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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette The flowers admired at city parks and Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory get their start in the Lawton Park greenhouses.

  • Lynda Heavrin, the city’s manager of landscape and horticulture, stands in the original greenhouse that was built in the 1920s.

  • Volunteer Nancy Lindsey, a master gardener, transplants guara.

  • Carolyn Colpetzer, from left, Kelly Hatfield, Earlene Cunegin and Lorraine Cherry transplant marigolds.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Behind the Scenes, at the Parks & Rec greenhouses: Ryan Yaghi carts a load of tulips to a cooler, where the lower temperatures will show their growth and stall bud opening.

Sunday, April 09, 2017 1:00 am

behind the scenes

Where city flowers take root

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

Growing tips

Lynda Heavrin, manager of landscape and horticulture for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department's greenhouses, offers these tips for growing in Indiana's climate and soil:

• Create good soil. She suggests adding compost by either creating your own or buying it at the Allen County Solid Waste Management District's Lake Avenue site.

• Wait for frost to pass. About May 15, Heavrin says to begin to watch the weather. She says to not start too early or your plants will die.

• Try something new. “People should experiment,” Heavrin says. “They shouldn't be afraid if they don't know” how to garden.

Behind the scenes

This monthly feature offers a peek at what takes place during production at area events or organizations.

Nestled in Lawton Park, barely visible to the thousands of automobiles that whiz by along Clinton Street, are dome-shaped buildings that house an amazing garden bonanza.

It's home to the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department's greenhouses, which grow and provide 50,000 plants for the city's parks within its 30,000 square feet of growing space.

It should come as no surprise that spring is a busy time for the greenhouses.

The staff and volunteers plant 200,000 seeds a year. Currently they are getting ready for the annual Mother's Day Plant Sale from May 12 to 14 at McMillen Park Community Center and are preparing to give away 19,000 plants to school children for the annual flower and vegetable association program. The program allows schoolchildren to take home a plant, grow and care for it and then bring it back when school starts again to enter it into their school's plant show.

But that's not all the greenhouses do. They also provide plants for Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory. It's because of the conservatory that the greenhouse grows year round, because the conservatory changes its gardens six times a year, according to Lynda Heavrin, the city's manager of landscape and horticulture.

Heavrin has been at the greenhouse for 18 years. Before that she worked at the conservatory, beginning in 1983 when it first opened. “So now I get to grow all the plants for the conservatory,” she says.

Heavrin, who has a degree in horticulture, also helps with designs of the conservatory gardens. But at the city parks, the designs are left up to the parks' gardeners. The gardeners create their designs and then come to the greenhouse to talk about what plants they want. Heavrin tries to make sure the plants or flowers will do well in the Indiana climate and soil. If she doesn't think it will grow or do well, she will suggest something else.

But sometimes a gardener will pass on the advice, such as waiting to plant anything outside until after May 15, which is usually when the last frost has occurred. Heavrin remembers one gardener who decided to plant early, and unfortunately, all of the plants ended up dying.

Heavrin says the greenhouse workers keep a close eye on the weather. The greenhouses have two full-time gardeners, one seasonal gardener and 30 volunteers. “They're the reason we can do this,” Heavrin says of the volunteers.

Nancy Lindsey, who on this cold day in early March has her hands in soil, potting plants, is one of the many volunteers. She has volunteered for seven years. As a master gardener, Lindsey says she wanted a place to share her skills. “It 's a good place to be in the winter,” Lindsey says.

Indeed, the plants are untouched by the cold outside as it is nice and toasty inside the greenhouses. But in the summer, it can get to 100 degrees inside, Heavrin says.

Especially in the original greenhouse, a leftover from the 1920s, when the greenhouses were first built. It is the only remaining greenhouse as the others burnt down in a 1970s fire.

The original greenhouse is glass and is where the cacti and succulents are kept. The glass roof makes the greenhouse very hot during the day, and then it cools off quickly in the evening, just like the desert, Heavrin says. It's perfect for these type of plants.

People don't realize how big of an operation the greenhouses are for the parks department, Heavrin says.

Once the rush of spring has passed, the staff and volunteers will clean up and then start all over, getting ready for the following seasons.

The mums will come in June; poinsettias for the conservatory's holiday display will come in August; and then the tulip bulbs will be put in the cooler for their fall planting.

Something is always blooming.

trich@jg.net