Dana Althoff is the retail manager at a large greenhouse and landscape center in the Midwest. She has a degree in horticulture with minors in business and agronomy. Dana has experience both as a commercial wholesale grower and in retail sales at several different locations in several different states.
On a sunny Saturday morning, I sat down with Dana at her kitchen table to learn more about her vast experience and love of gardening. I wanted to find out how she got started in the gardening business and where her love of gardening came from. I also wanted to know what advice she had for new and experienced gardeners alike.
Dana’s Gardening Tip #1: “Water it or it’ll die.”
What is your background in gardening? How did it become an interest of yours?
Dana said she began gardening with her mom and her grandmother as a little girl. Her mother let her take over the planning, planting, and care of the flower beds when Dana was in the fourth grade just as her grandmother had allowed her mother to do as a little girl.
As an adult, Dana went on to study horticulture and agronomy in college during which time she worked for her uncle at a whole sale nursery. Dana recounted the joy she had working in the vast flower fields at her uncle’s nursery.
Do you have a specific plant group that you like to work with?
Dana said she enjoys working with all plants, including annuals and perennials, but she has a particular fondness for hostas. She said the ‘Sum and Substance’ Hosta is among her favorites. For those of you that have never seen a ‘Sum and Substance’ hosta, it’s a beautiful giant yellow variety that can reach 2 to 3 feet in height with a spread of 5 to 6 feet!
Dana’s Gardening Tip #2: “Don’t get tied up with the idea that growing a certain plant is hard to grow. Just try it!”
Do you enjoy working in the garden on your time off?
Dana said she does enjoy working in the garden at home but only in fair weather.
Working in the retail business requires Dana to work in all kinds of weather so she prefers to be comfortable when working in the garden at home.
I mentioned that one of the assumptions that customers always had of me when I worked at the garden and landscape nursery was that my gardens at home were immaculate. Dana laughed and said she gets that too. Dana said that most of her gardening energy is spent at work with little left over for home, so home gardens tend to suffer. It’s akin to a plumber having a broken faucet at home that never seems to get fixed.
What questions do you get the most frequently and how do you answer those questions?
- Question: “How do I plant this tree?” Answer: Dig the hole 2 times as wide as the root ball and plant it no deeper than the root flare.
- Question: ” How do I water this plant?” Answer: It depends on what the plant is and where it’s planted. In general, keep it moist for the first few years, then supplement with water when dry in the years after that.
You have worked as a commercial grower as well as a home gardener. How is commercial growing different from home gardening?
With commercial growing, you must please the customers so the plants must be of generous size, a visually pleasing shape, and attractive coveted colors while the home grower must only please themselves. However, with both types of growing, the gardener must still use diligence in fertilizing and awareness in scouting for the early signs of disease.
What advice do you have for hobby gardeners that would like to start growing in a home greenhouse?
Start simple. Start with a handful of different types of plants and be prepared to care for them every day. There are no days off. Try growing some plants that are easy to grow from seed like tomatoes and peppers for vegetables and marigolds, petunias, and zinnias for flowers.
Dana’s Gardening Tip #3: “Don’t be afraid to try new things. Plants die. Keep going.”
You have worked a great deal with encouraging children to engage in gardening. What is your motivation?
Dana explained that she was encouraged at a young age by her mom and grandmother to engage in gardening. She mentioned the fact that some of the kids she worked with have never touched soil before. She said that during her children’s potting class, kids get the tactile experience of touching and smelling the soil and the plants and working with the plants in order for them to grow in the child’s flower pot creation.
Dana’s garden book recommendation: Small Space Gardening by Melinda Meyers.
Finally, you were trained in horticulture and agronomy before organic gardening became a trend. How do you feel about organic gardening?
According to Dana, organic gardening has its place. Dana said she understands the desire to use organic gardening with food plants for safety but not with ornamentals because you don’t eat them. She said she tried using organic methods in commercial growing but she didn’t have any luck with it so she reverted to the use of synthetics.
Big thanks to Dana for taking time out of her busy schedule to sit down with me to discuss gardening, a topic we both love. Gardening is all about learning whether through your own research or by asking the experts. Keep learning and growing my gardening friends.
Quote of the Day
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
-Pele, retired Brazilian professional footballer