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Frances Hairston: Life lessons learned in a greenhouse


Frances Hairston

Frances Hairston



Frances Hairston



Parents should take a page from Mary Tuggle's book on how to instill in children a work ethic. Two weeks ago, I, along with other members of the Noxubee Garden Club, sat mesmerized listening to Mary and Katherine Hewlett tell the story of Palmer Home. Tuggle is the greenhouse and garden manager, and Hewlett assists with public relations. This monthly meeting included a delicious lunch and a tour of the greenhouses on the Palmer Home property.  


Tuggle, affectionately known as Miz Mary by the children, oversees Palmer's horticulture program. This program is no small matter. It consists of 12 greenhouses, three gardens and an orchard with peaches, figs, muscadines, and figs. Poinsettias are grown during the fall for sale at Christmas.  


Right now the greenhouses are filled with pots and hanging baskets of plants ready to burst forth in bloom for spring sales. The gardens are planted with cabbage, broccoli, kale, and English peas. Later as it warms up Tuggle and her charges will plant tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, okra, corn, and peas. They also plant zinnias to sell as cut flowers at the Columbus farmers' market. All of those vegetables and fruits are grown to feed the children and staff at Palmer Home. However, a new plan is underway to sell extra vegetables and fruits to the community.  


From April until fall, a consumer, for $300, can get a basket of vegetables and or fruits each week. Occasionally, bedding plants or cut flowers or a watermelon may be added. 


As you can imagine, all of this takes planning and organization, which is where Mary's expertise comes into play. Listening to her talk about the time, the work, the planning, and mostly how she involves the children, you can see why this program is successful. She loves what she does, and she loves the children. Teenagers 13 and older work in this innovative program. Mary works out a schedule for each, giving them the duties of taking cuttings to make new plants, preparing soil for planting, potting the plants, monitoring and watering the plants as they mature. The kids learn how to save seeds for planting in another season. In the fall, some of the students get up at 5:30 to remove the black cloth covering poinsettias. 


Much emphasis is placed on the Whole Child Initiative at Palmer. Many of these children come from broken homes or from abusive situations. Did you know that more than 55,000 grandparents in Mississippi are responsible for their grandchildren's care? Sometimes these grandparents cannot physically or financially take care of these children so they turn to a safe place like Palmer for help. At Palmer the children learn to trust; they are provided with nutritional meals; they are helped with their school work and are given spiritual instruction. 


Tuggle sees the horticultural program as a vital part of this program. First of all, the children learn a work ethic. They are paid by the hour, but, more importantly, they can see a product from the start to the finish as they help to develop a hanging basket and see the joy on the face of a customer as they make a sale.  


Mary feels a child's social growth is nourished when he or she has to talk to a customer to make a sale and then take money and give change. She finds a way to teach math as she shows a child how to determine how much soil will be used or how much water will be needed for each plant.  


The children are given many opportunities for science projects from working with plants. Their reading skills are enhanced as they study about the needs of different plants. They learn responsibility when the poinsettias and the bedding plants become a major part of their care. 


"Hope Grows" is the new logo for the spring and summer offerings in the greenhouses. Customers will find begonias, marigolds, impatiens, petunias in small packs and impatiens and geraniums in 6 1/2-inch pots. Ten-inch hanging baskets with ferns or flowering plants will also be available. Greenhouse hours are 9-5 Monday through Friday. Beginning March 29 the greenhouses will be open on Saturdays 9-2. All of us in the garden club were impressed with all we experienced in this time spent at Palmer Home from the attentiveness of the staff, the delicious lunch, the well kept greenhouses, and the excitement we could gather from Mary for the upcoming growing season.



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