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Horticulture hobby becomes thriving Vicksburg business
VICKSBURG, Miss. -- After raising five children, Bobbie Beard began to concentrate on her second passion -- gardening.
“I’ve been digging in the dirt since I was 7 years old,” said Beard, who lives in Vicksburg. “I’ve always loved plants -- flowers, shrubs, trees. When my kids were grown, I decided it was my turn to do something for myself.”
Instead of keeping the beauty of her garden to herself, Beard decided to share it with others. At age 52, she began what is now The Flower Center Nursery in her own backyard.
“People would come to my house to buy things,” she said. “I started with 500 African violets, and then other flowers and plants followed. I loved gardening and the people who came to do business with me.”
After about two years, Beard decided it was time to move to a commercial property in town. In the early 1980s, she rented a building on Frontage Road. As she got on her feet and added inventory, she and her husband, who worked full time for the railroad, slowly added greenhouses and raised beds at the store.
“It was tough those first few years,” Beard said. “It took forever to get a salesman in the door, and the first one I got to come in told me I’d never make it. That was the best encouragement I ever had. And I actually became very fond of him. We were friends.”
Beard shopped around for the healthiest and most interesting plants she could find, going to markets in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee. The variety of plants she offered and her meticulous attention to detail eventually built a broad customer base.
“Once people realized that the plants were first class and that the nursery was clean and weed free, they began to come,” Beard said. “I’d have people stop on their way home from vacation to buy things. The nursery is right on Interstate 20, and that is a major thoroughfare from Texas to Georgia. People knew they could get something different. I also shipped plants. One item that was popular with a customer in Chicago was the small, potted magnolia trees.”
She carried the other usual garden items, including pots, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers and yard decor. Beard also offered landscaping and passed her licensing exam on the first try. Any business that landscapes and sets plants must have a Landscape Horticulturist License, which is regulated by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.
“I was pretty proud of myself for that,” Beard said. “It was a big accomplishment.”
Beard ran the day-to-day business -- managing employees, handling bookkeeping and maintaining inventory -- until 2002, when she decided it was time to retire from retail. She sold the business to her son and daughter-in-law, Glen and Libby Beard.
Glen Beard, a licensed and certified landscaper, has taken over the landscaping part of the business, while Libby Beard runs the store, managing all the aspects her mother-in-law once did.
While the administrative parts of the job were familiar to Libby Beard, the plants, pesticides, herbicides and other horticulture-related items were uncharted territory.
“I came to the business from an office job,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about flowers or the horticulture products we sold.”
In addition to training from her mother-in-law, Libby Beard also gained insights from the Mississippi State University Extension Service, her product salesmen and long-time customers that helped her navigate the new career.
“They all helped me learn a lot,” Libby Beard said. “Anytime I came across something I needed to know, I called the Extension office.”
Libby said she has come a long way in 14 years, but she still maintains a relationship with the Extension Service through Anna McCain, the Extension agent in Warren County.
“Libby and Glen and their employees are very involved in Extension horticulture events,” McCain said. “They sometimes call on me for help with difficult disease or pest problems they may have at the Flower Center.”
The Beards use the research-based information provided by Extension and encourage their customers to do the same.
“They are advocates of the importance of soil health and understand that healthy soil is the foundation of any horticulture project,” McCain said. “They collect customers’ soil samples for me to get to the lab on campus. Libby and Glen know they can refer them to me if the customer needs a diagnostic test or other technical help that they can’t provide.”