Originally created 09/22/00

Gardener with a gift



Have you ever met someone who just had the knack to make everything he touched grow?

Ray Davis is one of those people. Growing and nurturing things has always been his passion. "All my life it's been my hobby, since I was a little boy," said Mr. Davis.

A former Baptist minister of music and youth, Mr. Davis worked two years at Bedford Nurseries and decided he could run his own greenhouse.

So he opened Plantation Greenhouses on Peach Orchard Road in 1974. Mr. Davis also served as grounds manager and groundskeeper for Gracewood State School and Hospital, which added to his vast gardening experience.

Mr. Davis and his wife, Joyce, still own Plantation Greenhouses but have retired from operating it, opting to spend more time in their own yard on Fernwood Circle, off Lumpkin Road. Their daughter and son-in-law now run it.

Mr. Davis was a dedicated rose gardener, with more than 500 bushes. He also was certified as a judge with the American and Augusta Rose societies.

But he spent so much time running the greenhouse that pecan trees shaded out most of his roses. One rosebush remains.

Most plants in the yard are grown from seeds or cuttings. His many caladiums, the highlight of the yard, were grown from bulb nubs. He collects the nubs, which are usually lost in shipping or planting, from the greenhouse.

Mr. Davis has a unique way of nurturing and listening to his caladiums. "Now, they're telling me, `Put me away for the winter. I'm ready to go inside,"' said Mr. Davis.

In response to their drooping, he pulls them up and pots them for winter storage on a shelf in the garage. When they are ready to be in the soil again, they tell him so.

"At a certain time in the spring, they'll start sending up little shoots," Mr. Davis said.

Nothing is easier than plants that tell you what to do.

Much of the yard is dedicated to birds. Waves of red salvia attract hummingbirds, the couple's favorite. When the salvia is blooming, the hummingbirds flock to the yard, but they pay little attention to the feeders.

Other birds love the Davis fig crop. "I think I grow them for the birds if nothing else," said Mr. Davis. The couple spends a lot of time bird-watching through the window.

A special feature of the yard is a large California pepper tree, blue paloverde, which has long, bowed, limber limbs covered with dainty yellow blossoms and heavy seed pods.

An arbor thickly blanketed with evergreen clematis, cypress vine and blue morning glories shades the path to a hidden seat. There are many benches in the yard, but they are rarely used.

"I spend a lot of time out here, but I don't sit down much," Mr. Davis said. He's usually too busy, pinching colias, mulching dead plant material or inspecting plants.

Beds have come together with little planning. Rabbit's foot fern sits next to a vermilliad. Mums border brightly colored impatiens. Two tea olive trees, one yellow, the other white, both grown from tiny cuttings, scent the air.

Caladiums border most beds. Mr. Davis usually has something to fill beds until spring rolls around again.

He tends weak plants in the greenhouse back to health. "I just baby stuff," Mr. Davis said.

He would rather let plants grow naturally than to meticulously manicure them.

"I appreciate a manicured yard," said Mr. Davis. "But I really like to see a plant grow like it should."

The Davis' yard has been a good place to share a lot of that gardening knowledge. "We have a 4-year-old great-granddaughter who says, `This is my park,"' Mrs. Davis said. "She has grown up out here with Ray. She knows which one is mint and that she can chew the leaves."

Reach Valerie Rowell at (706)823-3351 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.