Day Tripping - March 2020
- Story and photos by Dena Temple
Being from the Northeast, I’m still getting used to the Southern climate – and Southern gardening. My gardens in New Jersey were the envy of my friends and neighbors, and I was considered to have quite the “green thumb.”
However, those skills did not translate to my new Southern garden. My first-year, “no brainer” garden essentially incinerated in the intense summer heat. The problem? I was planting all my favorite NEW JERSEY plants, none of which were suited to the blazing Mississippi climate.
With the help of the folks at three of our area’s fantastic garden centers, I learned about the challenges of Mississippi gardening and some of the plants that are better suited to the semi-tropical Gulf Coast climate. I thought it would be fun to make a day trip out of visiting them again, to see what’s new for 2020, talk trends, and share a little about what makes each nursery unique. If your gardens leave a bit to be desired, a visit to one of these family-owned businesses might put you back on the right track. Care to tag along?
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7434 Cuevas Rd
Pass Christian, MS 39571
The day starts with a pleasant drive to Pine Hills Nursery, located just 0.4 miles north of I-10 at Exit 20 (Kiln-Delisle Road). A large sign at the corner of Cuevas Road beckons us to turn left and follow to the “end of the road.” The lane meanders through rolling pastures and ends, as promised, at the sprawling nursery and garden center.
Pine Hills is a family-owned business that started in 1986 as a small nursery with one greenhouse, selling flowering and vegetable bedding plants to other garden centers in the region. Today, owners Billy and Loraine Cuevas’s thriving nursery features eight greenhouses, a shrub and tree area, and a retail shop selling just about everything to ensure gardening success.
But look a little deeper and you’ll see some more exotic and interesting offerings. We found an enormous shrimp plant, as big as a globe in a Presidential library, throwing shade over an entire row of plants. This tropical shrub, so named for its flowers that resemble those curvaceous crustaceans, is great for patio planters. Since shrubs are the foundation of most gardens, Pine Hills also offers a selection of the best shrubs for our climate.
Gardeners know that success is all about selecting the right plant for its intended location, and the staff at Pine Hills will be happy to offer knowledgeable advice. Signage in the nursery also helps with plant selection – including finding plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, a delight for most gardeners and a popular trend. Butterflies in particular are drawn to salvia, pentas and lantana; tubular-shaped flowers like petunias, coral honeysuckle and Mexican flame vine attract hummingbirds.
There is truly something for everyone here, even an area for the kiddies where they can see some of the Cuevas’s animals, including rabbits, goats, chickens, birds, tortoises, and even iguanas!
Scattered around the retail shop and the various sales areas are displays of funky and very fun garden art. From metal animal sculptures to brightly colored ceramic birdbaths, they have something to brighten up any dark corner in your garden.
Polly Cuevas, manager of Pine Hills, tells us that she is seeing an upsurge in interest in container gardening for seasonal color. “It’s easy to switch out plants so your containers always look fresh and fantastic,” she explained. Another current trend is toward more interest in organic gardening, she said.
Pine Hills also offers landscape services, floral designs for weddings and special events, children’s birthday parties and “Snip and Sip” floral design classes. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
If you simply can’t decide and order more than your SUV will hold, you can take advantage of their delivery service, which covers all of Hancock and Harrison Counties. This is particularly good if you need a truckload of compost or mulch.
We could seriously spend an entire day here enjoying the sound of birds in the trees and the intoxicating smell of all these flowers and plants, but we have more stops to make. We will return – oh yes, we will return.
7091 Beatline Rd
Long Beach, MS 39560
We head south on Kiln-Delisle Road back onto I-10 and drive east to Exit 28. Our second stop, Beatline Nursery, is just a few miles south of I-10 on the right.
Beatline Nursery has been owned by the Stasulis family for most of the past 44 years. Georgia Stasulis and her husband, Al, run the large, well organized garden center. To access the greenhouse area, you walk through a large, well-lit and fun gift shop area that certainly bears a browse. Off to the right is a separate room featuring pots, planters, fertilizers, chemicals, fountains and other garden art, some hand-made. As much as the greenhouse beckoned, we couldn’t pass up a trip around the store.
We met with owner Georgia Stasulis on our visit, and it’s clear she is proud of what their family has built.
“We offer tropicals, annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and house plants,” Georgia explained. “Succulents and house plants are really seeing a surge of interest today. They haven’t been this popular since the 70s.” She also noted the continuing interest in butterfly and hummingbird gardens.
Beatline also rents green plants for special events like weddings.
But Mecca was calling (“Mecca” being the greenhouse), so we thanked Georgia and made our way behind the gift shop. While there were large numbers of most common flowers and plants, what was most notable was the selection of less common offerings. Pinpricks of white brilliance floated above a row of feathery euphorbia plants. This is a terrific bedding plant, and one that is not easily found at the big-box stores.
