Mary often rode her horses, Lady and Duke, all over the native prairie pastures. In spring, when it was time to move cattle to another pasture, she always picked and brought home a bouquet of pasque flowers (Anemone patens) or wild crocus (C. minimus) for her mother. She continued to garden while in college whenever there was a space available.
After graduating from North Dakota State University, Mary became an assistant extension agent in Pembina County, while her husband Tom taught Vocational Agriculture in Wallhalla, North Dakota. A visit to Neche Greenhouse in 1983 to buy a Christmas gift led to actually taking over ownership of the Neche, North Dakota,-greenhouse on April Fool’s Day 1984.
Though Neche was a small town (about 435 people), Mary and Tom grew between 250,000 and 400,000 bedding plants each year for their customers who came from all over the area. Their retail and wholesale business did landscaping and sold Christmas trees, poinsettias, and even a little floral on Valentine’s Day. While at the Neche Greenhouse, Mary did two radio shows each weekday in May and wrote a year-round newspaper column for about 15 years. Both Mary and Tom were and remain active members of the North Dakota Nursery and Greenhouse Association.
MOVE TO MINNESOTA
In 2005 they closed the business and moved to Morris, Minnesota, where Tom took a position working in the West Central Research and Outreach Center’s Horticultural Display Gardens. In 2006, Mary began working at Morning Sky Greenery, a native plant production nursery.
Mary enjoys doing the Prairie Yard & Garden program, which airs Thursday evenings, and is passionate about bringing the wonderful world of gardening and plants to more people. “We have so many great people who can share their knowledge and introduce the public to this great psychologist – working with nature and plants. Working with plants is good for the soul.”
If she could have only three plants in her garden, Mary’s husband laughs and says that they would be something that is blue, something bluer, and something bluest. Yes, she loves the color blue. This is reflected in her own perennial bed with its catmint (Nepeta spp.), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), and Salvia. However, she thinks her favorite plants are her fernleaf peony, tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), and anything that blooms blue.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO TRY
Asked what advice she would give to a new gardener, Mary says, “Just go for it. Maybe read an article, visit with a knowledgeable friend, visit a greenhouse and talk to the people there for advice, watch Prairie Yard & Garden, or another gardening show. But most of all, just try it!”
This is a year of celebrations for Mary. Prairie Yard & Garden is recognizing its 30th season and Morning Sky Greenery is 25 years old. She and Tom are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, and the North Dakota Nursery and Greenhouse Association is celebrating its 50th anniversary. As Mary says, “That’s a lot of celebrating and a big Uff da!”
Mary and her producer Mike Cihak at the University of Minnesota-Morris welcome suggestions for future programs. You can learn more about the program and watch episodes at pioneer.org.
About Diana Rankin
Diana Rankin is a University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener, a professional writer and a member of the Grants Professional Association. Diana lives on 69 acres in SUDA Zone 3, where she has seven different perennial gardens.