Editor's note: We're following the Sedgwick County master gardeners on a tour of six home-grown garden centers in Wichita this spring. We finish up this week at Johnson's Garden Center.
When you visit Johnson's Garden Centers, you can count on finding interesting things other than plants.
When the master gardeners and I arrived for our tour of the flagship store at 2707 W. 13th St. recently, we found cute black and white kittens bopping in and out of a sheltered area while garden-center owner Marty Johnson spoke. (They were strays and wouldn't stand for being sold — or given away.) We also found supplies for growing vegetables hydroponically, and, even more outside the box, supplies for making wine and beer.
For some reason, that makes me think of August and chile time, when Marty brings back chiles from Hatch, N.M., and his garden centers roast them for Wichita's enjoyment. It's one way Johnson's has made itself a four-season garden center, Marty told the master gardeners. Each month brings a special event in addition to new plants.
"There's something going on all the time," Marty said.
He is the third generation of four to be involved in the garden center. His grandfather Orie started in the late 1920s with a fruit and vegetable stand at Douglas and West streets. During World War II, he bought the property on West 13th, and Marty's father, Harold, went to work for him after the war. In 1960, a greenhouse and store were added on. The family home also was built there.
Marty remembers toddling from the house to the garden center as a little boy. He and his two brothers and two sisters helped their dad at the garden center as they got older.
In the late 1960s or early 1970s, the Johnsons added Christmas merchandise to their business. At one point, there was a Johnson's location at Central and Edgemoor. Johnson's added the 21st and Woodlawn location in 1983 and the Central and Ridge location in 1995.
Johnson's also expanded into landscaping, and a few years ago, Marty's brother Linden and Linden's wife, Angie, took over the landscaping side, which is now called Johnson's Legacy Landscapes. Marty and his wife, Nancy, and their son, Jeremy, run the retail side, and their daughter, Kristen, works there as well. Marty's and Linden's other brother, Wes, has a wholesale greenhouse in Hesston called Hesston Plant Co., where many of the plants you see at Johnson's were started.
Johnson's also carries lots of plant-care products, "almost to a fault," Marty said. New this year: refrigerated beneficial insects.
Nancy Johnson and the three greenhouse managers recently went to Chicago for a tour of that city's garden centers, and the result was an addition of six-sided wooden benches at Johnson's that allow more creativity in displays than long straight rows of plants do.
Here's a look at some of the events that take Johnson's through the year: a big sale the weekend after New Year's, the garden show in late March, the flat sale in late April, the Moonlight Madness sale in late July, the chile fest in August, Pansy Mania in September and then Christmas.
Johnson's also hosts twice-yearly ladies nights and weekly happy hours, where entertainment and drinks mix in with shopping.
Marty's mom, Aldine, who lives in a house next to Marty's and Nancy's at the 13th Street site, dropped by to visit with the master gardeners.
While the master gardeners chose Wichita's year-round long-standing homegrown garden centers to tour this spring, there are several more beyond this definition, from Plant Kingdom, which sells at five outlets from Maize to Andover, to Scenic Landscapes on West Maple, which specializes in water gardens.
"I have always been in awe" of Wichita's garden centers, extension agent Bob Neier said after the tour. Almost all of them have moved into at least the second generation of the founding families and have grown up with plants that are adapted to our climate while bringing in new plant material likely to do well here, Neier said.
"They keep the standards but they go beyond that, too, versus something selected and shipped in from a national site. I think they have really good quality, selection and service."
He also finds it interesting that people have their favorite garden centers based on their own interest in plant material and style.
Then there are those of us who love them all.