Geraldine “Jinky” Montgomery is redefining retirement to suit her tastes and lifestyle.
She devotes several hours each day to cultivating her green thumb at Montgomery Greenhouse, usually arriving at a greenhouse between 8:30 and 9 a.m., and staying until about 5 p.m.
“I like my house, I love my home, but still I like to get out down here and play in the dirt too,” said Montgomery, who is now 86.
The lifestyle is one she has grown accustomed to, she said, adding that she and her husband, Gates Montgomery, started farming after purchasing their homeplace in Ararat.
“I had four kids, and his mother lived with us, so we just started the greenhouse. At first, we didn’t grow that much,” she said. “We more or less bought most of the plants from Kalamazoo, Michigan and they brought them in.”
Montgomery said plants were delivered to all the G.C. Murphy stores in the area, including Richmond, Danville, and Lexington, N.C. as well as parts of West Virginia.
Years later, the couple started growing more plants before taking a few years off.
“After that, we went back into it. I think in ’89 or ’90, and then I’ve just been growing and fiddling at it ever since,” Montgomery said.
In the beginning, the greenhouse was primarily filled with bedded and basket plants, Montgomery said and added that Her husband and some of her daughters delivered plants on the delivery routes that occurred multiple times a week.
“After we quit that, we produced and grew tomatoes and all that stuff. We sold a lot of that at the farmers’ markets. I would take it to the farmers’ markets at night, and me and this other lady would go with me and we would go down and sell them,” Montgomery said, adding that customers met her there to get their produce.
The operation now is a stepped-down version of the one years ago – Montgomery said she reduced it to four greenhouses filled with hundreds of plants and seedlings.
“I like my plants, I like to be around them, and I like people. I can sit down here and work and when people come in, I can talk with them and that’s what I enjoy,” she said.
Montgomery currently sows seeds, transplants seedlings, and grows vegetables for farmers, including gallon tomatoes for a hardware store owner in Lynchburg who picked up about 350 tomato plants in one day.
“The only one he’ll buy tomatoes from is me,” she said.
Montgomery first sows seeds in the smallest greenhouse. Once the seeds have sprouted, they are transplanted into different packs and moved to the other greenhouses, depending on whether they are flowers or fruits, or vegetables.
Once a seedling is transplanted into larger squared pots or packs, Montgomery estimates it takes about three to four weeks before the plants are ready to sell.
She currently grows about 25 different varieties of tomatoes and at least a dozen varieties of peppers. She grows many basic flowers like “zinnias, petunias, marigolds, roses, lavender, and salvia,” and her greenhouse also houses avocado plants, lemongrass, Bok choy, rhubarb, onions, strawberries, cucumbers, herbs like basil and rosemary, and other fruits and vegetables.
Montgomery’s daughter also grows and pots succulents and cacti in one of the greenhouses, and Montgomery researched cauliflower at the behest of a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
“I grew as much as two acres of cauliflower to find out which one was the best between the different species of cauliflower,” she said.
Montgomery said her advice to aspiring gardeners is to start small.
“You can have a little space and take care of it and plant it and keep it clean and everything,” she said. “You can get a lot of vegetables and things off of that. You don’t have to have an acre garden, you can just start a little, and just do what you can to start with. And keep the weeds out.”
While she enjoys growing nearly everything, Montgomery said she likes growing new Guinea impatiens and rose flowers the most.
“I enjoy most all of my flowers, and I love to root things. I like to root my roses and the different cuttings and things,” Montgomery said. “To me, it’s just a pleasure to cut them off and root them and see what they do.”
Her greenhouse is open daily, except Sundays, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For more information, go to Facebook.com/MontgomeryGreenhouse, or call Montgomery at (276) 251-5623.