Dr. Arlie Powell showed a recent class at Petals from the Past how to grow blackberries on a trellis system. (STEVEN CALHOUN/ ADVERTISER)
Dr. Arlie Powell showed a recent class at Petals from the Past how to grow blackberries on a trellis system. (STEVEN CALHOUN/ ADVERTISER)

By Scott Mims

New and experienced gardeners, and everyone in between, have something to gain from attending one of the many free courses offered at Jemison’s Petals from the Past.

Since the company’s founding in 1994, classes have been taught on site by experts from around the region, and have grown in popularity such that an educational building was constructed for just that purpose.

“We’re trying to approach gardening from an educational standpoint,” said Jason Powell, co-owner of Petals echoing the company’s mission statement.

Jason Powell owns the business alongside his father, fruit specialist Dr. Arlie Powell.

This mission, according to Jason Powell, is achieved in two ways: through educational courses and workshops and through planting display gardens as visual aides for all to see.

“It helps them make decisions based on how large that plant is going to be, for example,” he said.

Petals, located off Chilton County Road 29 near Jemison, hosts an average of two classes per month on a variety of topics. Those covered just in 2017 thus far include small garden fruits, garden design, tree fruit in the home garden, attracting birds with native plants and antique roses in the garden.

But Powell said there are three topics that keep coming up again and again—edibles, Southeastern natives and pollinators.

“Those are programs that consistently are gaining the most attention and are the most well attended,” Powell said. “Interest is through the roof. It’s interesting how the educational side can lead us as a business.”

Edible fruits, vegetables and herb gardens have particularly gained interest since the Great Recession of 2008 due to the money-saving advantages of growing one’s own food.

The course on Southeastern natives explains how to use native plants to create habitats and food for area wildlife, while the pollinators program concentrates on plants that attract bees.

“We’ve had these educational classes from day one, because that’s what we felt like could build our business,” said Powell, reminiscing about 23 years ago when classes were held on the porch.

An early indicator of the program’s success was a class on herbs taught by Tia Gonzalez, owner of a nursery in Auburn. The event and others like it drew attendees from across the state.

By the year 2000, an educational building was constructed on the property for classes and other events.

Nowadays, Petals from the Past is known for two huge events each year, the Antiques in the Garden show held each April and the Black and Blue Berry Festival in June. Events are held in conjunction with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, other local business owners, local fire departments and experts.

“It’s a fun time, and we have people from all over Alabama that come and sell their arts, crafts and collectibles,” Special Event Coordinator Pat Conlee said of the Antiques in the Garden show.

The Black and Blue Berry Festival celebrates the berry harvest with U-Pick berries available for picking, hayrides, a petting zoo and live entertainment.

“I enjoy seeing families that come and just want to spend a day at the farm,” Conlee said.

All classes and events are open to everyone. Gardeners and potential gardeners of all educational levels are welcome. Most classes do not even require admission or prior reservation, apart from an optional lunch.

“We’re starting every program as if you didn’t know what to do,” Powell said. “If we can achieve our mission statement, one, we can create awareness especially about tough plants for Southern gardens, good selections, things our grandmothers grew and things people might not know that are still around.”

Petals from the Past is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 1-5 p.m., and closed Monday.