Another exotic looking plant we found was Duranta “Sapphire Showers,” is a cultivar with very dark, blue toned purple flowers. The dainty flowers are followed by hanging clusters of golden berries that are great bird food. Excellent signage around the greenhouse helps gardeners select the right plant for any yard conditions.
Hanging baskets of Creeping Jenny (moneywort) adorned one row, with rounded golden leaves on long tendrils reaching beyond the baskets’ edges. This plant can also be used as a vigorous ground cover in damp areas with part-shade. Speaking of shade, we found several varieties of coleus around the greenhouse. This shade-loving workhorse is perfect for very shady spots, its colorful foliage brightening up even the darkest corner of your yard.
Another highlight was the first true red petunia we’ve seen – this is a color seldom seen in petunias. If your location is too hot for petunias in the summer, you can opt for a very similar looking plant, calibrachoa. The plant features plentiful flowers similar in shape to petunias but smaller, and the plants are very heat- and drought-tolerant.
For the butterfly gardener, their butterfly weed offers Monarch butterflies both a food source, and a host plant. The butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves, where they hatch, grow as caterpillars, then enter the chrysalis stage and emerge as butterflies. This is a particularly great way to teach children about the importance of our gardens to wildlife.
Off the parking lot is an area with fruit trees and a variety of healthy-looking, hearty shrubs. Of particular interest was a robust-looking yellow anise shrub that, according to plant grower Monrovia, can be a good substitute for rhododendrons where “rhodies” will not grow (such as in hot, humid Mississippi). We may return for that one!
770 Robert Blvd, Slidell, LA 70458
Wait, what? Louisiana? Absolutely! State boundaries won’t stop us from finding the best garden centers in the area, and just a few minutes off the very first exit from I-10 West in Louisiana (Exit 266) takes us to a real gem, Garden Spot Nursery.
We met with Kathleen Parr. She and her husband, David, along with their son and daughter-in-law, currently own and manage the Garden Spot. Kathleen tells us this is definitely a family affair – and they are grooming the next generation, Kathleen’s three grandchildren (ages 12, 11 and 3) to become the fourth generation of Parrs at Garden Spot!
Garden Spot was founded in Boutte, Louisiana, in the late 1960s by Margaret “Mae” Parr in front of the family’s home. The business moved to their 3.7-acre Slidell location in 1971 and has been providing the local community with high-quality plants and garden supplies ever since. They also offer landscape design services as well as hardscaping, irrigation, drainage mitigation and exterior lighting design. Bottom line: if it makes your outdoors more beautiful and functional, Garden Spot can provide it.
Seeing our interest in the greenhouse, Kathleen explained that they carry a wide assortment of annuals, perennials, tropicals, house plants, and succulents. They also offer some native plants (plants native to our area, great for wildlife), plants for shade gardens, and of course, camellias (Slidell is “The Camellia City,” after all).
The variety is impressive, to be sure. What sets a gardener’s heart a-flutter are endless rows of healthy, well cared-for plants – and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Garden Spot. The nursery is 3.7 acres of wall-to-wall beauty. Showy annuals like petunias greet the giddy gardener near the entrance, but of course we want to get past the expected and look for some cool stuff. Beyond the imposing entrance display is a vast expanse of vigorous trees and shrubs – then Mecca: the greenhouse. We proceed, anxious with anticipation!
Garden Spot does not disappoint. Because of its size, the greenhouse holds great quantities of each variety displayed. If you are looking for a few dozen snapdragons for a bright spring display, they can accommodate – in multiple colors! Showy pink dianthus offers a striking contrast to other plants nearby. Fluffy beds of alyssum entice the gardener to share the joy of these flowering wonders.
A big trend today is pollinator gardening – that is, plants that attract bees and butterflies (and to some extent, hummingbirds). Plants suitable for pollinator gardens, like butterfly weed and gazania, are clearly marked, and quite abundant.
We found a number of unusual plants here as well. While irises are a common and much-loved garden addition, this “Orange Drop” butterfly iris was quite unique. Irises’ penchant for “wet feet” make them well suited for poor drainage areas.
Plants for shady spots are clearly marked, like these pretty begonias and these dwarf cast iron plants. By mixing plants of differing heights, colors and textures, a wonderfully pleasing effect can be achieved.
As we said our goodbyes to Kathleen and the Garden Spot Nursery, we vowed to return here, too, with a big truck and a full wallet!
If you’re new to the gardening hobby, it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the choices at these beautiful garden centers. Don’t fret – the employees here are happy to help you select plants, share advice, and offer encouragement. With these three great resources and a little “sweat equity,” your garden will be beautiful in no time – and you’ll be spending many a happy hour digging, planting, nurturing and just plain enjoying your Southern garden this year and for years to come.
And who knows – maybe even I can have a beautiful garden again!