When you turn from Highway 79 onto Word Road to visit John’s Native Gardens you might expect to be greeted by an ordinary nursery. But a large greenhouse with plants for sale is not the first thing you will see. Instead, you will find something almost magical.
LaRue Anderson said her late husband, John, began landscaping their property in the late 80s after he retired from his job at Redstone Arsenal.
“He started it by putting rhododendrons and wildflowers in the woods. He was going to make a little garden up there,” Anderson said.
Soon friends took notice of his unique garden in the woods.
“People would say, ‘I wish you would get me one of those,’” Anderson said.
So John decided to start a small nursery that specialized in selling native plants, like rhododendrons and azaleas. Later on he became interested in trees, especially Japanese Maples. He started with one Crimson Queen Japanese Maple. Now though, there are Japanese Maples as far as the eye can see at the Anderson’s home.
“I have about 58 kinds,” Anderson said.
The unique trees are planted ornately throughout her yard. They are joined by various other rare trees, flowers and shrubs, like the Dawn Redwood, which seems to tower over even the tallest old Oak tree, or the Copper Iris, who’s color people enjoy so much that they sometimes ask Anderson to dig a few up.
These things and many more you see before you ever realize you are at a nursery as Anderson takes you on a garden tour, either on foot or by way of her golf cart. That’s truly what sets Anderson’s business apart from other run of the mill garden nurseries.
“I grow things in the landscape where people can see them and see how they grow before they buy them,” she said.
After the garden tour, which is chock-full of Anderson’s knowledge of trees and native flowers, you can visit the nursery, where plants sit in pots outside in the woods surrounded by some of John’s original azaleas and rhododendrons.
Many of the plants Anderson has for sale, like her ferns, are rare finds.
“I have probably 10 different kinds of ferns and these are the kind that come back up every year,” she said. “All of my things are things that are perennial, something you can plant and it will be there.”
Maintaining the grounds on her property takes a few days of work a week during the spring and early summer, Anderson said, as she remembered something her husband had once said to her.
“He said to me, ‘you know, I don’t know with this big place what you’re going to do if something happens to me.’ Sometimes, I think he would be so surprised,” Anderson said with a sentimental smile.
For Anderson, the upkeep would be impossible without the help of Chris Cook.
“He worked for John a couple of years and he said John taught him so much. It would look like an old lady lived here if it wasn’t for him,” she joked.
Anderson is able to tell visitors about most of the plants on her property, but before John’s interest in horticulture this would not have been possible.
“I did enjoy plants, but I had no real knowledge about them,” she said. “It was through him and him sharing all of that with me over and over again.”
She said John knew the habits and needs of the trees and other plants, but it was she who arranged much of what you see today.
“He didn’t know how to landscape it, and I did that and then I learned from him as I did that,” she said.
Anderson said the garden and nursery brought her husband much happiness during the last years of his life.
“He wanted to do something he really enjoyed after he retired,” she said. “He had about 14 years of this before he died that he enjoyed and that was such a blessing I think.”
If you would like to visit John’s Native Gardens, Anderson said that though she tries to be there as much as possible it is best to call before you visit. She may be reached at 256-505-4991. The nursery is located a mile past the Marshall County Line at 9315 Scottsboro Highway, Scottsboro.