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Gardening season is never really over

Staff writer

Open hours at Serenity Gardens, rural Hillsboro, end officially Oct. 26, but for owner Jana Dalke, gardening season is never really over.

“I like fall and winter because I’m not so tied down here, I can take my youngest to story hour in town or go shopping in the middle of the day,” Dalke said. “But there is always something going on with the gardens.”

Dalke, who has a horticulture degree, already has perennial plants ordered for the coming year and rows of new shrub pots line an area in front of one of two greenhouses.

“This year I was able to get in several new types of shrubs that I haven’t carried before,” she said. “We get those in fall and grow them through winter to sell next spring and summer.”

Most of the new varieties are from Proven Winner, such as an Ohso Early Mango Salsa Rose, several types of lilac, varigated boxwood, ninebark, and weigela (a small shrub with reddish, pink flowers).

Dalke explained that the shrubs come from companies as far away as Michigan, so wintering them through the potential cold of a Kansas winter isn’t a problem.

“I have to buy at least $1,500 worth of product to be able to order some of these items,” she said. “That is why sometimes I can get certain items different than I have had in other years.”

Dalke began selling wholesale plants at Serenity Gardens in 2003, adding retail sales to the public in fall 2005. Her business has grown since, in volume and varieties offered.

This year Serenity Gardens was home to over 1,050 Chrysanthemum plants, in colors ranging from the typical gold and maroon, or white, to deep purple, lavender pink, and many variations in between. Some pots even contained two different colored plants resulting in a lavish display when in full bloom.

“I’d say the most popular color has been the yellows,” she said. “My customers have a wide variety of tastes, but the yellows and bronzes really catch the eye and go quickly.”

Dalke sells her mum plants retail, meaning buyers come to the farm and pick out their choices. Other retail plants available through the year include: garden vegetable starts, many varieties of bedding plants, flowering annuals, perennials, roses, shrubs, and trees (by special order).

Dalke also caters to a wholesale market, selling flats to larger nurseries, corporations, and companies needing flowers and ground cover for landscaping.

“I pretty much need both wholesale and retail to make this work, cash flow-wise,” she said. “There is probably more money with wholesale, but it takes a lot longer for the money to get here and the retail helps me get the earlier bills paid.”

Mum sales have definitely helped pay the bills this year, flourishing despite summer’s extreme heat.

“The mums have done real well,” Dalke said. “The heat didn’t really bother them, though I did spend a lot of time out here watering the other plants.”

Dalke’s mum plants are set up with a drip irrigation system that feeds water to each pot from the farm well through an intricate maze of hoses and white tubing.

“I start each mum off with a lot of individual attention and water them by hand for the first two weeks or so,” Dalke said. “The drip system doesn’t spread water all around in the pot so I like to make sure the roots are getting what they need at the start.”

Healthy plants with beautiful blooms are a testament to Dalke’s skill.

In addition to being a professional gardener, Dalke and her husband, Dale, have three young children, two in school, so reduced open hours in fall make more time for family activities. Dalke said it also allows her to prepare for next spring and she has several improvement projects underway.

“Our sign was new this year and we are trying to make our front lawn look better to go along with that,” Dalke said.

Currently, red flags mark phone lines and sprinkler head locations, while piles of PVC pipe wait for installation, part of an underground watering system for the new lawn.

“My plan was to get this all done in time for fall seeding,” Dalke said. “But there is a lot going on and I’m not sure we will be able to get it all done.”

So, while the mums may be leaving and the greenhouse doors closing, Dalke won’t be going dormant like some of her plant varieties.

“I love this kind of work,” she said. “There is always something to look forward to and I am always planning for the future.”

Individuals wanting to buy fall flowers, pumpkins, gourds, or other gardening and decorative items can reach Dalke by phone at (620)-877-7246, to make an appointment to visit her farm/business located three and one-half miles east of the four-way stop in Hillsboro. Serenity Gardens can also be found on Facebook, or visited online at www.visitserenitygardens.com.

Last modified Oct. 20, 2011

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