A Mues Anniversary Plant

This column is my "first anniversary" column. One year ago the first 'Garden of Ed' appeared in the Towne Crier, Nov. 19, 2002 (coincidentally). I'll attempt to provide a little personal history that will focus on my passion for plants. I hope what follows will help to explain why my favorite bumper sticker reads "I Dig Plants".

I grew up in Queens, N.Y. My dad liked growing things. He was especially fond of roses, and we had a nice size yard where he also grew grapes, peaches and other flowers, too. He tried to get me interested, but in nice weather, once chores were finished, stick ball beckoned.

Eventually, I did manage to pick up a bit of knowledge here and a bit of appreciation there. It was my first schooling in aesthetics and horticulture, and I was probably nine years old. It was not very sophisticated. My dad was not anything close to a 4-H parent. He was self-taught like many of us.

I had just become a teenager when he died at a young age. Tempus fugit. Two days after I received my Bachelors degree, I received my mandatory draft notice. Service (U.S. Army), a marriage and divorce, New York City apartment, the seed is germinating.

My Mom visited with me and brought me a plant. I was young, single and right at the blossoming of the Green Revolution. African violets were no longer only found in florists. Plant stores started to spring up in certain neighborhoods. In Manhattan, there were only a handful, until dumbfounded florists wised up and started to expand. Early on, on the Upper East Side, there were only three. Kings, Terrestris, and Mother Nature. Every wealthy New Yorker had to have what his decorator insisted on: live plants, the bigger the better.

After leaving the publishing business behind, I was hired by Mother Nature. It was a four block walk from my apartment. I began as a helper with a nod to learning how to sell, if I proved myself. I devoured every ounce of this new love, and nourished it at the same time. I began to read everything I could get my hands on. I signed up for classes at the New York Botanical Gardens. Meanwhile, the plant my mom gave me, the venerable snake plant (Sanseveria), the "can't kill" plant, flowered in my apartment with a knock-out fragrance that lasted for weeks. I was hooked. Within six months I was top salesperson and managing the store. Being manager, I was privy to taking home any plants no longer deemed salable. My top floor, southern exposure apartment became a virtual solarium. Incidentally, while at Mother Nature, one of my co-workers was Dan Heydaya, struggling actor.

Within a couple of years, I opened my own plant store, smaller, lower key, more personable, with plant care service available. I registered the name "Family Tree" in New York State and with the IRS in late 1973. I closed my plant store after a couple of years. I still maintain my business, "Family Tree".

During that period, I became acquainted with one W. Albert Manda (a renowned plant breeder), and had the wonderful opportunity to walk the growing areas and greenhouses with him and his comments at my side. He was an anomaly. Anyone who is a plant person knows about the connection between tobacco and the viruses associated with it, right? Al, short and portly and commandeering, would forge through areas and then stop and pontificate, one on one. I was in heaven! Then he would stop, take a strong puff on his cigar, blow the smoke out and continue, without a blink.

I longed to follow in his footsteps, or make new ones. I got up the guts to talk to him about it. His answer, "Start 15 years ago". I still have many plants that he personally developed and was willing to sell me (he had to be coaxed to part with favorites). He will ever remain fondly in my heart for his honesty and directness. I remember part of that conversation, paraphrased, on the order of, 'If you are not accustomed to being on you feet and working fifteen hour days since the age of ten, you are too late'.

After I closed my store in the city, I immediately launched a houseplant consulting service, offering care, pest id. and control recommendations. I also consulted with decorators and designers whose knowledge of architecture and space design was awesome, but their knowledge of "what" plant would live and flourish "where" was poor, at best. I still used my "Family Tree" name. This became the focus of my business for several years. I was not a grower, but was fairly expert in my first chosen area (houseplants). And, I worked from my home. I continued to study and learn all I could. And, of course, I continued to seek out and grow many plants in my apartment.

The city's "plasticity" began to get to me. My longing for more open spaces and cleaner air took over. I bought a small house in Samsonville in Ulster County in fall '76. The following summer, I closed in a front porch with used storm windows, insulated it, put in two skylights, created a few innovative devices to move cool air to be warmed, and I had my first real greenhouse. I was ecstatic.

The following year, I contracted with a friend to install a solar heated hot water system. This gave me the ability to grow almost anything I had a whim to try. My heating and hot water oil bills were reduced 70%. I still travelled to the city three days a week, and brought more and more exotic plant material to my clients. Whenever I could, I looked for new and different plants.

I married again in 1981. We moved twice in the next several years. My wife, Diane, found a house with an attached, solar heated greenhouse that measures 40 ft. by 10 ft. . It's better than the one I built out of used storm windows and when she looked at me questioningly, I said," Let's buy it". We have occupied this house since fall of '89. I have over the years preferred growing mostly unusual, hard to find, or rare plants.

In May of 1992, I was employed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County as a horticultural educator. I had the good fortune to interact with, interview, and meet other plant people, and help train and teach such like minded spirits. Best part of all, I had the wonderful opportunity to assist the public three days a week in an area I was passionate about. I was ecstatic again! I remained in this job for better than ten years, until my retirement a little over a year ago.

I enjoy writing most, after growing plants. As I learn about a new plant, I want to talk about it; I want to share its beauty, its growing habit, its flowering interest. Friends out there, if you'll bear with me, I will be happy to share more about why my best bumper sticker reads "I Dig Plants". From time to time I may tell you about plants you might have never known. More likely, tropical exotics, my favorites. But, this too will change.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on Nov 19, 2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.