Janie’s Last Hurrah

Jane Mattheis helps a customer pick out coleus for her patio pots. (Photos/Nancy Hanson.)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Janie Marie’s Greenhouse is the kind of plant-lover’s mecca that veteran gardeners remember from an earlier era. Based on a farmstead four miles north of Georgetown, it’s a labor of love – a one-woman show where that woman knows every sprout by name and takes joy in introducing it to its potential growers.
And after nearly 30 years, this is its last season.
At the end of summer, Jane Mattheis plans to move to Bemidji, where her grandfather built a cabin more than 80 years ago. She’ll leave behind the enterprise she has tended since 1986. There, several generations of green thumbs have gathered in May and June to peruse her carefully curated selection of flowers and vegetables, populating their plots and pots with thriving plantlets that may have sprouted in her own living room.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s time,” she says. The new owners, Christan and Tony Krajeck, will take over in August. That’s when Jane, her 13-year-old granddaughter Kaia and their dog Honey, along with a cat or two, plan to move off the farm for a more leisurely life.
Jane’s enterprise took root in 1986 when she built her first greenhouse. “I called it Valley Veggies,” she recalls. “I was selling organic produce from a stand beside Highway 75. I grew everything, including peppers – hot, hot peppers. I couldn’t grow them hot enough for one of my regular customers, a woman from India, but I kept trying.”
That went on until one day in 1990. She remembers the moment when she changed direction: “At the end of the season, I was selling 50 pounds of potatoes for $3 a bag. A guy told me he didn’t want to pay that much. That was it.”
She moved into raising and drying flowers for the Minnesota Everlastings Cooperative. “Peonies, safflower, salvia, globes – I had five 55-foot rows of peonies alone growing under black plastic mulch with trickle irrigation.” She sold them through the cooperative, which maintained warehouses in Rothsay and Pelican Rapids to service its wholesale customers.
But when a poor growing season forced the group into bankruptcy, she took another look around.
“I had been raising transplants for other growers – weird stuff, fun stuff,” the NDSU horticulture graduate remembers. “I thought of raising perennials, but you need a special permit in Minnesota. Then I thought, ‘Let’s do bedding plants,’ and it just took off from there.
“More people would come, and I’d grow more. Growing more led to more people, and then more plants, and more people ….”
Jane’s love affair with plants has continued, unabated, for the past 30 years. But it’s a love that requires months of hard work. She saves seed from the previous year’s crop. “Seed-grown plants are very labor-intensive. Lots of hand work,” she says. They sprout on lighted shelves all over her home, then require transplanting as they move into her greenhouses.
Other patented varieties need to be vegetatively propagated instead of grown from seed. Three to four thousand liners grown from cuttings arrive at the farm in March; each plug needs to be set into the potting medium by hand. “The hardest part of this business is that when I start, I know it’s going to snowball,” she reflects. “I know I won’t have a spare minute until I close the doors July 1. And then I go to the lake.”
What does she grow? “What don’t I?” she reports with a grin. Her two public greenhouses are busting with blooms right now, from alyssum to zinnias, along with countless varieties of petunias, calibrachoa, geraniums, verbena, lobelia, marigolds, coleus, begonias, snapdragons and more. A vast assortment of veggies vies for space, among them some 50 types of tomatoes, broccoli, melons, Jane says, “and a ton of peppers – always plenty of habaneros.”
Besides the earthy pleasures of bright color, heavenly scents and the wonderful smell of warm, damp soil, Jane says, “I enjoy reconnecting with my faithful clientele. They’ve followed me for years through all the mistakes I’ve learned from. We may see each other only once a year, but our mutual interest in gardening means there’s always something fun to talk about.”
These coming days are the busiest of her year. “I’m open from 10 to 8 every day now. I’ll live, breathe, eat and sleep gardening for the next couple of months. It’s a short time, but by the end of it, I’m spent,” she says. “I’ve been getting to the point of selling for five years or so. I’m 65. My knees are still good, but I don’t want to work so hard all the time.”
Moving to the lake, she expects, is the tonic she needs right now. Besides, she adds, her new yard there is a blank canvas. She can’t wait to start planting.

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