As the temperatures rise and the greenery emerges, spring fever ensues. At the forefront of satisfying this demand are local gardeners, who dedicate their time and lives to making your flowerbeds and gardens possible.
At 13 Sis Hobson Road in Hattiesburg, sits a six-greenhouse nursery filled with a variety of plants, including the familiar succulents, flowers and herbs, but also a unique selection of houseplants and foreign plants like the Chinese lantern flower.
Behind the operations of Eden on Earth are Nick Altmyer and his wife, Kalena Luker, who have devoted their time to nurturing the nursery, which started as a personal project that has grown to house over 100 different types of plants.
While the idea of Eden on Earth sprouted three springs ago, the idea was rooted in Altmyer’s deep history of gardening after nearly 58 years of experience.
He started working for a preacher in a greenhouse at the age of 12 grafting camellias, riding his bike half a mile after school each day to work. There, he learned about plant tissues, how leaves grow and more scientific information, which eventually led him to pursue a horticulture degree from Mississippi State.
After a career dedicated to caring for plants, Altmyer retired but found that he could not stop working, leading to the creation of Eden on Earth. He compares farmers to doctors in that they can never just “quit”.
Luker described the work as never-ending and a job that requires constant planning but it’s the passion for that process that drives them out of bed and into the fields and greenhouses every day.
“You’re outside all of the time and you’ve got to deal with the weather, but I enjoy the rain just as well as I do the sun,” Altmyer said. “To get everything else, you start working with this live creature, so it’s a good relaxation for me…when I’m in the back potting, I ain’t thinking about nothing but how this plant’s going to look three months from now or six months from today.”
Luker did not start as early as Altmyer but described herself as always having an interest in plants. When Altmyer described the plan to start the nursery, Luker started researching online and learning more.
As Luker and Altmyer poured more into Eden on Earth’s growth, it was impacted early by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many other businesses, there were negative aspects of the pandemic that have had far-reaching effects- one being the shutdown of other nurseries from the north where Eden on Earth got their plants.
“A year of propagation-it takes three years to catch up for that,” Altmyer said. “They closed down and it’s taken a lot of time to get out and find stuff.”
Luker played a key role in finding other plants, prioritizing that Eden on Earth finds more alocasias and houseplants, which were growing in demand with the constant influx of a younger demographic.
“We have so many more young people that are starting to garden and do things like that…every year, there are more and more young people that are getting into it and it’s exciting to see a lot of people,” Luker said.
For the nursery business, COVID-19 led to a positive, which was the surge in outdoor activities and hobbies.
A study in the American Society for Horticultural Science Journal found that 38% of participants plan to retain their garden planting behaviors from during the pandemic.
To keep up with the demand of the spring season at Eden on Earth takes a great deal of preparation and protection.
Eden on Earth carries over its mother plants that they start in the winter to the spring, which need protection from the elements.
“I’ve gotten up many nights at two in the morning to go check and the heaters have gone off. It could be 30 minutes, an hour- I don’t know how long they’ve been out and it’s already cold in there,” Altmyer said.
While the plants were kept safe through the winter, Altmyer and Luker also have to worry about the threat of Pine Belt’s severe weather in the spring with the possibility of thunderstorms and tornadoes.
“The last one [storm] we had missed us by four miles and it was bad enough,” Altmyer said. “I was very lucky that we didn’t have damage…when they say thunderstorm and a line comes up like it was the other day, I’m on pins and needles.”
After all the work and worrying about keeping their plants safe and healthy, Altmyer and Luker get to enjoy what they love the most- the customers.
“The customers make me happy- it’s not a dollar thing,” Altmyer said. “It’s just the fact that they’re here. That means a lot.”
And customers have shown up to Eden on Earth, rewarding their “labor of love”.
As it gets closer to summer, Altmyer expects more potential customers, meaning it’s back to work for him, Luker and the Eden on Earth staff.
Altmyer wants to let people know that while gardening may not be as simple as it seems, it’s achievable for everyone.
“There’s a lot of people that come here and think they don’t have a green thumb- that doesn’t exist,” Altmyer said. “Each plant has what it does best. The most important thing is soil, water and light conditions, so everybody’s got a “green thumb” if they just ask somebody with that knowledge.”