Every year, right about now, I repot my amaryllis bulbs as a tribute in faith for the coming spring. The almost visible-as-you-watch growth makes the wait somehow less tiresome. Call me fickle; I love every season, but when I start to glimpse the next, I realize how much I miss it from a year ago.
Yesterday, between a stop at Elmwood Pet and my car, I saw a hand-lettered sign on Mother Nature Plant Emporium’s door: Paperwhites are in for Forcing. As promised, there they were – paperwhite bulbs in a box – ready to put on a show. They were sprouting roots and claw-like yellow shoots, reaching up and praying for sunlight so they could turn deep green and blossom. The bulbs are ready and need no arm-twisting – just some nice, rich dirt.
Bob Petrik opened Mother Nature in 1973, when he graduated from Buffalo State with a teaching degree in English, in a time when Buffalo was experiencing a glut of teachers and no one was hiring. He worked part time for a florist in college, and when this storefront opened up (formerly an antique dealer), he started a plant shop, buying the building 2 years later.
“I opened with plants, and it just took off!” Petrik says. “Everyone loved plants, so I was right on time. I sold all kinds, from 3-inch to huge tropical ones. Then I got into pottery, big terra cotta pots, macrame hangers and growth lights – florescent and incandescent.”
Speaking of lights and bulbs, Petrik says, “People came in asking for flowers all the time and I sent them here and there, then a light bulb went on, and I got some buckets in and started selling stems.”
Petrik has seen many regulars over the years. “I’ve seen people come and go, and there’s a lot coming back to area. Someone I used to sell to came in a while back and I asked if they were in town visiting. ‘Oh, no,’ they told me, ‘we just bought a house on Cleveland.’ I see a lot coming back from California and Boston. It’s a quality of life thing,” according to Petrik. “They want a nice house and the ability to go to dinner, the theater.” On top of that his clients have disposable income for things like flowers and plants.
Better than that, Petrik says he’s watched clients grow up. “I’ve had little kids, barely over the edge of counter, slide pennies and coins at me. I’ve sold carnations to them for 3 cents or a nickel, and now I’m doing their weddings.”
Though the amaryllis bulbs are gone for the season, Petrik has a few potted and ready to go. He says potted Easter bulb plants are coming soon – hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, and he got some lovely hibiscus plants in yesterday with large, red blooms. He carries indoor and outdoor plants, summer flats of annuals and perennials. He also gets a lot of hanging plants for Mother’s Day.
“People shop around for different things, make impulse buys. I hear them from the door, looking for this color or that. Sometimes I hear them say, ‘Don’t get them here; go to Home Depot,” he laughs. “but you know, I can’t compete for price, but I have quality. And I always know when a big store has a plant sale because my phone rings off the hook. ‘My palm is yellow,’ they say, ‘but I didn’t buy it from you.’ I still tell them what to do.”
And he has good advice, “My grandfather was a farmer, and he knew that you shouldn’t plant until after the first frost. You can’t plant when the ground is cold. If you use restraint and plant in warm earth, you’ll have growth like crazy. Plants put in the ground too soon never seem to take well.”
His knowledge of plants helps him to educates his clients, and give them good advice, no matter where their plants came from. He’s turned away repotting and some sales if the fit wasn’t right. “People seem to think plants need repotting much sooner than they do, but plants like it snug,” Petrik explains. “When there’s more root than soil, the water races through, and that’s the time to increase the pot size by and inch or so. When a plant leans, I tell people to turn the pot a half a turn and let the plant reach for the light; it’s simple. Then they peek in the door and call to me that my advice was good.”
712 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14222