Spring Has Sprung at Groth’s Gardens

In the late 70s, Deb Groth of Groth’s Gardens and Greenhouseswas my 6th grade math teacher. For those of you who remember it, I narrowly escaped the Patterson building by one year, and we had 6th grade in the old high school building instead. I have two distinct memories of her class, one bad and one good. The first was an unfortunate incident that involved me falling out of my desk and backwards onto a freshly sharpened pencil that I was holding pointy-side up, which left a lasting lead mark on a well concealed spot for the next 10+ years. The other was much happier, a surprising grade of A- for fourth quarter, which was the best math grade that I ever received on a report card. To get that kind of math grade out of me, with little to no aptitude in the subject, she must have been a fantastic teacher! I thought secretly that it was possibly a mistake, but I didn’t complain.
Fast forward a couple of decades and Deb Groth is still teaching, but in a whole different realm. As the creator and owner of Groth’s Gardens and Greenhouses on Cumming Road just north of Winterset, she really enjoys talking with her customers and educating them about many aspects of plants and gardening, so that they can get the most out of the time and money they invest. “I’ve had several of my customers say, ‘Deb, you’re putting your fall business out of commission because my plants still look so good through September, I don’t really need the mums!’” she laughed. (She is well known for mums, because that’s what she’s been selling since Groth’s Gardens began.) “That’s because we encourage people to use the good soils,” she said, “and we teach them how to fertilize. And once you’ve taught your customers how to grow good plants, with good genetics, put them in good soil and fertilize them, the stuff should go through ‘til frost.” She also still loves to teach, in the form of putting on presentations for Master Gardener meetings and garden clubs, and teaching classes in the off season.

Since the beginning of her greenhouse business in the early 90s, Deb has allowed customer needs and interests to dictate its growth and direction. She built slowly without over-extending, and she grows about 80% of the plants herself, which allows her to keep the prices low. That responsiveness has also led to a reputation for vibrant color, new and unique plants, things that grow especially well in our area, and excellent service from Deb and her knowledgeable staff. In the short time that I was out there this week I learned quite a bit just by listening to her talk about the operation, such as the importance of letting potted plants dry down and not keeping them wet all the time, and how water can be used as a growth regulator. I also learned the background on the Proven Winner plants, which she sells (among other things), and why so many people like them. “Proven Winners” are a brand of plant that are known to work well in the majority of zones in the United States. They cost a little more, but they’re cheaper at Groth’s than they are at the big box warehouse stores, and they are extremely hearty. 

Deb Groth in front of the hanging baskets for Winterset’s
2014 downtown flower project. Sneak preview!

As a very good example, those remarkable flower baskets that are hung around the square in Winterset from May through September are Proven Winner petunias, grown by Deb at Groth’s Gardens. While I was there, I got a behind-the-scenes peek of this year’s baskets in progress. Besides the Proven Winner brand, the other key elements of keeping them looking great all season are in the daily watering without fail, done by Jim Olson and Dave Trask, the weekly fertilizing, and the carefully selected material of the insulator pots, which retains just the right amount of moisture to keep them not too wet and not too dry, especially in the downtown sun.  Mayor Olson says that other towns call and wonder how we get our plants to look so healthy all the time. Mostly, it takes more time and energy than many towns are willing to commit.

Deb says that container gardening of all types is popular right now because they are easier to maintain than in-ground gardens, especially for busy families. People like color and the ability to easily move pots around. She stocks a lot of annuals for this purpose and some perennials, especially new and unique ones that you won’t find at big commercial outlets, flowering shrubs, and roses. 

Groth’s Gardens and Greenhouses draws people from the south and also from the Des Moines area, with some customers driving over 200 miles just to purchase their hanging baskets. If you haven’t been there, just four miles off of Highway 169 on Cumming Road, you may be surprised at what a great resource it is and so close to home. Although it’s been operating in the same location for 20 years, some Winterset folks are still surprised to come across it for the first time!

This would be a great weekend to check it out, because the weather is going to be great, and they are having a sale of 10% off gallon perennials from Friday through Sunday, with prices starting at $7.19, and hundreds of 4 inch perennials at just $4.59 each. It’s never too late to learn how to garden, and Deb Groth and her staff would love to help you. “I think if you’re a lifelong learner you can learn anything you want,” she said. “Everyone who works here has been a gardener, so they can answer a lot of questions. We really focus on what will work well here and try to help people as much as we can.”

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