at the greenhouse. Sadly, she died of an aneurysm a few years later. I still miss her very much.

 

 

 

Daisy...

Daisy…

Next was a long-hair beauty that arrived as a kitten, all big eyes and fur. She was crying behind the greenhouse and was a very sick little kitty. After trips to the vet, she was much healthier, and we decided to have a naming contest for her.

Daisy loved lying in the pumpkin display...

Daisy loved lying in the pumpkin display…

We  received many suggestions and put all the names in a bowl and drew. A little girl won who’d chosen the name Daisy. Daisy was a sweet thing, and the pictures we have of her on the pumpkin display only capture a tenth of how charming she was.

Unfortunately, she disappeared not long after she arrived, and we choose to believe that someone took her home (She’d been known to wander down the road toward other businesses.). I hope she’s happy and living in luxury wherever she is.

Gracie & Ozzie were buddies...

Gracie & Ozzie were buddies…

Ozzie appeared one day and stayed, and eventually he and Gracie became very close, sleeping together and generally hanging out with each other. It was nice that Gracie had a buddy. Ozzie always kept his distance from us,  though you’d find him sleeping in the sun down in the herb section or taking a nap in of all places, the potting bench. When Gracie disappeared (This time for good, we’re sure, since he was about 20 years old.), we could tell

Ozzie is the old man of the greenhouse...

Ozzie is the old man of the greenhouse…

 

 

 

Ozzie was definitely lonely, and we’re glad he  finally allowed us to pet him. Ozzie comes and goes, and we all worry about him crossing the street to go over to the library. He’s the cat you might have heard loudly meowing on the corner (He has a very distinctive meow.), as if to tell traffic, “I’m here; let me across the street!”

 

Tacca...not long after she found us...

Tacca…not long after
she found us…

Last May, 2014, two weeks after Gracie disappeared (and we were all a little down because we feared the worst), a former employee, Jay, heard crying under the pinestraw pallets and went to investigate. He found a very scared and hungry young cat, really just skin and bones. It  ventured out, and we gave it some food. Oh my, she was so hungry and ate prodigiously that first week. We named her Tacca, after the bat plant, and took her to the vet. From a start of 5 pounds to now over 11, she has filled out and has turned into a dream of a garden shop cat.

Tacca in the "snow"

Tacca in the “snow”

 

 

 

 

 

In fact,  Tacca has become so popular children come to visit her. She found the perfect spot during the holidays, settling in each day on the fake, cottony “snow” in the display behind the front counters – a great place to watch all the action during the holidays, and cushy enough to take a nap.

Tacca in the "snow"

Tacca in the “snow”

Best of all, there were always children coming in and they all wanted to pet her! What a long way she’s come from that sad-eyed and painfully thin young cat. She is also extremely territorial and won’t hesitate to bop little dogs on the nose if they get too close. She’ll stare down big dogs too!  Unfortunately, she hasn’t warmed up to Ozzie or our other new kitty (More on him in a moment.), but we are keeping our fingers crossed she does. Ozzie really needs a friend.

Maybe Ozzie’s friend will be Liam, our latest addition to the Oak Street Garden Shop family. He is a very sweet, young gray cat, with amazing yellow eyes who walked in the door this past Saint Patrick’s Day. Just as we had with Tacca, we tried to find out if he belonged to anyone who might be missing him,, but no one came forward.

Liam

Liam

We tried to keep his arrival a secret from Billy, thinking (rightly) that he would not be ecstatic about a 3 cat shop. This was working out okay (Billy isn’t very cat observant.) until, just the other day, a customer looked at him (All this took place in front of Billy.) and said, “But that’s a different cat, isn’t it? Where’s Tacca?” We knew then the jig was up and we’d have to tell him we wanted to keep this little guy.

Liam found a pot of catnip...

Liam found a pot of catnip…

 

 

Unfortunately for Billy (but happily for the rest of us), he really didn’t have much of a chance to say no since a  customer had already insisted on helping pay for neutering and shots. So Liam is now officially the last in a long line of Oak Street Garden Shop feline ambassadors.

We’re so happy customers and children enjoy their company as much as we do and know that both Tacca and Liam will love getting attention and pets from all the kind people we see every day. We began 25 years ago with no shop cats. Now I couldn’t imagine Oak Street Garden Shop without them.

Posted by Kris Blevons

 

Celebrating 25 Years With A Look Back – Build It And They Will Come…

There are many businesses in the surrounding areas that have celebrated more years than our 25, but in 2015 I felt the need to mark the passing of time and the evolution of this small independent gardenshop in the Mountain Brook suburb of Birmingham, Alabama.

Billy and Jon Culver...building the shadehouse

Billy and Jon Culver…building the shadehouse

With the 2013 overhaul of our website by Rebecca Moody, this process has become as easy as writing a blog post, and events that might otherwise be forgotten or dismissed as unimportant can be recognized and remembered. And, whether these  words are read or not, it feels good to know they’re here and won’t be allowed to fade with faulty memory.

From Oak Street Garden Shop’s beginnings in 1990, with his construction of the first shade house and greenhouse, to the process of buying the lumber and saws necessary to put together the tables and erect the fences that would surround his nursery, it was obvious owner Billy Angell enjoyed woodworking and building.

It was a project...

It was a big project…

He knew that his flat-topped and quite ordinary shade house, covered with its simple shade cloth, wouldn’t do forever.

Wanting something more permanent and visually striking (and knowing this would be a big woodworking  project),  he was excited to get started and began to make his drawings for submission to Mountain Brook City Hall for design approval and a building permit.

With the city’s consent granted in the mid 90’s, Billy and employee Jon Culver began working on the new shade house after the busy holiday season had passed.  At this time of the year the nursery was relatively empty, so moving in the quantities of lumber needed was also easier, though the weather didn’t always cooperate.

Winter snow while building the shadehouse...

Winter snow while building the shadehouse…

In fact, you can see the snow in one of these pictures (Thankfully this wasn’t the year of the blizzard!). With additional help provided by Eddy Robinson (a friend and fellow carpenter), the new shade house slowly took shape, and its 25′  high A-frame, after completion, would become a prominent feature of his garden shop. It was a very exciting event!

An Early Container Plantings...Billy with Eun Joo Early 90s...

An Early Container Planting…

While Billy, Jon, and Eddy worked each day raising the shadehouse, the shop hummed steadily along.  Ellen had begun putting combinations of green and flowering plants in baskets the first year of business to give as gifts, and by now there were many people using these baskets to provide fresh plants in their homes too.

As a result we stayed very busy at the two work tables, situated at the time on either side of the entrance to the greenhouse. Most days of the week we worked evenings after closing to fill orders to be picked up the next day.

Because these tables were in plain sight on each side of the front doors, we tried to keep them as neat as possible. The original  plan had been to keep one clean for wrapping potted plants as gifts, while the other work space would be allowed to get “dirty”, the result of making basket combinations, planting, etc.

The sign being built...

The sign being built…

That arrangement didn’t last long though, since we were creating more plantings than wrapping flowers,  and potting soil and plants inevitably ended up all over both tables. This would eventually become quite a problem as more employees came and the design business grew. Where to put the finished baskets and container plantings would also need to be addressed soon, as there were more and more orders to find room for.

Confederate Jasmine had reached the top of the sign...it was killed the winter of 2013.

Confederate Jasmine had reached the top of the sign…it was killed the winter of 2013.

It was during the construction of the shadehouse that the distinctive Oak Street Garden Shop sign planter went up. It has, over these many years, become one of my favorite planting spaces, giving me opportunity to showcase those plants that will handle the brutal Alabama summer heat radiating off the asphalt in July and August (And has offered lessons on those that can’t too!).

