Jenny Gronau has thick reddish hair that just won’t quit, so she pushes it into a large bun, and it comes down, a little at a time, and she works with that all day. The sweat and the dust have done their work, yet every day, she is in her element, finding that exact seed packet or bush or product or running as far as necessary to find what her customer needs.
As I do each year, sometimes two to four times or more, I came to Benton’s Greenhouse in North Newton. Yesterday, I came seeking an interview with Jenny, and I left with a large yellow rose named Henry Fonda.
Today, we are thinking about an event — a weather thing that happened a few weeks ago, but neither of us can remember when it happened. There were winds, the kind that make people west of Newton in the dry sand hills, shudder, because whole square miles can be burned up in a couple of minutes, plus the homes in it. Weathermen reported gusts of hurricane-strength wind.
They started pulling on Jenny’s greenhouse roofs, which are a heavy plastic material. The winds continued all night, and by morning, two of the for greenhouses had lost their roofs and a lot of stuff had been damaged and ruined.
I came there maybe two weeks later, as per usual, and tried to crawl over the barricades, before I noticed that something big had happened. Jenny said that wasn’t so unusual for these days. One lady was trying to yell a question from the outside of a damaged greenhouse, not noticing that the wall between them was gone.
This is the damage report. Jenny had insurance, but coverage was somewhat poor because the plastic roof was already old and crummy. She did not get much in her settlement. But, she is not whining about it. Every day, she gets up at 5 a.m. and begins a long day, taking care of customers, doing repairs and so forth, and life goes on. There is no "woe is me" from our Jennifer.
After working at the greenhouse for eight years, she bought it in 2015.
“This is a hidden jewel here in North Newton,“s aidMaryAnn, a friend of hers “forever."
MaryAnn often drops in to spend the morning or afternoon, bringing her own beverage and just loving the atmosphere and watching the shoppers.
When the chance came to buy the property, Jennifer jumped at it. She had the shop in Hutchinson, but decided to consolidate and reorganize. She loved the community here, and North Newton is and has been a very supportive place in which to do business.
“You learn to know people on a first name basis. Usually, when people say that, they don’t quite mean it, but I really do,” Gronau said.
“Lots of people don’t even know that we are open year round, “ Gronau said. “Think in terms of gifts, especially at Christmas. We have all sorts of succulent plants and cactuses, which are growing in popularity. I have a whole room full of succulents that I started myself. I have a lot of home-made items and other décor”.
Her husband is very handy at ceramics and that sort of thing. There are also big items like the very colorful ceramic pots, large and small, fired and very colorful. And I might some day come home with the six-foot Blue Herons. We have all kinds of throw pillows, usually seasonal, and always a little kooky.”
I saw a genuine coal hod this afternoon, and imagined a big old geranium living in it. And a Mason Bee Starter Kit so that your restless adolescent can start his own hive and end up supplying the whole family with honey.
In the middle of our chat, someone comes in hot from the outside. “My friends all say I have aphids, and that you can’t see them. What do I do?” “Come with me, “ and she starts almost running. “Of course you can see them. I’ll show you, then I’ll tell you what to do with them.”
Of course, if you come to Benton’s to kill something, you are out of luck. Jenny is big on selling a box of beetles to eat the mealy worms. Something like that.
Of course, it’s time for seasonal buying now. Spring is reluctantly trying to make an appearance. Benton’s has bagged potatoes for planting and packets of seeds. Bulbs make a nice gift any time of the year, both those you plant outdoor in the fall and some for late spring planting, like the beautiful gladiola or the stately red canna.
After the big rainless hurricane, Jennifer had to pull up her big girl pants and plant her vegetables. That was a slow process because of the cool weather we’ve been having.
“Now, the tomatoes and other stuff grows an inch a day with the warm weather we have. This is an exciting time,” she said.
— Diana Fern Graber is a writer from Newton. She writes about the interesting people she meets.