There is gardening and then there is something very special
Story by Carol Pappas
Photos by Mike Callahan
Jennifer Gover did not intend to follow in her mother’s footsteps, at least not in the path of a master gardener. But one look at the bountiful gardens that frame her home and property each spring, and it is evident she inherited her mother’s green thumb and a passion for flowers.
“My mother was an avid flower gardener,” she said. “You know how mothers have you busy doing stuff and you say, ‘I’ll never do that.’ ”
Take in the abundance of blossoming azaleas, dogwoods, wisteria, irises, daylilies — they’re all here and more — and you immediately recognize the promise made to herself as a child was never kept.
Her mother’s favorite flower? “All of them,” Jennifer replies without hesitation. She apparently inherited that, too.
The drive leading up to their King’s Circle home in Pell City is quite a welcome mat of color, vibrant azaleas and dogwoods leading the way. Bursts of color in beds found in virtually every corner and along every path on the property show off her handiwork.
The retired Pell City High School principal is quick to point out that she has help. Husband Kenny Gover, whose day job takes him to Coldwater as principal of the elementary school, is “the hands,” she said. “I’m the planner. He’s the worker.”
In the early years, the Govers began with white dogwoods from the wild. She thought, “I’m not going to get into a big yard.” Azaleas followed “little by little.”
A dozen years later, and the Gover home and grounds are a spring color showcase. And they share it with family, friends, neighbors and anyone else who happens to stop by for her “open house” at the peak of their blooming.
Passersby on drives to see spring color will stop and inevitably recognize the legacy and say, “Oh, your mother is the plant lady. We always would go by there.”
One little girl told her, “The colors are so beautiful, I need sunglasses.”
It’s easy to understand the youngster’s sentiment on a tour of the gardens, which saw an average of 20 people a day coming to get a closer look. “Some came back to walk through a second or third time,” she said. “It’s a word-of-mouth thing.” And she greets them not only with her flowers, but with open house fare, like cakes and other refreshments. “I love them coming.”
She is part of a flower group called Mahogany, and its retiree members meet once a month. But their discussions and activities go well beyond blooms and blossoms. “It’s a group of people who like to help each other.”
They clean yards and make an impact. They visit, have lunch with guest speakers — like a registered nurse or a banker — who “impact us individually or as a group.”
They go on trips to learn more about their state and its history. They have been to Gee’s Bend, Brown’s Chapel Church and the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma. They traveled to Dexter Avenue in Montgomery to see the church and parsonage of Martin Luther King.
Here at home, Mahogany gets back to the business of flowers, this year naming Gover’s creation a not-too-surprising ‘Yard of the Month.’ “It’s probably month and year,” laughed Gover.
Like a proud mother gathering her young, she is constantly traveling to and fro to flea markets and home centers to add to her collection.
She specializes in bringing distressed plants back to life so that all may enjoy the pleasures of what she has known since childhood. It is not unusual for people to “leave things for me,” she said. They may be irises or daylilies, and they tell her, “I can’t keep this alive. What can you do?”
“They never come back and get them,” she said.
And she gladly accepts the challenge, simply adding to her gardens year after year and thinking of each flower left behind as a gift.
“There is nothing like early morning in the yard,” she said. “There’s a presence of God. A bloom leaf opens. Birds are singing. You reflect, think about life — where you’ve been and where you’re going.”
Her husband enjoys the pleasures of the gardens, too, not just the work, but to sit back and “see what you’ve accomplished.
“It’s a time to bond with each other,” she added.
She tells young people when they build a house, put the plants out now. “You’ll look back and enjoy it in your life,” she said.
Her other piece of advice? “You should love what you’re doing. I love the plants. It should have been my calling.”
One look around Govers’ gardens, and it doesn’t take long to conclude that that is exactly what it is.