I’ve also been able to combine many cool season plants in the winter months, have grown vines of Confederate jasmine, Mandevilla, Carolina Jasmine, and Moonvine up its length, and will try Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ , a beautiful selection of our non-invasive Native American wisteria, in this, our 25th year. I’m so glad it’s a planter sign. It seems fitting for a garden shop.

This aerial view from 1997 shows the finished shadehouse...

This aerial view from 1997 shows the finished shadehouse in front of the greenhouse…

The aerial picture shown here was taken sometime in the fall of 1997 and shows off the shade house, which still looks new. It was in the spring of this year that a shy 20 year old named Jamie applied for a job.  Like me, she’d  gotten lost trying to find her way and tells of finally following a white unmarked delivery van that unbelievably led her to the shop. How happy we are she chose that particular white van to follow! It’s been a joy to see how she’s grown as a mother, an artist, and now as manager of the greenhouse.

Shadehouse completed...mid-90's

Shadehouse completed…mid-90’s

So the final physical framework of the building was completed, and there was a tightknit framework of employees as well.. Soon, though, this would change. By the turn of the new century, and the end of Oak Street Garden Shop’s first decade in business, Ellen has been wooed away to begin a writing career for Southern Living Magazine and Jon ventures out to open his own garden shop. In the next posts, a friend makes the perfect suggestion for changing the work table layout, we lived through the first construction across the street as the Emmit O’Neal library is razed and rebuilt, and a devastating drought threatens to end the business. 

Posted by Kris Blevons

Celebrating 25 Years With A Look Back…The Blizzard of ’93

The horticulture business is framed out of necessity by the weather and the vagaries of nature… heat, cold, storms, wind, drought. When Billy Angell built Oak Street Garden Shop’s first  shade house early in 1990 and finished the greenhouse at the end of that year, he knew that, even with these  protections for the plants, the weather would always be a factor in whether a year was exceptional or just average.

Blizzard of '93

The day after…

No one in horticulture ignores weather reports, and Billy was certainly no different. It’s a typical pattern: Rainy days are usually slow days, and a string of great weather makes any nurseryman smile. Snow in the south is definitely a recipe for a bad greenhouse day or, more likely, multiple days.  I know many of you remember Birmingham’s historic blizzard of March 12, 1993, and have your stories to tell. Here is Oak Street Garden Shop’s:

The local and national weathermen had been analyzing the forecast carefully for days, and, by all accounts, the conditions were ripe for a possible historic snow event. But how much? Just a week earlier multiple spring shipments had rolled in on large trucks, been unloaded, priced, and set out in the nursery. And, though this was only the third year of his fledgling start-up, Oak Street Garden Shop, Billy Angell had been in the nursery business for many years previous and knew this weather forecast had the potential to spell big trouble.image

Looking at the plant material, he saw with his practiced eye many shrubs with buds or open blooms just arrived from the warmer gulf coast, tropical blooming plants of plumbago, beautiful yellow “daisy trees” (euryops) from the west coast, and many, many more with tender new growth that would easily sustain foliage damage in temperatures near freezing, let alone below.

This was a constant worry each late winter/early spring. Shipments of plants arrived, and, inevitably, the Alabama winter temperatures would plummet. We’d shift pots close together and cover them with poly and frost cloth, moving other even more tender tropicals into the warmth of the greenhouse. This moving, covering, uncovering, and endless shifting would become a routine rhythm of early spring not only this year but each of the many years that followed.

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An impassable road on the day after…

The morning of Friday, March 12th, I came in to work, expecting to begin the process of covering the many plants in the nursery and moving some inside. Billy had been watching the forecast, though, and told his small staff the decision he’d come to the night before. “I think we need to move everything in,” he said soberly.

“So you’ve changed your mind about covering?”, I asked. “I’ve been going round and round about it,”, he answered.  “But, if the totals they’re predicting come true, I’d rather have everything in the greenhouse than have the weight of that much snow collapse the poly over them.”

