Wide Open Spaces

As a child of the fifties, I grew up in Long Beach. My parents were simple people with simple lives. My dad worked for Edison and mom stayed home with her kids. There wasn't a lot of extra money for fancy vacations. My dad would often ask me and my sister, "hey, let's go for a ride". So, we would climb into our 57 Chevy and off we would go. In those days, my dad use to drive us to what he called "Dairy Valley". Actually today it is now the City of Cerritos. Back in those days though, it was wide open spaces with lots of dairy farms, cows, fields and flowers.

My mom was quiet person and pretty much kept to herself. But her one love, the thing she always talked about, was gardening! She taught all of us about plants with her favorite being the "bachelor buttons" as I've mentioned before because they were tough and would grow no matter what just as they had when she lived in Texas. She was a kid during the Depression and would always tell me and then my own kids about hungry people that would come to her family's back door asking for food. I guess that's where we all learned the importance of giving back to the world. When I had my own kids, my mom was anxious to teach them as well about what it meant to work with soil, to put your hands in the earth. We all knew the importance of putting back in the earth what we took out.

When I opened Country Roads, or began working on it at the end of 1992, my building had a chain linked, ugly outdoor area filled with trash. It was an eyesore. So came the idea of cleaning up the lot and putting in some plants. Norm and Jeannie Yoder started by making an area for their daughter Dee-Dee to sell her herbs. Next thing you know, it grew into Friday House Gardens. As Country Roads began to lease the properties next door which were filled with oil leaking cargo trucks, and trash, we expanded our gardens. And eventually we added the name Gardens to Country Roads. As years passed, things changed. Eventually my oldest daughter, Brande, took over the gardens and named it after her grandma that passed away a year or so ago. Johnnye Merle Gardens isn't just about selling plants, its about an environment and a tribute to my mom. Funny thing, my mom always hated her name and was a bit embarrassed we would use it to name a garden after her!

Over the years, that garden area has meant different things to many different people. When one of our dealers passed away unexpectantly, we planted a rose in her memory. When Dee-Dee passed away a couple of years ago, we added another plant in her memory. After all, Dee-Dee was the original gardener at Country Roads back in 1993!!! People come in to browse the gardens not just buy plants, but to escape the chaos of our busy lives. Anyone that sells plants for a living knows you're not going to become rich doing it, that's not what it’s about! We've had people use the garden for their engagement photos and other photographic backdrops. All the Country Roads kids have played out there as they've grown up. When I'm arguing with one of my kids at the store, they know when I say, "I'm going to the garden" that means I'm really mad!! Over the years we've watched
our small trees and vines turn into beautiful landscape. As I said, there are many memories contained in that garden. It is awesome to be able to escape the concrete jungle that surrounds us daily, to a little piece of paradise back behind an antique store.

I'm uncertain what will happen to Johnnye Merle Gardens & Nursery. You see, the City seems to feel that Johnnye Merle Gardens is violating City codes. They tell me we are in code violation by not having a parking lot where our garden sits. They tell me I need seventy four parking spaces, not fountains, trees and flowers. I'm sure they have their reasons. I miss the Dairy Valleys of the past and my dad saying, "let's go for a ride". I really miss those wide open spaces! Joni Mitchell wrote a song years ago, one of my favorites. . . Big Yellow Taxi. It's funny how she knew then what was happening in today's world, "don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til its gone. . . they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."


It's a new year and usually its a time when we all make new years resolutions which involve stuff like losing weight, exercise regularly, try to save more money, etc. This year I told myself to find something each day to be grateful for. With life being so hectic as it is, some days I thought would be harder than others. But when you really define the word "gratitude", it simply means "a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation". And I think we all know that the simple, small things in life are pretty easy to find. I know for myself, when my little granddaughter smiles at me, I need nothing else in life. I'm just grateful to be a daily part of her life.

At the end of last year, when I was short on help at the store, I hired a lady who was having a tough time. It's a long story, but she ended up basically homeless. She bounced from one persons home to another. She has a 16 year old son who has learning disabilities. Her life wasn't easy. There were times I have to admit, she made us a little crazy on some of those days. But even in the craziest of times, we all worried about her and wanted to make sure she had enough money for food and the basic necessities. It also reminded us to be grateful for own lives and having a roof over our heads! Well, to make a long story short, she left the state for the holidays to visit relatives. It turned out one of her nieces was going to move her to Arizona and give her and her son a place to live. I was sincerely happy for her, and didn't think too much more about it. I hadn't heard from her in a few weeks and had replaced her on our work schedule. Then one day out of the blue she called me. She said she "just wanted to thank me" for all I did for her, and how nice and kind I had been to her. After she hung up, I was really grateful that I had taken the time to be a short part of her life because I knew then we had both made a difference in each others lives for a short period of time. Sometime "life just happens while you are making plans".