NEW ALBANY – Catherine Knox was looking for something robust and sturdy, yet lithe and pretty, something that could take the sun, and withstand the blazing Mississippi summer.
Knox and her friend, Janie Low, had their eyes on some lovely, violet impatiens, but they were not sure.
“They just have so many beautiful flowers here, and it’s hard to choose,” said Knox, as she lifted the gauzy flower petals with her fingertips, gently testing their integrity.
Midday sunlight poured through the roof of the greenhouse on West Bankhead St., gradually raising the temperature of the bright blooms and moist soil, raising the smell of earth, and health, and life.
Even on a weekday, people moved around the verdant grounds at Walton’s Greenhouse like bees pollenating flowers. This was the middle of the spring busy season, and manager Greg Edwards had all hands on-deck--watering, answering customers’ questions, and carrying arm-loads of potting soil and flats of herbs and flowers to their cars.
“The plants and much of the work maybe seasonal, but it’s year-round work, and we love it,” said Becky Walton, whose husband, Marty, and father-in-law, Lathen, co-own the four locations of Walton’s Greenhouse throughout northeast Mississippi.
They opened the New Albany location in 2015.
The heart of the retail season for plants stretches from March to June, Walton explained, and, as graduation approaches, and folks get in that second or third cut on their lawns, greenhouses are in full-swing.
“Geraniums are probably our best-sellers,” said Walton, speaking on the phone from the family farm in Itawamba County, the Genesis-point, 17-greenhouses strong, for the flowers and vegetables the family sell at their retail locations.
Walton, a retired, registered nurse, and her husband, a 27-year National Guardsman, started the farm in 1991, along with Marty’s father.
“I had a brown thumb when we started, but I learned a lot from my husband, as well as from my father-in-law, who taught agriculture for three decades at Nettleton High School,” Walton said, laughing. “My thumb has turned green, since.”
The Waltons first grew and sold on the wholesale market, then opened their first retail greenhouse in Tupelo in 1997. They followed with locations in Fulton, Amory, and New Albany.
Just before lunchtime, Diane Steward pulled a wagon-full of flowers, including yellow marigolds, red geraniums, and violet lantana, between the rows of blooms and arching leaves.
“These plants are just so healthy, and when you get them home, and put them in the ground, you really see how good these products are,” said Steward, making her way, with eager eyes, toward the full-sun selections.
A row away, Cheryl Cannon chatted with employee Danny Malone, trying to choose the right color begonia.
“The best flowers--what can I say?” Cannon said, smiling brightly.
The Waltons produce a staggering one million plants each year, Becky said.
“As soon as the prime selling-season is over, we’re planting next year’s crop,” Walton said.
“While everybody’s out on their boats, on the Fourth of July weekend, we’ll be planting about 8,000 mums,” Walton said, laughing.
The Waltons purchase and resell only about 20 percent of their products, like fruit trees and a handful of exotics, as well as seasonal plants, like pumpkins, and Christmas trees. The rest of it comes from the fecund, Itawamba County soil.
Under a shady canopy, Ben and Gail Patterson pulled their wagon-load up the register, where Sonia Bailey, with t-shirt sleeves rolled up, and beads of sweat on her forehead, waited to ring-up their purchase.
“We’d just go home with some of these customers, if we could,” Bailey said, smiling.
After the Pattersons headed back to Pontotoc with their plants, Steward pulled her wagon up to the register.
“I don’t know what we did before they opened this place,” Steward said, waving her hand, proudly, like Vanna White, over her selections.
Becky Walton praised her employees, including her and her husband’s five children, for much of the store’s success.
“We like to think that we don’t just sell plants, we sell success,” Walton said. “It’s by the grace of God, the hard-work of our employees, and the patronage of our wonderful customers that we can do what we love to do.”
Walton’s Greenhouse, at 690 W. Bankhead St., is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., Wednesday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 p.m.- 5 p.m.
Also visit the store’s page on Facebook.