For 30 years, Garnette Edwards has been sculpting the garden at her Hill Road home.
For even longer, she helped others do the same to their own gardens as the owner of Edwards Greenhouse, the storied horticulture hub in the Collister neighborhood that has served Boise for more than eight decades.
Just up the street from the greenhouse, Garnette’s cousin, Joanne Hoppe, is engrossed in her own gardening history. Joanne reclaimed Pearl and Thomas Edwards’ homestead piece-by-piece in the 1990s, after the venerable property was sold following Pearl’s death in the 1960s.
The cousins’ landscapes, separated by just a few neighboring homes, are an amalgam of old and new, a yin and yang of yardwork in some ways. Garnette brings much of the new — trendy “rooms” fill out the corners of her backyard garden, vaguely sectioned areas where she’s able to focus on regional plants or creating an ambiance.
“When you work in all that glorious plant material, it’s hard not to want to bring them all home,” she says.
In a far corner is her miniature fairy garden, a deep shade area bursting with astilbe, hydrangeas, impatiens for color and every variety of hosta. Across the yard, the same plants make up the ground cover for an Asian-inspired shady area where ferns, miniature maples and a dogwood tree surround a tranquil sitting area.
“Just recently we’re seeing people go back to (the ’60s style) low-maintenance gardens, but they’re doing it in a more artistic way,” she says.
In Garnette’s statue-laden serenity garden, shade-loving heucheras give way to salvia, sage and grasses where light pours in. A nearby herb garden boasts lots of lavender, an irresistible draw for bees, butterflies and other pollinators that help the garden to bloom.
“This is the world’s greatest party yard,” Garnette says, gesturing to wide-open grass areas, ample seating and a small fire pit.
And in spite of regular rotations in species and setup, Garnette is always sure to feature certain staples: peonies (“They remind me of my dad and mom”), geraniums (another nod to her father, Paul Edwards, whom she calls “the geranium king”) and zinnias. A golden chain tree in one corner is a favorite, and a towering sycamore has stayed through the decades thanks to the sprawling shade it throws.
Rehashing the homestead
A quarter mile away, Joanne’s land is visibly steeped in history, from the early 20th century barn to a room full of Edwards family photos in Pearl and Thomas’ original home. Antique Dutch carriage lights illuminate a patio overlooking potters imported from Belgium that overflow with flowers. Perennial beds boast impatiens and tulips, alongside potted hydrangeas, coleuses and hostas lining stone-paved pathways. Joanne pays homage to her grandmother through lily of the valley and crocuses, some of Pearl’s favorite flowers, framing the storied home.
“I love how beautiful it stays,” she says. “Nowhere in the Valley is there a property like this.”
In addition to its host of floral sights, Joanne has created an expansive produce garden and mini-orchard, of which no two species of fruit tree, including a hybrid plum-apricot, are the same. There she tends to rows of raspberries, tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, squash, beets and more, a testament, Joanne says, to her love for cooking.
Her Texas roots are also on display in the form of tin signs adorning her produce garden fence. She hails from Rowena, Texas, but speaks in a sweet Texas lilt of summers spent right here at Pearl’s after long train rides ending at the Boise Depot. It was during those visits that she learned “how to tell a flower from a weed” and put in hours of landscaping and chores at the very garden she tends today.
“I’ve had people ask me where I learned all this,” Joanne says. “I tell them, ‘If you’re an Edwards, you just know.’ ”
Plants of the past
Of course, not all the Edwards archives are relegated to Pearl and Thomas’ former estate. Garnette’s home displays antique box and can labels, a whole host of assorted seeds, tin signs and rust-covered gardening tools that mark the horticulture history not just of her family, but of the entire Treasure Valley.
A vintage department store seed table in Garnette’s finished basement holds “heirloom seed holders, you know, that they would put in a grocery store up on the counter for people to buy seeds,” along with a variety of old-fashioned hose spigots. When Eagle-based Orville Jackson’s drug store and apothecary closed down, Garnette rescued even more local treasures.
“I got several of their floral-based remedies, like hydrangea and rhubarb,” she says.
And she’s not content to keep her artifacts to herself. On top of featuring them prominently during her stint on the Idaho Botanical Garden’s personal garden tour, she says in her retirement she hopes to find them a more permanent home in a museum or something similar.
