Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Arrival of spring hallmarked with beautiful potted pansies

I woke up two Saturdays ago with a plan. Spring was going to hit 502 N 30th St. in downtown Billings even if I had to "create" it.

Snow on Sunday? Didn't care. High of 36 degrees Monday? No big deal. You see, to me, it wasn't about reality at that point. It was survival! Since the 20th of October I have driven in to our parking lot and looked at beautiful pine greenery and rose hips which blanketed the soil in our large pots on the south side of the store and I was committed to changing the scenery...regardless of reality!

When I arrived at the store I was greeted by Carol and Janet, two unsuspecting employees who had no idea what I had in mind for them. I said "Come with me, we've got a project today! Oh, and you may need a coat." Together we headed out with 360 pansy plants, a bunch of pussy willow, some wire, and a couple boxes of preserved sheet moss.

It wasn't long before they knew what we were doing and to their credit, they jumped in with both feet. I said, "Ladies, I'm tired of looking at signs and reminders of death. I need some hope, something living out here."

The groundwork was laid. We weren't just planting pansies; we were presenting a symbol of hope to ourselves and others that spring would indeed come and that before long everything would be as green and alive as these four pots were about to look.

Before I tell you the process of each step, I need to share the best part. That dreary day which would have normally crept by at a snails pace in front of a computer looking at an excel spreadsheet literally 'flew'. I saw so many people that I knew as they drove by on N. 30th. Some even stopped in the parking lot.

Strangers would stop and smell the pansies and say things like, "My Grandma always planted those in the spring". Others would marvel at our silk flowers which I typically would NEVER put in an outside container (but, desperate times call for desperate measures) would say "How did you get that beautiful delphinium to bloom this early?"

It was a fun and social experience that provided some physical activity. Oh, and the ladies who helped me that day both thanked ME for letting them help, which is not something you hear everyday from your employees. Carol said as she left, "That was FUN!" I thought to myself, "You know Carol, you're right... that really was fun." Even today after seeing our four pots for almost two weeks they still bring a smile to my face and a fond memory to my heart.

Photo #1 - Remove all pine boughs from pots and clear any debris and top off the pots with fresh potting soil. To add a burst of freshness, we laid preserved sheet moss on the soil first before planting.

Photo #2 - Pot with defoliated tree; clean soil and fresh layer of preserved sheet moss. At this point I thought it was good enough to stop. Very contemporary, I really liked the look and it would have been stunning when the flowering tree begins to bloom. But, we were on a mission to plant pansies so we persevered. Pansies can take very cold nights. They've been known to survive early spring snow storms like little champs.

Photo #3 - We planted 6 flats of pansies in each pot spreading them out carefully and counting to make sure that they were planted evenly. Rather than mixing the colors as we've typically done, I chose to make each pot monochromatic. This pot which had white pansies was complemented with a hand-tied bouquet of permanent Casablanca lilies and fresh pussy willow tied to the trunk to welcome the Easter season.

Photo #4 - Cover your tracks. The wire that was used to hand tie the blue delphinium and pussy willow to the trunk was camouflaged with jute rope. A simple detail that makes a big difference when you are up close.

Photo #5 - Finished product. Four pots facing south, sending a message of spring to all who see them.