Where the green things grow

By Gus Bode

Flower buying season in full bloom

In a greenhouse just outside Carbondale’s city limits, rows of Streptocapella have already begun to blossom, and deep purple threatens to explode from the confines of hanging baskets in the back of the room.

The trailing African violet, along with about 8,000 hanging baskets and row upon row of planted flowers, have begun to transform a sea of green at McNitts Gardens and Greenhouse into a mix of color one-quarter of an acre deep.


By the end of the summer they’ll be where you can barely reach around them, owner Delores McNitt said.

McNitt has seen the metamorphosis from green to color in the greenhouse for the past 11 years since she and her husband, Martin, moved from Colorado and opened McNitts Gardens and Greenhouse, 66 Oak Ridge Lane, just outside of Carbondale. What began as a small family operation in 1987 grew exponentially throughout the years and is now the largest greenhouse in Jackson County.

Three full-time workers keep the flower operation in full bloom, and the greenhouse also hires several part-time workers, employing everyone from family members to SIUC students.

Workers have been watering, cleaning, pruning and planting in preparation for the busy flower-buying season. McNitt said people will flood through the doors sometime after April 21, when the chance for frost is distant.

We’re just now starting to show color, McNitt said as she trimmed back overgrown foliage on a tray full of Helichrysum bracteatum. Otherwise known as starflower, this plant is nicknamed the Everlasting Flower for its ability to keep color, ranging from silvery pastel pink and white to fiery red and rusty, terracotta brown, long after being dried.

The entire operation at McNitt Gardens and Greenhouse includes eight greenhouses totaling three-quarters of an acre. The ceilings in the greenhouses support more than 8,000 hanging plants, and rows of planted flowers fill wooden tables, leaving only enough room to walk between the aisles.

The passion vines hanging from the ceiling in the second greenhouse also show promise of soon reaching full-blossom. Several red flowers were beginning to poke up their heads through the barrage of green leafs.


And soon will come the hummingbirds. McNitt said the tiny creatures flock to the brightly colored passion vines and often build their nests inside the basket.

The hummingbirds just really love these, she said. You feel like you could get in big trouble if you get hit by one.

Like hummingbirds, humans also tend to swarm to the color red.

About 50 percent of customers buy red, McNitt said, Others buy the bright colors. White is at the bottom of the list.

For those customers who do not belong to the exclusive green-thumb society, the flowers here are color-coded so the customer knows where the flowers can grow and what type of light they need.

Those with a yellow tag require full sunlight, a blue tag requires full shade and a green tag means the plant needs morning sun and afternoon shade.

And if you don’t have much space, McNitt said hanging baskets are ideal for little apartments and dorm rooms.

All you have to do is give it a drink and some fertilizer and they’ll be happy for the summer, she said.

The greenhouse is also stocked with flowers for those wanting something a little more risky or creative.

For the first time, McNitt bought a small load of topiaries, metal sculptures with flowers growing from them.

A lion with a metal frame is lined with wire vine, herbs, grasses and spider vine. The spider vine will make a massive tail and mane as it grows. Other topiaries include a teapot, frog, rhinoceros, turtle and bumble bee.

We always try one new plant every year, McNitt said. Some will fall flat on their face and we’ll never do it again.

The classics, however geraniums, petunias and New Guinea impatients always find a home at McNitts Gardens and Greenhouse and typically top the best-seller list. The greenhouse also carries an assortment of garden vegetables, such as tomatoes, cauliflower and broccoli.

But no matter what you’re looking for, whether it’s a small hanging basket for Mother’s Day, something exotic for your summer garden or a pet plant you only have to water, McNitt will tell you they have something to fill everyone’s niche those with green thumbs and those without.

Just beware of the humming birds.

Reporter Molly Parker can be reached at [email protected]