The 10 x 27 ft. greenhouse she and her sister, Faye Wood, had built out of PVC pipe, landscape timbers and an odd assortment of materials they could gather, withstood not only the raging, howling winds, but also the weight of the more than 12 inches of snow!
Fast-forward to the fall of 2008 and you’ll still find Cherrie smiling: but it’s while she works in her three up-to-date greenhouses, caring for the close to 500 poinsettias she grew from tiny slips in August and getting ready to germinate thousands of tiny seeds for this spring’s annuals and perennials.
"Everything is done right here at home," Cherrie explained. "When a poinsettia, hanging basket or flats of plants leave here they will do well. Each plant goes from my greenhouse to your home."
So how did a Louisiana native wind-up in rural North-Central Alabama digging, misting, hammering and more?
Cherrie’s husband, now a semi-retired airline pilot, grew up in the Murphrees Valley area of Blount County and so in the mid-to-late 1960s they moved back to the Valley and soon had a daughter, Sharon, in 1969 and son, John, in 1971.
Cherrie’s love for plants could be seen all around their lovely home as she busied herself raising her family.
But when the kids were grown and on their own, and Cherrie turned 50, her hobby became a lot more.
She drove the 25 miles to Wallace State Community College in Hanceville for two-and-a-half years obtaining her Horticulture Certification.
"We had a lot to learn, but I loved the hands-on in the greenhouses there," Cherrie said. "We learned to take cuttings from plants. What to do with them, how to keep them, what temperatures, what moisture. We learned about germinating seeds and the moisture they need. What chemicals we did or didn’t need to use. How to propagate shrubbery. There was so much.
"I’ve always liked working outside and would rather be outside than inside. I’m not the type person who wants to sit in the house. I guess this started as a hobby and I guess it’s still a hobby in a lot of ways because if I didn’t like doing this, I wouldn’t work this hard!"
And EVERYTHING about Cherrie Blossom Greenhouses is still "hands on."
"About a year after I was in school, a man was going out of business and selling his greenhouses. A friend, my sister and I took two of them down and put them back together here. Joe [who also previously owned a heavy equipment company] leveled the ground. Another friend helped with the electrical work."
That was no small feat because those two greenhouses are 20 x 100 feet! Cherrie has also added a smaller 16 x 45 ft. greenhouse with cold frames out back.
What’s even more remarkable is that her sister still lives in Louisiana but comes to help when she’s needed, like with the greenhouse projects those several years ago, and now in the spring and fall when business is the busiest. Cherrie’s brother, Zelious Galloway, comes to help with electrical and plumbing when needed even though he lives in Illinois! She has no hired help for any of her day-to-day work. Daughter Sharon often comes from her job at Orlando’s Walt Disney World to help and John keeps in touch by e-mail from his business in Costa Rica.
Cherrie said she and Faye learned so much while building and working within that original smaller greenhouse. Landscape timbers were laid three on top of each other, holes were bored through for the PVC pipe and rebar was bent to hold everything in place in the ground.
"We’d work awhile and then laugh a while," she remembered.
She germinated seed in a square box she built of on-hand lumber after she ran heating coils through the three inches of sand.
Now she has a more expensive "real" germinator and other more expensive equipment but what she learned as she started out gave her the background to continue to do things the "right way."
One greenhouse now features a Cool Cell system consisting of large cells looking like crosses between bee hives and large sponges through which water from a tub is circulated, blown over by fans, drained and repeated automatically: a somewhat complicated system that Cherrie and Faye built themselves. This keeps plants cooler in the summer, like when she is rooting the poinsettia slips in the hot months.
Specialty heavy plastic covers the houses in two layers, with a blower to keep the layers slightly blown apart, making a snug "blanket of air surrounding the greenhouses which adds extra protection in the sometimes harsh and unpredictable winter days. She and Faye also built and worked out the automatic venting system for the houses.
Until about two years ago, stock plants for the poinsettias arrived in June, she grew them off, took cuttings at the end of July and first of August and then rooted those cuttings. About two years ago she began ordering rooted poinsettias cuttings in August to slightly shorten the growing time, but does everything else in-house.
She times them to be in their prettiest bloom between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
They are so long-lasting "I’ve had people call me in February and March and say ‘how do I kill this thing, it’s still going,’" she laughed.
When poinsettia season is over, Cherrie personally sterilizes the tables, plastic, all other equipment and even the floor before the seedlings and other plants are moved in. During this interview during the first week in November, boxes of those seedlings and boxes of seeds were arriving and the smaller greenhouse already featured trays and trays of tiny plants for spring and summer! Some she’ll pot, some will be sold in trays for planting in your yard, and others will be used to form the gorgeous hanging baskets for which Cherrie is now famous.
In the meantime, she’ll be working on more than 50 varieties of annuals and perennials, constantly monitoring humidity and temperature and misting the plants three-to-four times each day.
Although she doesn’t look any older than when she first began those many years ago, Joe is now helping Cherrie raise the heights of all the tables in her greenhouses so that back problems won’t prevent her from continuing her work.
"With the downturn in the economy, a lot of people are realizing they still need their flowers to brighten their lives. Poinsettias make wonderful gifts," she reminded.
And what about her often 10-hour days?
"It’s a lot of demanding work but I love it," she said simply.
Cherrie Blossom Greenhouse is located on Blount County Highway 39, exactly 2.4 miles off Alabama Highway 75 beside the Super Wal-Mart. She’s open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. through Christmas Eve and will re-open the first of April. For more information call (205) 274-7798.
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.