Imagine a little girl in the early 1960s sitting on her grandfather’s lap thumbing through seed catalogs and hearing stories about snapdragons and other mystical flowers. On a warm summer day, we would walk through rows and rows of gladiolus while he cut the stems to take to the florist shops. The fields of pansies beside our house created a fragrance that remains forever imprinted in my mind.

I come from a family of horticulturists, playing in greenhouses and piles of topsoil along with my siblings and cousins. Choosing a career path was easy because I love plants and all that they do in our world.

After graduating from the University of Maine at Orono with a B.S. in plant and soil sciences, I spent time in Pennsylvania, Maine and England studying horticulture. Upon meeting my husband, Bob Call, and moving to Missouri, I started my business, which eventually evolved into Longfellow’s Garden Center. 

The most interesting part of my business is helping our customers solve problems — landscape issues, insects and diseases and plant health problems — as well as trying to teach gardening skills. I take this desire beyond the boundaries of the garden center. For 26 years, I have had a date every Saturday morning with a radio microphone as I share gardening ideas and information with mid-Missouri listeners. Writing articles for Missouri Gardener magazine and the e-newsletters for Longfellow’s are other ways I can express my thoughts and write about exciting plants. It is a real treat for me to do public speaking, as I get to do a little show and tell.

However, growing bedding plants is the favorite part of my job. I love every aspect of annuals from starting the seed, transplanting, growing, displaying and finally loading them into a customer’s vehicle. Annuals offer so much for a homeowner.

My own personal gardening always takes place in summer and fall. Spring is too busy at the garden center, so it’s June and July when I finally get to plant my own annuals. Interestingly, my flowerbeds look fabulous in August and September when everyone else’s plants look worn out and bedraggled.

In some ways, the garden center is my garden. Here at Longfellow’s, I can arrange, design, display, prune, divide, deadhead and plant to my heart’s content, except it’s done with plants for sale rather than plants in the ground permanently planted.

Gardening: It’s a career and a passion.

Alice Longfellow and husband, Bob Call, have owned and operated Longfellow’s Garden Center, one of Mid-Missouri’s most successful garden centers, since 1987.