Gardening Expert Offers Grow-Your-Own Advice

Dana Kalins | Photo provided

Plants, etc., is a quintessential family business. Founded in 1982 by Marcia Abrams when she lost her job as a secretary, the charming local plant and flower shop is a Fairmount Avenue mainstay.

Abrams’ daughter and co-owner Dana Kalins explained the history.

“When my mom was laid off, back in the early ’80s, she was trying to figure out what to do. She had always been good with plants and flowers, so she started a street cart in the Robert Morris Building at 17th and Arch streets. She had someone build her a cart, and rented space in the lower level of the office building. She would wheel the cart out every day and sell plants and flowers.

“It was really gutsy. Soon, she was able to open a shop on Brown Street, which was called Greens on Brown. When the [2313] Fairmount Ave. space opened, we took it, and the rest is history.”

Kalins worked in the shop after school during her years at W.B. Saul High School for Agricultural Sciences and continued during her years at Delaware Valley College, where she studied horticulture. The business grew to include weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, window boxes and local gardens, as well as tending to plants and indoor landscapes in offices and homes.

“The good news is that every day is different,” Kalins said. “I’m out and about for clients some days, doing events others, and then in the shop.”

A member of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, Kalins recognizes the reality of running a business with weekend hours.

“I have a diverse clientele, and most people want to shop on Saturday. To make this enterprise solvent, I have to work on Saturdays. We do a lot of Shabbos flower arrangements for regular clients on Friday night, which I love. And, of course, we closed for my son’s Bar Mitzvah, but we really are not able to close year-round on Saturday and stay in the black.”

Kalins has a small garden at her home and enjoys growing her own food.

“I love my cherry tomatoes. It is rare that a tomato actually makes it into the house. My favorite is to pick a basil leaf, wrap it around a freshly picked cherry tomato and pop it in my mouth.”

She offered the following advice to home gardeners looking to grow some of their own foods:

  • Tomatoes are drought tolerant (meaning they do not require much water) and,according to Kalins, they taste even better and richer if they have not received much water. Plant them in a sunny patch — about six hours of sunlight a day — and watch them thrive.
  • Plant flowers around herbs and vegetables; nasturtiums and marigolds repel the pests
    Tomatoes on the vine | Thinkstock / Creativeye99

    that you don’t want around and attract ladybugs and praying mantises, which are “good bugs” that eat the bad ones.

  • For low stress and low maintenance gardening, plant perennial herbs such as mint, rosemary and lavender. (Look for rosemary labeled “zoned hardy” to ensure that it will return next year).
  • Kalins uses lavender and rosemary in bridal bouquets and other floral arrangements. She suggests drying lavender and spreading it around for its wonderful scent.
  • Basil is a great herb to plant in a sunny patch or pot, and you can bring it inside when the cold weather arrives — then you will have fresh basil all year.
  • Lettuces are easy to grow; try romaine and red leaf and plant them early; ideally in April after the last frost. They like cooler nights, especially as they begin to take root.

The main message Kalins conveys is that gardening is a lot of trial and error, and she urges beginners not to get discouraged.

Her favorite way to use her freshly grown rosemary is to make rosemary butter.

“I use this on everything. Schmear it on bagels for breakfast. Melt it over fish or cooked vegetables before serving,” she said. “For any dish where I would use regular butter, I use this and it is wonderful.”

Rosemary Butter

Rosemary butter | Thinkstock / AmalliaEka

Makes ¼ pound

  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 2 stalks fresh rosemary

Soften the butter, either by leaving it out for an hour or two, or placing it in the microwave for about 10 seconds.

Remove the rosemary leaves (needles) from the stalk. Chop them finely and mix them into the butter. Form into a log, if desired, and wrap it with cellophane.

Refrigerate the butter and use it as desired.


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