In the November chill, Bruce Metzger walks quickly from greenhouse to greenhouse, opening door after door.
“They’re all a mess,” he says. “I have to get in there and clean them up.”
One person’s mess is another’s beauty, though. Stacks of plastic pots lean this way and that. An uninvited shrub has grown in under the side of one plastic wall. But mounds of magenta impatiens and baskets of pink geraniums glow in the autumn afternoon.
“We don’t have anything fancy,” Metzger says firmly.
My view, of course, is romantic. I’m delighted with anything that’s flowering in November.
With 25 years in the business and a master’s degree in horticulture from Colorado State University, Metzger’s view is permeated with the practical.
He thinks in terms of hundreds of varieties and thousands of seeds, of 15-hour days come springtime, and postage increases on the newsletter he sends out to his faithful customers.
His parents, Fred and Gladys, are in their 80s. Most years they help him out. But last spring his mother broke her leg, and the family business turned into a one-man business.
Gem Greenhouse and Gardens is tucked onto a few acres on 12th Avenue, between McDonald and Evergreen. New houses from the Dhaenen Square subdivision loom beyond the back fence.
When Bruce was young, he and his brother were active in 4-H. They raised sheep, calves, ducks, chickens, you name it.
His grandfather got the two boys started raising and selling vegetables.
“You can’t do it anymore, but we used to take a truck loaded up with corn and drive through the streets, peddling corn door to door,” Bruce says. “It was great, but the city won’t let you do that anymore.”
Peppers, corn, tomatoes. Selling vegetables put Metzger through school. Gardening here and studying there, he virtually commuted from Pullman while he was earning his bachelor’s degree in horticulture at Washington State University.
Metzger talks with quiet satisfaction about the tomato plants he’s developed. They produce early, and rather than pouring their growth into the plants all summer, the growth goes into the tomatoes, themselves. Plus, the Gem tomatoes haven’t developed the thick skin that comes with some of today’s varieties.
He enjoys tuberous begonias and impatiens. Corn is a favorite, although the greenhouse operation keeps him so busy, he did no outdoor gardening last year. And he loves to grow eggplant - “they look so neat” - as long as he doesn’t have to eat them.
As we head back down the row of greenhouses, I wonder out loud what the tidy brown stalks are, still standing near the old barn.
“Those? Those are weeds,” he says with a smile. “Like I told you, things are a mess.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo