[I wrote this article about my mother when I was in a photojournalism class as a sergeant in the Marine Corps in 1981. I post it today to honor my mother on Mother’s Day as she mends from a traumatic injury.]
To earn this title, Phyllis Kelley has spent many dedicated years bringing ailing plants back to life. Children, customers and neighbors bring plants to Phyllis knowing she will return them healthy.
Phyllis, a 25-year resident of Glenview, Ill., divides her time between two jobs, three greenhouses, a garden, and her husband. At her daytime job, she is a secretary for Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit organization that develops breeding sites for ducks.
It’s at night that she really blossoms. That’s when she makes herself known to the public as the Plant Lady. About 15 hours a week, Phyllis can be found pruning plants, watering them, and in general, giving them all the love they need to flourish. She works at Amlings Flower Shop. Customers ask for the Plant Lady when they have a particular growing problem.
At home, she rarely sits down. What little time she has left after her jobs must be divided between 500 plants in two window greenhouses and a walk-in greenhouse. And then there’s her vegetable garden.
The garden has helped reduce the cost of food. Every year she plants tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, pole beans, radishes, and cantaloupe. Some of the fruit and vegetables are eaten after picking, but the bulk are frozen for winter use.
Most of the plants in the greenhouse are there for her pleasure. She thrives on anything unusual. “Anybody can grow a geranium and get it to bloom,” said the lively brunette. “But getting a Bird of Paradise to bloom takes a lot more effort.”
The exotic plants she enjoys most are orchids. A few years ago she took a night school course in Orchid Culture. Since then she has acquired more than 200 varieties. She is a member of the Indoor Light Gardener’s Association and the Illinois Orchid Society.
Her responsibilities don’t stop there. Every year, she supplies plants for the bazaar at her grandchildren’s school. In September, she transplants baby plants into new pots so they will be well adjusted by Christmas time. Then she donates the plants to the bazaar so children can buy their parents inexpensive gifts.
Phyllis said she has been growing anything with roots since she was old enough to walk. Her father was a gardener and she was his shadow. She remembered the first plant she rooted. It was a rosebush called Paul Scarlet. She took one of its climbers and bent it to the ground. She said she didn’t know what she was doing, but a few days later the new plant took root. And her plant story has grown from there.
Her children tell friends they were raised in a jungle. Her husband cringes every time she comes home, wondering where she’ll put the new plant. Phyllis said he drew the line at the bedroom. He said he needs one room in the house where he doesn’t have to worry about being strangled in his sleep.
What’s in store for the Plant Lady? More courses in plant culture, more organizations, and more donations for her grandkids. Does she ever want to own a greenhouse as a business? “Tomorrow would be swell,” said the Plant Lady.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I know you can’t read this, and I know you’re in some pain, but know you are loved and appreciated.
© 2011, Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, CG. All rights reserved.