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I think that was my car…

We all looked at each other. If we were going to be taking everything in, we needed to get to work, as it was going to take non-stop moving to get it done before the day was through. Billy had worked out a plan the night before between watching weather forecasts. The largest trees and shrubs would be moved first, loaded onto carts if they weren’t too large, walked in one by one if they were.

Back and forth, in and out we went, lining the large pots in straight lines and right up against each other, tight. There’d certainly be no getting to plants once they were in place. Starting on the far left side right up against the wall of the cool cell, slowly but steadily filling in and moving toward the middle and finally to the very opposite end of the greenhouse, it was becoming a solid patchwork of greens, yellows, pinks, blues. It seemed as though all the colors of spring were being safeguarded from the coming weather.

By that afternoon, finally finished, we looked over the sea of plants. Numbering in the hundreds, trees, tropicals, shrubs, perennials, herbs, and tender annuals, all side by side from one end of the greenhouse to the other with not an inch to spare between.

imageExhausted, we went next door to have a drink and relax a bit before heading to our respective homes and families.  Relieved we were through and enjoying a few laughs, we all suddenly noticed how heavily the large flakes were falling and began saying our goodbyes, heading  out into the rapidly falling snow.

By the time this historic snow storm was over, the totals were over 12″ in our southern city and thousands of people were without power. We all knew then that no one would forget where they were and what they were doing leading up to and through the Blizzard of ’93.

The next day Billy trekked through the foot-deep snow the mile from his house to Oak Street Garden Shop, relieved to see that the greenhouse had withstood the weight of the heavy, wet snow. And, though the generator refused to start to power the large heaters, the fact there were hundreds of plants packed so tightly together served to provide just enough protection from the cold to keep them from freezing, and, amazingly, only a very few were lost.Birdhouse in snow

So the weather, bad as it was, had not won this round since his nurseryman’s decision had been the right one. Less than a month later (after having moved every plant back to its proper place, then repeatedly covering and uncovering, moving others in and out and back again as temperatures still dipped down, then back up in the normal rhythm), we finally enjoyed the full and exuberant throes of spring, and the Blizzard of ’93 slowly and easily slid into distant memory.

This is the second post in a series celebrating Oak Street Garden Shop’s 25th year in business. For the first, highlighting Oak Street Garden Shop’s beginnings, take a look HERE.

Posted  by Kris Blevons

 

 

Celebrating 25 Years With a Look Back…(Part 1)

1991...The entrance - note the flat-topped shade house...

1991…The entrance – note the flat-topped shade house…

How do you describe the passage of  25 years in a blog post? That’s a tough question, and one I grappled with for quite some time before writing and rewriting this first post. The process would probably be easier for an outsider, dryly describing dates, events, and facts, I thought.

Billy

Billy and the yellow tent…

But, having worked at Oak Street Garden Shop for 24 of these 25 years, it’s so much more than the passage of time marked as dates on paper. It’s all of the wonderful customers we’ve known from the very beginning, many becoming friends, and, sadly, more than a few with us only in memory.

It’s the vendors we’ve created lasting relationships with, through the boom years and a few rocky spells, steady compatriots in a fickle, tough business. Though we saw a few of those fall by the wayside, too…greenhouse and nursery owners that finally gave up their dreams.  Nothing stays the same. In 25 years there have been so many changes. And the sturdy greenhouse itself, once shiny and new, also shows the passage of time, though it’s been well and truly loved.

1991...Inside the Greenhouse

1991…Inside the Greenhouse

It’s the employees that have come and gone through the years, each having brought their unique personalities, talents, and humor to their jobs, making each day one to look forward to.  The ones that have moved on and those that have stayed are all players in its history and have contributed so much.

Looking through various assorted pictures, it’s obvious there are gaps. 25 years ago we didn’t have ubiquitous cell phones out and ready to capture every moment. It took effort and thought to remember to bring the camera, get some photos, and hope our chosen shots turned out.

