Living Alaska: Forget-Me-Not Nursery, not just another greenhouse
Visiting the Forget-Me-Not Nursery is more of an experience than just a shopping trip. It begins long before you walk through the front doors and walk out with a cardboard flat of flowers. Courtney Ruckel, who owns the Indian nursery with her husband Brandon, has a few ideas about what makes their greenhouse so different — and it starts with a ride between Cook Inlet and Chugach State Park.
“It is a different experience,” Ruckel said. “Part of it is the drive down Turnagain Arm. It’s seeing everything blooming, the swallows returning, and even the timber-framed greenhouse feels good to be in.”
For me, it’s also a little bit nostalgic.
I’m a self-decribed amature gardener, or maybe I’m just a garden enthusiast. Either way, it runs in the family. I grew up helping my mom tend to her fuchsia baskets and planting pansies. When I visit my grandma, she shows me around her flower beds and takes me into her greenhouse. Countless trips with both of them to nurserys around Southcentral even inspired me to apply for my first job at Bell’s Nursery when I was 15.
I still call both of them for advice, as I work on a garden of my own.
Both of them have always been fond of the Forget-Me-Not Nursery and for every reason Ruckel explained. All of us make an annual trip.
I visited Ruckel in the last days of April. When I arrived, she was tending to plants in the back of the greenhouse. Her hair was pulled into a loose ponytail. A few stray strands framed her face. She had a smudge of dirt on her cheek. She smiled as she said hello and introduced herself, before taking me to the outdoor garden to talk.
The garden is a staple of the nursery and the scenic property it sits on. Because of an unusually early spring, the perennials in the outdoor garden were on the cusp of full bloom.
“The crocus were up in mid-April,” she said. “The daffodils are already going off. A lot of people might miss the bulbs if they wait until the end of May to come see them.”
Planting season has been hitting southcentral Alaska earlier and earlier each year. According to Ruckel, there was a time when the greenhouse saw the most sales over Memorial Day weekend. Now, it’s Mother’s Day, she said.
“The sign for us is when the leaves on the birch trees are about the size of a squirrel’s ear,” Ruckel explained. “That means the soil is warm. Yes, we could get a late snow or frost, but that usually means it’s safe to put plants out and bring them back in. Ya know, harden them off first.”
Ruckel said they’ve been taking annuals outside since about mid-April. She said some plants actually prefer the cool temperatures.
“Things like kale and broccoli, they love the cold. They’d love to be outside already.
“It can be too warm inside of a greenhouse. Most veggies like to be cool. I have brussel sprouts, beets, and collards, and swiss chard, and mountain spinach. I put them outside so they don’t get too leggy,” Ruckel said, as she pointed to flats of veggie starters.
Ruckel and I eventually made our way back into the greenhouse. Classic ditties played through the speakers. She stopped the interview halfway through to visit with customers who had driven in from the Mat-Su only to find the greenhouse not yet operating on its summer hours. Runkel told them to head on in anyway. The three of them talked flowers for about 10 minutes.
Talking flowers is what Ruckel does best — well, besides growing them. She has a way of explaining gardening techniques to rookie gardeners, like myself, that makes you feel less self-conscious for asking basic questions. She laughs a lot, and she’s personable, but so is everyone I’ve met who works there and the shoppers are, too.
Maybe it’s their clientele or maybe it’s the way people act after taking a scenic drive, listening to birds chirp and strolling through bright-colored tulips. Whatever the reason, it feels more like a weekend getaway than a shopping trip.
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