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."

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