By Mariana Greene

When I drove to North Haven Gardens on Nov. 25, evidence of the October tornado’s devastation shocked me to tears. The row of large trees that had shaded the parking lot were gone. Where once I had looked at the blue sky through a scrim of pecan leaves there was only air. Destruction was all around me. All that remained of the 68-year-old nursery was the entrance and signboard. The rest was flattened.

I had seen television news footage and photos of damage on social media, but evidence of the tornado’s force in person overwhelmed me. I have shopped frequently at NHG for years. I took gardening friends there, I lunched there, attended classes there, presented classes, and purchased city chickens, Christmas trees and thousands of plants there for the garden beds surrounding my house, where I have lived for 35 years. 

I know the property by heart. I could feel my way blindfolded to any department aisle or greenhouse. I’m on a first-name basis with employees; several are Facebook friends. 

North Haven was founded in 1951 by Ralph and Muriel Pinkus, when Northhaven Road was undeveloped and before Central Expressway was constructed. Over the decades, well-to-do neighborhoods have been built to create what is collectively called Preston Hollow. For many of those homeowners, NHG is the default store for tulip bulbs in winter, geraniums and vegetable starts in spring, caladiums in summer and pansies in fall.

Clientele reaches beyond the immediate community, however. Passionate gardeners from Collin County and Oak Cliff make NHG a regular destination.

On the Monday after the tornado, volunteers from area churches steered around debris on golf carts or walked the streets to hand out snacks  and emotional support, NHG’s senior buyer Sandi Holmes-Schwedler told me. Once Jon Pinkus, the second-generation owner, declared to the media he would rebuild, hundreds of customers contacted the store via Facebook offering to help clear debris. Their offers had to be declined for insurance reasons, but many showed up anyway with cookies, hot coffee, lunch and other treats. 

“It was incredible,” Holmes-Schwedler says. “It makes me tear up to think of it.”

Standing in the barren parking lot on Nov. 25, when North Haven reopened to sell live Christmas trees, I cried, too. In fact, every time I gave an employee a hug I cried. It is embarrassing, but I have always been a sentimental fool as well as a gardening fool.

 It was important for me to be at the nursery when it reopened in makeshift plastic quarters. Many others had felt the same when the store held its two-day survivor sale of salvaged plants, garden supplies and bags of soil and mulch. I, too, had intended to go to the salvage sale on Nov. 8, but when word spread via social media that hundreds of people had the same idea, I backed out. Customers had to park four and five blocks away, there were not enough carts to carry merchandise, aisles were jammed and the wait to check out was more than an hour.

Some people were looking for a bargain, but most told the staff they wanted a keepsake from the tornado, a survivor.

I was not after a bargain or a souvenir. I wanted a bale of pine straw to mulch my tender perennials before the uncharacteristically early killing freeze. That is why I valued North Haven: It had plants, shrubs and supplies I often could not find elsewhere. Besides, plants always were in excellent shape, with lush foliage and flower buds.

The store is open again seven days a week while management meets with architects to get plans under way for rebuilding. Three weeks before Christmas only six evergreen trees remain for sale. In their place will be freshly constructed tables displaying colorful, cold-hardy annuals and vegetables and perennials that bloom in winter. 

Buyer Holmes-Schwedler will restock shrubs and perennials soon. She also casually noted a large order of hellebores, commonly called Christmas rose and Lenten rose after the dates they start blooming, respectively, is on its way from a Washington state grower.

In October I had intended to go to North Haven to buy hellebore replacements but the tornado spoiled that plan. Now we’re talking. Let the shopping resume.

Mariana Greene is the retired home and garden editor and garden columnist at The Dallas Morning News. She raises old roses and other heirloom flowers in her garden.

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