Sow There!: Jerry Mendon, passing along the know-how, 9-22-17

Experience horticulturist Jerry Mendon in the houseplant greenhouse at Mendon's Nursery in Paradise on March 13.
Experience horticulturist Jerry Mendon in the houseplant greenhouse at Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise on March 13. Emily Bertolino — Enterprise-Record file

The students in my classroom are getting a lesson in disappointment. The first day of class we planted 27 containers with snow pea seeds. Two weeks later and we had 12 sprouts. There I am, in the front of multiple sets of eager eyes, blathering about proper growing temperatures, an extended heat wave and the sorry fate for most of our seeds.

Those kids wanted a sprout in every pot.

I have vowed to make it up to them. Right now I am attempting to grow stalagmites on my kitchen counter.

The weekend of the Great Disappointment, I hauled the sproutless containers home to do some real scientific investigation. I began with one boy’s plant, within which he had theoretically planted one or more seeds. I dug down slowly, lifting spoonsful of soil like an archaeologist. No seeds were found.

Could the seed have fallen away? Did he decide to be a joker and toss the seed in the bushes? Did worms eat the seed? (This was one of my questions, because I did encounter some tiny worms in the soil).


I turned over a total of 15 four-inch pots and discovered much of the same, which means I discovered nothing. A few of the pots had remnants of roots, but the seeds had completely disappeared.


Weeks and weeks ago I had a long chat with Jerry Mendon, of Mendon’s Nursery. We talked about a lot of things that day, including drip irrigation, calla lilies and house plants. I saved the notes, knowing that all of that advice would be fodder for future columns. In early September, I typed up some words based on Jerry’s advice about checking and double checking your drip irrigation systems.

After the seed debacle, I needed Jerry’s big brain in a very big way. On a Saturday, I dialed up Mendon’s. His son John answered the phone. John is always helpful and knows his stuff, but Jerry had always been my go-to guy.

Yet, Jerry wasn’t there. His son John told me that Jerry had passed away Aug. 31 at the age of 87.

If you’re a gardener in this area, hopefully you’ve spent some time wandering around Mendon’s Nursery. You can spend all morning, or all morning and afternoon. I have often wondered why they don’t add a snack bar so people can linger and enjoy lunch.

If you arrive with a list of questions, there are people at work who know the answers. For decades, Jerry was the main guy.

He had a straight-forward approach to gardening that helped encourage novice gardeners not to throw in the trowel.

I recall one chat we had about feeding plants.

“Plants can’t read,” he said. When choosing plant food, look for the numbers on the side that clarify the amount of N (Nitrogen), P (Phosphorous) and K (Potassium).

“About the mid ’50s, someone on Madison Avenue got the brainy idea that if we came up with foods for everything,” customers would buy more than one bag of plant food, Jerry said in the spring of 2016. Now we have bulb food and citrus food and snapdragon food …

Who has room for that in an overcrowded garden shed?

“When a person says what kind of food do I need, I ask them what do they already have,” Jerry said, possibly cutting into his business’ sales of specialty plant food.

When Jerry recently shared advice on drip irrigation, I realized that if he did not teach people to monitor their drip systems, more plants would die and he could sell more plants. Yet, that wasn’t his way. He wanted people to enjoy gardening, do it well, and buy more plants because they had become avid gardeners.

When I talked to Jerry’s son John on a Saturday, he stated the obvious, that his dad would be missed. Up until the end, Jerry had done all of the billing and payroll, working full time right up until the time he fell ill.

For John, and his son who also works at the nursery, and for all of us who love Mendon’s, it will be strange not to hear Jerry’s familiar voice or to see him cruising through the plants he knew so well.

Yet, just like his dad, John took the time to answer my questions.


When I explained that we had a heat wave soon after planting seeds for snow peas, John agreed this was unfortunate timing. The seed contains a storage unit, used by the plant for energy to begin the growth cycle. Often, when a seed sprouts, you’ll notice an empty shell of that seed pod at the top of the sprouted stem.

When my seeds used up that energy, and then withered in the heat, the rest of the seed had dissolved. Thanks, John. And thanks Jerry, for teaching John all that you knew.


Sometime in the next several months, I’ll be writing about calla lily bulbs and houseplants, and I’ll refer to the notes from my last conversation with Jerry Mendon. I think he would like the idea of his knowledge being shared after he is gone.

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