1991 - At the end of the nursery by what is now Dyron's.

1991 – At the end of the nursery by what is now Dyron’s.

So Billy Angell established Oak Street Garden Shop without any fanfare on a chilly day in March, 1990, by putting up a yellow tent and setting some flats of bedding plants on the table he’d set up under it. His greenhouse was nearing completion, and he was sitting in the middle of what used to be a parking lot in the center of Crestline Village, in his hometown of Mountain Brook, Alabama.

He had aptly named this new venture Billy Angell’s Oak Street Garden Shop. Outwardly he exuded confidence, but he also knew he had to succeed, since he had a mortgage, 2 children, and a wife to support. At the end of each day of business he rolled down the sides of the tent, picked up the cash drawer, loaded it into his car, and went home.

1991 - See the red lines outlining the "beds"? Shade house is flat...covered by shade cloth.

1991 – See the red lines outlining the “beds”? Shade house is flat…covered by shade cloth.

The first project on this site had actually begun earlier with the design and building of a shade house, constructed on weekends. This was a simple flat structure, with a shade cloth laid over it, to protect plants from the hot sun and scorching heat that radiated off the asphalt of the old parking lot.

He worked steadily, as curious people watched  and asked questions. One day two young women walking by stopped and asked him what he was building. “I’m going to open a nursery,” he replied. They smiled and walked on, then turned around and came back. “What ages children will you be accepting?”

Billy and Ellen.. 1991

Billy and Ellen.. 1991

That January, he left his other job for good and was ready to begin building his greenhouse. It would have just enough room for a tiny office and restroom tacked on to one end (Until it was completed, the  “facilities” consisted of a port-a-john and plants were watered with a hose hooked up to the restaurant next door). The greenhouse was finished that fall having been completely built by himself and a young boy, Tanner Broughton.

Oak Street Garden Shop was now officially in business with full time help from a former employee, Ellen Riley, and part time help from a neighbor. Having run a much larger nursery and landscape company previously, his smaller version was the perfect fit for him and the community,  nestled next door to a favorite local restaurant and situated  across the street from Mountain Brook’s City Hall and fire station and the much loved Emmet O’Neal Library. It was truly a neighborhood garden shop.

Vignette at the end of the nursery...early 90s

Vignette at the end of the nursery…early 90s

As that first year progressed, it seemed the local residents enjoyed having plants available in their community, and they supported their hometown entrepreneur. The Birmingham News even came out and took a picture. He outlined “beds” in paint to delineate where “paths” through the nursery should be, envisioning an English garden with perennials, shrubs, and planters eventually filling in the empty spaces…and, slowly, they did.

The next year it was apparent that business was going well, and the addition of a second full time employee was warranted. This was more than a little nerve-wracking for Billy, as he wanted to get just the right person for his brand new business. Many people applied for the job, including me.

1991...Kris at the first cash register...

1991…Kris at the first cash register…

The day I applied I had gotten lost and pulled into the Fire Department to ask where Oak Street Garden Shop was located. The fireman grinned and pointed across the street. “Over there,” he said. I looked, there was no sign yet, just a few plants and a greenhouse (How did I miss that?!).  I was the most persistent applicant it turns out,  and it paid off, as he wasn’t entirely sold on me, but gave me the job anyway. He tells me now that Ellen had to talk him into giving me a shot.

My first days at Oak Street Garden Shop were rocky. Asked to weed a pot in the nursery, I dutifully grabbed a handful of weeds and fire ants raced up my arm, stinging me to pieces. It also  took some  time  to acclimate to working virtually outside through the heat of summer in the south, as I was from the relatively cooler midwest. But I hung in and slowly but surely became hooked.

As the years progressed, we weathered the historic Birmingham blizzard of ’93, more employees came, a new shade house was built, customer’s tastes dictated more planted containers, a fresh produce area was added, and a garden came to life across the street. More on these developments in the next posts. 

By Kris Blevons