A CSSA Chapter
St. Louis, Missouri
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Each monthly issue of the Henry Shaw Cactus Digest includes club updates, columns and articles by members on their favorite aspects of cactus and succulent culture. Follow the link below this item to read select Digest articles -- or join HSCSS to receive every article in the print version of the Digest.
Gladys Drummond and the History Behind Drummond Nursery
By Pat Cosgrove
We in the St. Louis region are fortunate to have within driving distance Drummond Nursery, located near DeSoto, Mo. It offers four greenhouses packed with an array of cacti and succulents.
Fred and Gladys Drummond began their business in 1968 by producing plants for terrariums, which were popular at the time. They had a 12- by 8-foot propagation house and sold the plants -- several hundred per week -- at the farmers market in DeSoto.
Around 1976, a DeSoto resident suggested that they grow succulents. He brought them some sempervivums from his collection, and they began to propagate them. A few years later, Jim Wolfe, Fred's friend and a Henry Shaw Cactus Society member, asked if the Drummonds would be a vendor at the society show. By that time, they had a nursery and garden center, and enough plants to sell.
They did well at that first show. Members learned about the business, and the cactus society asked the Drummonds to provide plants for its Plant of the Month and special occasions. That was in 1980, and Gladys now chuckles at the prices on those old invoices.
Fred had a full-time job with TWA. College-educated, he had always liked plants, filling his mother's sunroom with cacti and succulents as a boy. Gladys was raised on a farm near DeSoto and took on her brother's responsibilities after he went to war during World War II, preparing her for a life working close to the land.
After their success with plant sales, Fred said to Gladys, "Let's get into it!" At first, she had visions of getting stuck by thorns, but then she agreed, if they could have the business at home. So, with six children needing to be fed, Fred quit his job, and they dove into the opportunity.
Fred built their first greenhouse in 1968, which while damaged by a 2005 tornado and in disrepair, remains standing. The family acquired additional greenhouses as needed. The first new one, 30 by 52 feet in size, was built by Fred from a glasshouse he dismantled in Kirkwood. Although most of the glass was blown out by the tornado and replaced with plastic, the building is still called the glasshouse. Members will recognize the inside of the glasshouse, with its many haworthias, agaves, aloes and crown of thorns plants.
Three 30- by 90-foot greenhouses followed one after the other, year by year.
A terrible winter storm that occurred in the early 1980s also took its toll. Gladys had forbidden the kids to go out that evening because of the snow that was predicted. It didn't seem like it would amount to much, but when Fred went to check on the greenhouses around 10 p.m., there was already 8 inches of snow on the ground.
It was a wet snow that had come down fast. One of the greenhouses collapsed, its rafters crushed by the weight of the snow. The Drummonds called family and friends to crawl in and help pull out the flats of plants before the bitter cold rushed in. By 6 a.m., most of the plants had been brought to safety.
Business did not take precedence over family all the time. On his rounds one Christmas morning, Fred saw that the temperature in a cactus house had dropped, and the plants were too cold to survive. He returned to the family and had the traditional Christmas breakfast with everyone. He didn't mention the problem until the next day.
After those hard lessons, alarms were installed on the greenhouses. They make automated calls to a "chain of command," starting with Gladys, when there is an abrupt change of temperature. And they bought a generator. They are prepared now, but it was a difficult financial decision to make early on, when money was tight.
The business survived those losses. as well as the untimely passing of Gladys' husband, Fred, who died in 2002 of Lou Gehrig's disease.
There was no doubt that Gladys would carry on the business and that the family would help. Drummond Nursery is a small business with five employees, all family. In the spring, they hire some high school students, friends of the family, for seasonal help. Other than that, it's all family.
Son Fred and a nephew run Drummond Landscaping, and daughters Julie and Mary head Drummond Florist, although they regret losing their holidays due to the seasonal nature of the business. Gladys runs the nursery with Fred's help in repotting, propagation and pup removal in the haworthia and aloe house. She is grateful for that, since she is kept busy supplying garden centers, including Missouri Botanical Garden's gift shop, with run-of-the-mill succulent plants.
She is always looking for plants that are a little out of the ordinary, that people will want to have in their collections. She is also always on the lookout for new vendors to add to her stable of four or five wholesalers, from whom she buys regularly.
Every March, Gladys travels with her daughter and granddaughter to Tucson, Arizona, on a buying trip. Son Fred drives a 14-foot trailer first to California, where most of her wholesalers are located, to pick up what she ordered. He then continues on to Tucson to bring back what she buys there.
Gladys no longer makes the trip to California, perhaps due to her age, but in large part because she doesn't like to be away from the nursery for long, especially in winter. She is, however, somewhat reassured with the alarm system in place and a brother and brother-in-law who can fix furnaces.
Now in her early 80s, Gladys works as many hours a day as she wants. In spring, summer and fall, her typical day begins at 5 a.m. She goes to the greenhouses as soon as it is daylight and works until about 9 a.m. Then she gets ready for customers. But she can't spend all day in the office, which is down the hill from the greenhouses, so when she needs more time with the plants, she posts a sign with her cell phone number on the office door so that customers can call if they need assistance. This happens a lot in summer and around mum season in fall.
In the greenhouse, Gladys waters the plants, daily when it is hot. She doesn't trust anyone else with this crucial task. She knows her plants and how much water they need at each life stage and at each time of year. She waters by hand to be sure nothing gets missed and pays especially close attention to the plants in winter.
After the watering is done, there is potting and cleaning up to do, then there is a break for lunch. In the evening, she returns to the greenhouse and works until dark. If you make the drive to Drummond Nursery, you will surely find her there.
POTTING TIPS FROM GLADYS
1. When working with plants, wrap your index and middle fingers and thumb with masking tape to prevent getting pricked by thorns.
2. Use crushed paper to handle plants with thorns.
3. For larger plants, have one person handle the plant and another person handle the pot.
4. If you do get pricked, remove the thorns that bother you; the others work their way out.
Mike Hellman on the Drumond family:
"The Drummond family has been very supportive of our group as long as I've been a member. I heard similar stories going back many years before that.
Gladys and her late husband, Fred, took trips for many years collecting rocks and plants. It was always fun to make it to their place soon after their return.
The family's support of Gladys and her passion (this was once just a hobby for her) is evident in so many ways. Julie brings her to the Christmas party, and a small army shows up when they host us at the annual picnic. The world would be a much better place if more families were like this."
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