The Times West Virginian

May 30, 2012

A work of love

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

RIVESVILLE — Flowers have a BFF in Jackie Straight.

Her home outside Rivesville is the perfect place to slow down, drink in the perfume of blooming flowers, listen to singing birds and dream of summer and its bounty of blossoms and fruit.

It’s still early in the season, so not all her flowers are blooming right now. Like most gardeners, she’s got them staggered so there is always a riot of color here and there.

“I don’t have a solid favorite,” she said.

Her garden is a wonderland of colors and shapes and sizes.

There are her 6-foot tall sunflowers, started from a pack of seeds and transplanted when they started getting bigger. They get so tall she has to tie them up, or else they grow sideways.

Know how she keeps her hydrangeas “nice and pink”?

“Coffee grounds,” she said. “I just put it on top. It’s the acid in the grounds.”

She’s got hostas, flowering ferns, Asiatic and Oriental lilies, and all kinds of other lovelies clinging to her house.

“I love to have flowers cozying up to my house,” she said. “I love to walk on the porch and smell them.”

Sure, mowing the four acres by herself can be a bit much. A neighbor weed-whacks the banks. Even with her rider and push mowers, it can take the 74-year-old more than six hours to get it all done. And don’t forget watering and mulching and weeding and replanting and general TLC for all those plants and shrubs and trees.

Think she’d be better off with a small apartment in town? Go ahead. Tell her that. Or at least try to tell her.

“I’m going to stay here for as long as I’m able,” she said firmly. “Nothing against town, but I don’t think I’d be satisfied with just a tiny little flower bed.”

She’s got glads of different colors. Several hibiscus bushes. Calla lilies. Cone flowers. Foxglove. Crepe myrtle, red geum, purple liatris, poppies, irises, magnolia trees, sage, almond trees, daisies, hostas and “all kinds of daffodils.”

“I do like impatiens, but so do the deer,” she said wryly.

Pansies, which bloomed at Christmas, present cheerful little faces on her back porch.

She even grows pineapples. She bought one in Myrtle Beach and was astounded to find it sprouting a baby pineapple.

“And now another little one is starting on the same place, and I didn’t do anything,” she said.

It doesn’t seem to matter where you live. Deer are always knocking on your garden door for a late-night snack.

First she tried the “guaranteed” electronic shock fence. Didn’t work. The repellant sprays worked ... until it rained.

So she finally gave in and put up a fence around her flowers.

“That’s the only way I can have anything,” she said.

Her secret weapon: spiderwort, “which smells like between an onion and garlic. And deer do not like them,” she said. “So I try to keep some of these little guys around my beds.”

She gets her love of flowers naturally. Her dad, John Olesky, “was a big flower person,” she said. He banned her mother, Lena, from the garden “because she wasn’t good at it,” Straight said with a fond smile.

“He’d plant zinnias and petunias. Mom liked flowers. She just wasn’t any good at it.”

She’s lived in this house for 42 years. Her husband, David, always had a garden, she said.

“My garden is my pride and joy,” she said. “We’d plant about 125 marigolds about the edge. It made it so pretty. After he passed away, I didn’t think I could be without my garden. I couldn’t stand living here without having flowers and a little bit of a garden.”

She grows your basic veggies — cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and green beans — just enough for herself with some left over to share.

“He had this big bed with irises. I dug all those up and brought them down here,” she said. “I had to dig the sod up ... there hadn’t been a garden in it for two years ... brought in 950 pounds of garden soil ... and did it all myself.”

The tract was originally 10 acres, but her husband sold six acres several years before he passed away.

“I’m glad now because I have to mow it,” she said with a laugh.

Just up the rise in her yard she’s got a blueberry bush that’s already “loaded with berries,” she said.

“But they’re not ready to pick yet. It took three years before it was big enough to make it. The deer kept coming in.”

She harvested about 72 pints of blueberries last year. What do you do with all those berries? Pies. Cobblers. Pancakes. Sauce for the pancakes. Muffins. And she freezes them for winter snacking.

“It’s a work of love,” she said of tending her garden.

“I love to see the finished product so much, I don’t consider it work.

“I’m a country girl. I absolutely love it out here. There’s no sense living anywhere else,” she said.

Every Wednesday through June, Take 5 will be strolling through our readers’ lush gardens. To have yours featured, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or

Email Debra Minor Wilson at