Mary Harrison insisted her plant farm be open to celebrate its 45th anniversary, even if she couldn’t be there.
Mary died on March 12, just four months shy of her 100th birthday.
Even though she had almost a hundred years’ worth of time to spend in her garden, it wasn’t nearly enough.
Mary’s plant and landscaping business, aptly named Mary’s Plant Farm, sits tucked back on Lanes Mill Road just 10 minutes away from Miami University’s campus. Mary’s house faces the road, with her garden and a gift shop hidden behind. The balcony on the back of the house looks out over her garden, a special request of Mary’s as her husband was building the house.
Mary’s passion was gardening. Her daughter Sherri Berger, who ran the plant farm with her and is finishing out its 45th and final year, said that her mother’s reason for gardening was simple.
“She started with a cornfield that couldn't even grow a crop, and she made a woodland,” Berger said. “Now of course, it took her 70-some years, but she took [it] and wanted to make beauty and wanted people to enjoy it.”
Whenever a customer said that they were afraid to start gardening, Mary had some easy advice – dig a hole, put the plant in and enjoy it. And it always worked.
Customers didn’t come to Mary’s plant farm just for gardening advice, though — they also came for her.
When Mary was in her 80s, she needed a knee replacement, but she refused to get the surgery for over three years because she didn’t want to stop working in her garden. To help her get around faster, she decided to buy a Gator (a small four-wheel ATV) that she could drive around any time she wanted, although she only seemed to have two modes when it came to driving.
“It either was stopped, or all the way to the floor, because she couldn't get fast enough from one end of the three acres to the other end,” Berger said. “So she’s [there], her hair just blowing in the wind and flowers and things flowing in the back of the cart ... and people learned, when you heard her coming, don't get in front of her.”
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Mary’s Plant Farm has a separate field away from the main garden that features additional plants for customers to buy. When customers wanted something from the field, Mary would often offer to drive them over on the Gator.
There was just one small problem.
“Mother was short,” Berger said. “So if there was an overhanging limb, she'd miss it, but you better watch and duck.”
Over a few summers, Mary taught classes at Miami focused on gardening and landscaping. The classes became so popular that Mary eventually had to move to a lecture hall. When she was told that she might not have a microphone when teaching, Berger said that Mary wasn’t worried.
“Mother said, ‘Oh honey, I have spoken to big, huge auditoriums. I don't need a microphone. Believe me. They can hear me..’ And they did.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mary could no longer interact with customers in her beloved garden. Instead, she’d sit out on her balcony and wave to them. She also worked on the book that she had considered writing for years.
The book is set to come out later this year and features “12 months in Mary’s garden,” teaching readers how to maintain a garden throughout each season. It also features anecdotes and stories from Mary’s time working at the farm, everything from how she got started to funny phone calls with customers.
This year, a new addition is coming to the plant farm – Mary’s own personal plants. Besides keeping the farm open for a 45th year, it was her one request for Berger.
“She said, ‘I hope that you make some of my plants available, my personal plants available to people because they're rare, and I don't know what will happen to them when I'm gone..’ So I'm honoring that fact,” Berger said.
Berger said that over Mary’s years at the farm, she sometimes got to know three generations of a family as they all fell in love with the garden. She kept in contact with many of them, even after they moved away.
“They'll write her a letter and say, ‘Mary, I'm growing this in my garden, because now I'm living in Texas and I can grow this here. How wonderful is that?’”
A celebration of Mary’s life is planned for August.
It will be held in her garden.
“There was truly a fondness and a love for her,” Berger said. “It wasn't just, ‘Oh, I'm so sorry that Mary is gone.’ [It was] ‘Oh, I am hurt. Mary is gone.’”
Mary’s last wish was to see some of her plants bloom this spring. She made it, and saw her garden start to come to life.
Right after Mary died, a late freeze hit, covering the garden in frost.
Mary’s plants remain as beautiful as ever.