Her sense of history isn’t relegated to these inanimate objects. She says her deep roots in gardening have crept into the plants living and growing in her backyard.
“A lot of this stuff (in the garden), I met the breeders. I met the people who made the varieties famous. So I know when I look at a Dreamland zinnia or a Peter Pan zinnia, I remember the man who developed it,” she explains. “I knew him. I met him. For us, that’s kind of like our rock stars.”
The Edwards lifestyle
Growing up, Garnette was immersed in the Edwards lifestyle, then still heavily focused on wholesale produce. Paul Edwards took over the greenhouse from his parents in 1947, and Garnette worked in various aspects of the business, including accompanying her father on deliveries and other work-related runs.
“That’s where I learned how to grow, in those truck rides to Payette, Weiser, delivering a truckload of flowers,” she says. “When I was a child, I followed my dad around everywhere. I grew up in that business. I took care of my parents’ garden at home.”
But despite her heavy involvement, Garnette says Paul was hesitant for his children to follow in his footsteps. “He didn’t want us to go into this profession,” she says, noting the long hours, lack of holidays and hard labor that gardening often requires. “But I always admired him because he had dirt under his fingernails.
“I think he wishes he had given us a better legacy, but he just didn’t realize what he had.”
Regardless, she heeded her father’s advice, at least for a little while. She earned a degree in nursing and worked in the field for almost a decade before taking over the greenhouse in 1983. Today, Garnette’s daughter, Erin Monnie, helps carry on the family’s botanical roots as the head of Edwards Greenhouse. She even takes after Garnette at home, tending to a small soil patch in the brickwork driveway at her mother’s house that is hers to plant each year, a Mother’s Day gift she’s been retooling for the past five years.
“The space has changed a lot,” Monnie says, reminiscing on prom and dance photos taken in an almost unrecognizable landscape.
Handing the reins over wasn’t always easy for Garnette, who is still at the greenhouse five or six days a week this time of year — though not for the same long hours she used to spend there. “I can understand all the things (my dad) felt about letting go of the greenhouse,” she says. “You can’t separate yourself. You don’t. This is your life.”
Joanne, a dentist by trade, is similarly unable to disentangle the Edwards history from her home, which features sepia-tinted photos detailing the family’s lineage through the years. Like her cousin, Joanne has brought her own livelihood and personality into her property. A pool house, constructed in 2010, is nestled across from a raised flowerbed and features a decorative stained-glass molar on its back wall (Joanne jokingly calls it “the house that teeth built”).
But it was her hard labor and innate know-how that built the lush landscapes surrounding the pool house, Pearl and Thomas’ 1910 homestead and an adjacent guest building. “Lots of manual labor” went into the expanses of grass, where Joanne’s rescue Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Hattie, can be found lounging, and floral landscaping dotted by old-growth trees.
“It’s wonderful to have that space to share again,” says Monnie. “Joanne has done a lot to improve it.”
Joanne drew from some of her grandmother’s earliest lessons to plant and prune the property.
“At 2, we all knew the difference between a tulip and a daffodil bulb,” she says. “We all knew the difference between a geranium or an allium, a daisy, whatever — before we knew our ABCs.”
Pearl also instilled Joanne’s work ethic, ensuring her grandchildren learned to weed a little bit each morning — and a lot more each afternoon if they misbehaved or squabbled amongst themselves.
“She’d say, ‘OK, we’re going to go get a bucket.’ And we’d pick up trash,” Joanne says. “And you’d better have a bucket that was full of trash, not just halfway done. So I guess grandmother’s wisdom was just in us all.”
‘The best therapy’
For Garnette, those lessons and deeply ingrained emotion are more than a connection to her family; it’s translated into a connection for her own garden that’s more significant than simple bulbs and blooms. “I won’t say I’m 100 percent connected to everything here, but I grieve when stuff dies,” she says.
“I have a big connection, which is kind of weird,” she adds with a laugh. “Sometimes I think I’m a recluse.”
“Doing this helped me get through hard times,” she says, referencing her 1999 divorce and, more recently, the passing of her mother, Edwards Greenhouse matriarch Wilma “Dody” Edwards, in January. “This is the best therapy.”
Revitalized by a back surgery last May (“I’m just like brand-new”), Garnette was ready to let that therapeutic aspect of growing help her grieve the loss of Dody and begin to heal as she prepared for this year’s garden tour.
