Father, Son Relationship Bears Fruit
For most Americans, Father’s Day is celebrated the third Sunday of June, but for Jason Powell, owner of Petals from the Past in Jemison, no holiday can quite express the bond between father and son like Saturday, June 11–the day when he and his father will host their annual Black and Blue Berry Festival.That’s because Jason has dreamed of working alongside his father ever since–as a boy–he watched Dr. Arlie Powell help and inspire fruit growers as a horticulturist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The elder Powell’s passion for plants took root in his son, and in 1994, Jason and wife Shelley opened Petals from the Past after earning their master’s degrees in horticulture from Texas A&M University. Aided by the assistance of business partner Steve Wilson of Durbin Farms, the Powells’ fledgling nursery was soon earning recognition for its selection of heirloom flowers. Still, something was missing. Business was slow in the summer months, and because fewer customers visited the nursery in June, July and August, shoppers were missing the beautiful selection of perennials, herbs and annuals growing in the gardens around Petals from the Past.The answer to Jason’s problem came in the form of an idea that was ripe for the picking.”Dad said we should consider the addition of fruit gardens,” Jason recalled. “He helped us develop a fruit season that begins with blackberries in mid-May and continues through November with blueberries, figs, muscadines, apples and Japanese persimmons. What Dad presented as a solution has been ideal, and it’s provided us an opportunity to work together.”Today, Arlie Powell, now retired from the Extension System, is a partner in Petals from the Past–having bought Wilson’s share of the business three years ago. “I came into this thing simply to help Jason develop test gardens for fruits,” he said. “My goal was to not have a down time as a nursery. The only down time we have now is December and January, and we are involved in plant shipments during that time.”The Powells chose blackberries to start their
fruit season for a number of reasons. First, Alabamians love blackberries–after all, it is the state fruit. Second, the vines begin filling with plump berries just after Mother’s Day when spring plant sales are beginning to decline. And third, blackberries are a native plant that gardeners can easily incorporate into their “edible landscape.””Blackberries gave people a reason to come out (to Petals from the Past) and see the other plants that are available,” said the elder Powell.Dr. Powell’s blackberry patch, however, isn’t like the chigger-infested thickets many people remember from their youth. It’s a trellised affair with wide, grassy rows that would make many a golfer “green” with envy. Each plant is pruned so all of the berries hang from two trellis wires–a lower one for pint-sized pickers like Jason and Shelley’s children, Cory 7, and Walker, 5, and a taller one for Mom and Dad. In fact, some U-pick customers kindly complain that the berries are so accessible that they fill their containers too quickly.The Powells blueberry bushes, which begin bearing in June, also are planted in wide, stroller-friendly rows. In addition, all of the fruit is pesticide free at the time of harvest, and the plants are irrigated to ensure customers get a quality product. Most importantly, customers can buy all of the fruit varieties they see growing in the Petals from the Past orchards and gardens. Unlike supermarket selections, however, the Powells’ potted plants receive the same pruning and care as those in the fields. Shoppers may even find a few clothespins attached to their purchases where Dr. Powell has begun training the branches to grow at 90-degree angles from the trunk.The father-son team always is available to answer questions, as are Shelley and Arlie’s wife, Gwen, who’s in charge of plant propagation at Petals. For more avid gardeners, the Powells offer workshops and seminars about three times a month from January through June and about twice a month from September through December.Most of the seminars are free, and they are held in a converted barn that seats 160 people. Jason said the workshops complement programs offered by the Extension System and attract gardeners from all across the Southeast. This year, classes have focused on everything from container gardening to propagation, and one featured the “Hydrangea King,” Eddie Aldridge of Aldridge Gardens in Hoover.Jason said his father’s involvement in the education programs has helped introduce Petals from the Past to a whole new group of customers. “When we conduct programs on roses, mostly women attend, but when Dad does a program on fruit, we get young couples,” Jason said. “He has helped us diversify this business immensely.” The young farmer also credits his father for planting the seeds that led Jason and Shelley to make Petals from the Past a destination for relaxation, fun and learning.”Our whole philosophy from day one was to tie in research and education with the business side of the nursery–the way I saw Dad taking research to the growers,” Jason said. “I didn’t want to have just an asphalt parking lot. I wanted a space where customers could see the plants growing.”Today, Petals from the Past is such a place, thanks to the mutual admiration and respect of a father and son whose relationship continues to bear fruit.The Black and Blue Berry Festival features music, pony rides, a petting zoo, berry dessert tasting, educational programs, food and a chance for visitors to pick their own blueberries and blackberries. For information visit www.petalsfromthepast.com.