Only a hardcore plant junkie relates to the anguish of losing control of his/her vehicle when flowers pop into view. The steering wheel jerks right or left, cutting through traffic to the doors of a nursery. Any nursery. Every nursery. Even one of those usually pitiful little “nurseries” baking in the sun on the side of a hardware store, a handful of shelves, and a splintered table or two holding the offerings. There are a few six- or eight-packs of marigolds, half of them doing deep knee-bends from lack of water. They are flanked by enough vegetable plants to throw together a stripped-down version of a basic house salad.
Everyone knows redemption is out there, available to everyone...including the car that has abused and confused its plant-addicted driver. That redemption, in this case, comes via an excursion to the tiny town of Justin where, suddenly, the car’s steering wheel yanks powerfully and the vehicle shudders to a stop in front of an Ace Hardware store’s garden center.
It’s already established that “hardware store” and “garden center” are a painful oxymoron when used in the same sentence but this is different. This is either the original Garden of Eden or a more than reasonable facsimile.
First, you’re greeted by a profusion of big, colorful begonias. Big ones. Little ones. Double flowering ones. You never knew how deeply you loved begonias, or how you needed to buy at least 10 or 15, until this moment. You glance to the right and spy a few pots of zinnias in the deepest, most royal-looking purple you’ve ever seen. You make a beeline for them, but your direct approach is intersected by a slim-bodied lady with a curly, blonde ponytail, light blue eyes, and a fair complexion. Attractive. Outdoorsy-type. Happy and helpful.
Her name is Dee Marrow-Zane. Many Justin locals refer to her as the Plant Lady. She transplanted from New Jersey to Texas with her three boys after a divorce. She got remarried to her college sweetheart who had two daughters. It was 2009 and they had a blended family of five. “I had a degree in psychology, which I never used,” Dee said. “My main job was to take care of our five kids, along with a mustang and a donkey, the three dogs, the barn cat, and the chickens. I’m a handy- kind-of-person, which was perfect for our fixer-upper house. I also gardened in New Jersey. I had office-type jobs before I collected all those kids to raise. I decided to return to work once they were a little older. Someone told me an Ace Hardware was opening in Justin. I applied, thinking I had enough knowledge to work on the floor. I was hired.”
“Honestly, I don’t remember how the idea of a garden center came up, but Alan Walter, our managing partner, put me in charge of it. I started from scratch. I googled people and plants. I met Neil Sperry and he’s fantastic. I read everything I could find about plants and gardening in Texas. We’re a small, family-owned business and I use small, family-owned businesses for my suppliers as often as possible. Most of our plants are grown locally, within 50-miles of our stores in Fort Worth, Justin, and Denton,” Dee said.
Alan’s wife, Mandy, is a Master Gardener. “Our goal is to simplify the process of choosing plants that will thrive in your yard. I ask a long list of questions such as which direction do your beds face, do you have sprinklers or hand-water, do you plant mostly in beds or pots, etc., etc. A lot of people bring in pictures of their planting areas. We even discuss and help choose colors,” Dee said. " I love it when people come back and tell me how their plants are thriving. Justin is our biggest garden center, but we concentrate on the same things in all three – quality, variety, affordability.”
Sometimes people stroll into the garden center with a book and coffee. They sit under an arch and relax in the middle of a rainbow of colors while looking at annuals, perennials, succulents, and herbs. Their ears adjust to the soft plops of water falling in the fountains, and their souls grow calm under the influence of pure beauty.
The plant addict rests at Ace Hardware in Justin, Texas.
1429 W. 1st Street, Justin, TX 76247