It may be below zero outside with the landscape draped in frosty grays and browns, but inside Bloomin’ Gardens greenhouse at the Ewing Vocational Center, it’s warm, green and everyone wears a smile.
On Friday morning Lori Fowler, greenhouse production supervisor, and Treasa Stockwell, the Center’s pre-vocational trainer, helped five greenhouse employees begin prepping the plants for their March 1 opening. Stockwell said the group began the morning by dumping soil from bags and working water into it by hand, then they selected the correct sized pots and transplanted plants from last year.
“These guys do everything,” said Fowler, who has a degree in horticulture. “They transplant, they water, they move things around, they help us do some of the combination pots, they wait on customers and work the cash register — they learn a lot.
“We’re starting our third season,” she added. “It opened up in January 2012, so this will be the start of our third year. We work with disabled adults. The whole greenhouse came about because of a donation from Mark and Robert Mason, and it’s provided to be an excellent place for everybody to work.
“Traditionally during the spring season we work with six adults with disabilities, two outside help and a job coach, who is Treasa today, and then myself.”
In charge of deadheading the asparagus ferns Friday, was Bobbi Fromm while her co-worker Jonathan Mau used a hand saw to remove some of the roots from the plants.
Lance Thompson, stayed busy carrying large bags of soil from the back of the greenhouse to the front for his co-workers.
“I get bags of soil to help keep it organized,” he said. “I love it here, it’s the best place to be, it’s fun. Last year was hard for me, but I’ve overcome obstacles.”
Thompson also helped fill 85 pots with soil so the group could transplant the ferns plus a few “Looking Glass” begonias.
Robert Petrie was happy to show off rows of perfectly line up flats of pansies, still small, but already showing bright purple blooms.
“We transplant the pansies from a small pot to a larger pot so they can be sold,” he said. “That’s what we do, we pot them and and get them ready to sale.”
Carl Edward and Mau helped Petrie carry flats of transplanted ferns to greenhouse tables to be sold. Petrie also counts the plants in the flats Fowler said. That way they have a record to help them assess inventory at the end of the year.
“Lance and Jonathan are excellent at filling pots and flats,” added Fowler. “Robert and Carl are super transplanters and Bobbi is good at everything. They are all multi-talented and are multi-taskers.”
The group works from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week until April and May when the greenhouse is open six days a week. Bloomin’ Gardens is open to the public in the spring and fall, Fowler said.
“The first year we were here, a lot of people thought we just did the work and really weren’t selling anything,” she said. “But this is a full production greenhouse. We grow everything, we have hanging baskets, all kinds of flowers, vegetables, perennials, lots of herbs. We do combination pots, so we just kind of run the whole gambit as far as flowers and vegetables and spring plants go.”
Camaraderie and a few jokes between the group and Fowler and Stockwell brought smiles to everyone as they worked side by side.
“That’s the thing,” added Fowler. “We always have fun, we kid around and we always work while we’re doing it.”
Bloomin’ Gardens will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning the first part of March.