Bobby Green is a landscape designer and owner of Green Nurseries in Fairhope, AL., a wholesale nursery specializing in Camellias, winter-interest plants, and rare and scarce plants. He encourages the wider use of camellias by emphasizing their versatility in the garden. His grounds have become a repository for rare and endangered camellia cultivars salvaged from long-abandoned nurseries and gardens. Bobby designed the recently-opened Wintergarden, at the Mobile Botanical Gardens. He also provides research and consultation services toward restoring historic camellia gardens.
While in college studying archeology, Bobby discovered working the afternoons at his dad’s nursery was more interesting than the voluminous books on sociology. He proclaimed, “Hey, I just wanted to dig in the dirt! ” So when he proudly announced his intention to enter the nursery business his father’s good advice went unheeded. “Go to law school (his uncle and grandfather were lawyers), grow plants for a hobby.” Thirty five years later he’s still on the farm.
In Bobby’s words:
“It wasn’t the plants that were so intriguing to me as a child; in fact, their demanding habits were often placed between me and the baseball game down the block. It was the old things. The abandoned tools of the 1940s that had been used to raise the camellias. . . the old grafting jars, large and small in many different colors. . . the label-making machine capable only of producing a handful of tags an hour. . . the “tree cart” that was often used as a stagecoach or chariot as my nurseryman father indulged my sisters and me. But the most mysterious of all was the “Rototiller” — 1947 model, a monstrous seven-foot-long, 2-cycle, 16-horsepower machine that could turn the hardest clay soil to fluff.
My love of old things eventually and naturally extended into the garden itself. And what could be more interesting to study but the camellia? Here were actual living architectural artifacts! Crawling beneath old shrubs, once tended by gardeners now long-gone, could give you an insight into the gardener’s own spirit, with his labels frugally made from discarded Budweiser cans. The gardener/tool and die maker would stamp the heavy aluminum tags with care, and they remain as legible today as they were 40 years ago. Some labels, made by well-meaning amateur spellers, were so vague as to be almost in code.
Better than any other Southern shrub, the camellia can link gardeners with generations of the past. “My grandmother planted that camellia”, or “My uncle rooted that Japonica” are still commonly heard phrases.
Gardeners would like to think of their work as achieving some form of immortality, but of course a garden is a very fragile creature. Certain plants, however, seem immortal but for the hand of Man. I have rarely seen an old camellia die from any disease except “progress”. Personally, I am indelibly linked to my father by his camellias, some planted as early as 1932. As children, we would bring armloads of camellias into the house, and my father would rattle off the names: ‘Coletti’, ‘Marjorie Magnificent’, ‘Donckelarri’. My father died in 1982, and it seems he took many of his loves with him: opera, bad jokes, Nero Wolfe mysteries. But every winter I can still walk through the garden with him as he points out ‘Lindsey Neill’ and ‘Rose Dawn’.
And that other link: the Rototiller — that hopelessly obsolete machine from the past? Every year or two I wrestle it from its cave, and clean the carburetor. A little new gas and three or four pulls and it sputters to life again, belching enough blue smoke to make Al Gore’s eyes water as far away as Washington. It careens around in circles, pulling my spare frame behind it. After five minutes of this ritual, I somewhat sadly wrestle the beast back into its cave, vowing that one day I’ll clean and renovate the machine that so faithfully helped put food on the table through nine presidents.
Sentimentality is a common link among all gardeners, both a comfort and a curse. I owe a great debt to my father for teaching me about camellias — and of course, for not throwing out the Rototiller.”
— Robert M. Green Jr
Bobby is pictured here with his wife and business partner Debbie.
A rant on the all-mighty horticulture industry, and a dash of pop
culture mixed with what’s happening in the new plant world.
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