“Is it safe to plant my bedding flowers now?”
That’s the $64,000 question being asked by gardening enthusiasts eager to get a jump on seeing their impatiens and begonias in the ground.
Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer. Some pundits say May 1; others will advise you to wait until Mother’s Day – but that can vary by a week from year to year – while others cite May 15, typically the last date for a frost in Indiana.
If you ask Garry Ward, who’s been peddling bedding flowers for 40 years, he’ll say it’s probably safe to get your hands dirty now, “but pay attention to the weather. We’ve had frost here in late May.”
Ward said it’s important to know what to do in case of a frost. If plants are uncovered, it’s important to spray them down with water about a half-hour before dawn to wash away the frost.
“You’ll want to do this until the sun rises. If you let the sun melt the frost, the plant will get scorched. If this doesn’t kill the plant, it can damage the foliage or the bloom. If you know it’s going to frost, you can cover your plants, but don’t ever use plastic,” said Ward, who co-owns McGammon’s Irish Market with his fiancee, Mary Jane Key, a chemotherapy nurse at the Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Plastic or vinyl materials do not breathe, causing moisture to get trapped inside, gardening experts warn. If the temperature drops low enough, the increased moisture presents a greater threat to the plants. Instead, try bed sheets, which work well for covering tender flowers, large plants and shrubs. Newspaper can be used on low-growing foliage.
Ward, 59, who graduated from high school in Tavernier Fla., which is in The Keys, opened his first garden center and vegetable stand at the corner of Cold Spring and Lafayette roads on Indy’s Northwestside when he was 19. From there he became a reserve with the Indianapolis Police Department before joining the Air Force and subsequently becoming a police officer in Dayton, Ohio, where he annually operated a garden shop during the summer and sold Christmas trees to supplement his income. He was an award-winning landscaper in Cincinnati, where his garden center was voted the city’s best in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Key, a graduate of the University of Indianapolis, retired as a registered nurse at IU Health. She was born in Missouri and has lived in Indianapolis for 52 years.
Ward moved backed to Indianapolis in 2011 and in no time was operating a garden center at U.S. 31 and Shelby Street. He operated a shop at the corner of Madison and Edgewood avenues last year, and since it was fairly successful, he decided it was time to grow his business and open McGammon’s, named in honor of his grandparents, at the corner of State Road 135 and Fry Road.
“We’ve got a regular store now; it’s a big operation. We have the finest plants in Indianapolis,” he boasted. “Our geraniums are 99 cents each, and our beautiful hanging baskets will knock your socks off!” There are also bedding flowers, vegetables and tropical plants, bushes, perennials, decorative grasses, small trees, gardening supplies and pottery products.
If you are looking for something else, call 885-8787; they’ll probably have it. Hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
Ward’s hoping for a big May. “If you don’t make it in May, you’re done. Sales drop off by 30 percent in June and even more in July.”
He gets his merchandise from local growers and ones in West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.
If everything works out and Ward and his fiancee renew their lease next year, they hope to stay open year-round while expanding their product line to include some items from Ireland, bird seed, dog food, etc. There might even be a cafe.
While the sales aspect of Ward’s job isn’t all that difficult, the landscaping part is back-breaking. “It’s hard work, and it takes me several days to recover from a job, but I have to get down in the dirt to show my employees how to do it. I have to oversee everything if it’s going to turn out right.
“Everybody wants their yards to pop – they want an eye-catching feature,” Ward said. “We do that with our overall design, color schemes, waterfalls and decorative walls. The average cost for one of our projects is $5,000, but I pay my employees well, and materials are expensive.”
Outdoor kitchens, of which he does about three a year, are growing in popularity and can cost between $20,000 and $30,000, even more. “But people love them,” said Ward, who once built a $50,000 playground – complete with a Jungle Gym – for a man’s 7-year old son.
Ward said he doesn’t feel too much competition from the big-box stores. “We pride ourselves on quality and customer service. I’m always giving customers free advice when it comes to landscaping.”