“I’m really glad that I’ve had this opportunity this year to do this, because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to do, how I want to change my life,” she says. “(I’m) thinking about how much my mom meant to me, and thinking about, you know, moving on.”
Toiling in the soil of her backyard garden is a practice that Garnette says keeps her grounded.
“I’m reminded daily by people what a great gift I have in what I do, and I’m reminded daily what a great gift I have by this space. I can take whatever artistic talent I have, put it in the ground and have the ground give me the serenity that I’ve really needed,” she says. “So even at the end of the day, although I’m tired, I’m not quite done.”
Edwards Greenhouse, which forms a triangle with Garnette Edwards’ and Joanne Hoppe’s homes in the historic Collister neighborhood, was established in 1930 by the women’s grandfather, Thomas Edwards. Originally a produce-based truck farm, the business flourished under Garnette’s father, Paul, whose addition of flowers and annuals brought an entirely new element to Edwards, taking it from a wholesale emphasis to a full garden center in the 1970s.
Paul’s wife, Wilma “Dody” Edwards, who passed away in January at the age of 94, was a florist and known for her ability to remember customers and their preferred plants at length. Garnette says Dody spent her days at Edwards Greenhouse for as long as possible, even lending a hand up until a few weeks before her death.
By the mid-1980s, Garnette had taken over the business, adding a full-service florist and expanding to an Emmett location. After more than three decades, she was finally ready to hand things over to her daughters, Erin and Elise Monnie, who now head up operations.
“Erin’s goal is to take the business to 100 years,” Garnette says. “I just told her that I would stay in the background until she felt like she was ready, and then she could tell me bye-bye, and I would be OK with that.”
30th annual Idaho Botanical Garden tour
Eight properties are featured on this year’s private garden tour, according to Warren Maxfield, events director for the Idaho Botanical Garden. The focus for 2016 is the Collister neighborhood, with Edwards Greenhouse serving as a hub. Coffee stands, food trucks and live music from Boise-based Thomas Paul will be featured by the greenhouse, a first for IBG, says Maxfield.
Another first this year is the ease of admission. Maxfield says IBG has done away with the middleman, allowing attendees to show up at Edwards Greenhouse or any of the gardens on the tour without first picking up a paper ticket if they’ve preregistered. Here are the homeowners involved:
▪ Garnette Edwards: A member of the Edwards Greenhouse family, Garnette will show her “attainable” backyard garden.
▪ Joanne Hoppe: Joanne has both preserved and upgraded the property of her grandparents, Pearl and Thomas Edwards, the founders of Edwards Greenhouse.
▪ Rick & Rose Turner: Rick, an IBG board member, provides a glimpse at his garden.
▪ Jon & Lydia Primavera: The owners of Healing Gardens boast lush conifers and a large backyard pond.
▪ Melissa Frazier: Storybook Farm is a prolific landscape of urban gardening.
▪ Liz Young & Patricia Young: This pair keeps gardening in the family with adjoining properties.
▪ Debbie Lombard-Bloom: Unique outdoor artifacts complement the landscaping.
When: Sunday, June 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets: $25 for non-members and $20 for members in advance; $35 for non-members and $30 for members day-of. Go to idahobotanicalgarden.org or call 343-8649 for more information.
Garnette Edwards and Joanne Hoppe offered some advice for growing an Edwards Greenhouse-worthy garden:
Do your research: Some gardeners may find themselves discouraged by Idaho’s often clay-heavy or sand-laden soil. Garnette emphasizes the importance of knowing your landscape and not only choosing appropriate plants, but also knowing the steps to take if you want to alter the soil for more ideal conditions. “There’s no end to the possibilities of what we can plant in Boise with the right soil amending and research,” she says.
Prepare for long hours: Joanne may pass her days as a dentist, but she spends as much time working with the earth as any other Edwards — and with good reason. She credits the prosperity of her planting as much to family know-how as she does to old-fashioned manual labor, and she extolls the value of taking on big projects little by little. “Be persistent,” she says. “Weed some every day.”
Put your heart in it: “Develop a personal attachment to the project,” Garnette advises. “Something bringing you out every night, something beyond just building a garden.” With that kind of attitude, she says, it will be easier to motivate yourself for the menial tasks as well as the massive ones.