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Anju Lucas

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For the past 16 years, Anju Lucas has been a fixture at Edwards Greenhouse in the North End. Spending her days amid warm, humid air, scented by the rich smell of soil, she helps gardeners and novices create their own backyard paradises.

She came to Boise after her husband was transferred here, but quickly found that the area is a haven for gardeners.

For Lucas, 60, gardening is both art and science. She refers to plants in gender-specific terms and pairs people and plants like she's setting up a blind date. Lucas took time out of her busy spring planting schedule to talk to BW about what makes your garden grow.

Have you always been a professional gardener?

Actually, when my daughter was born, I was a clothing designer and I didn't want to do it anymore. I just started [gardening] like a maniac—and this was in the Bay Area—and my garden became kind of well-known, and a nursery asked me to come and work [for them].

I have no formal education at all. I've learned everything from just working in the industry.

Had you done much gardening before your epiphany?

I had a beautiful herb garden in southern France—I lived in southern France for quite a few years. And my grandmother was an amazing gardener. She was the one who could just take the rose hip and put it next to a rose bush, put a bell jar on top of it and a rose would grow.

My mother had a black thumb, and so we grew up devoid of any flowers at all. It just skipped a generation.

What did you think when you learned you were moving to Boise?

The first thing I did was look up Boise, and I found out it had 159 growing days, and I was from a 365 growing days. I found out that it had below zero [temperatures] ... I was really, really scared.

What do you do at the greenhouse?

I oversee the ordering, the growing and maintaining of all perennials, roses, vines, trees and shrubs of Edwards Greenhouse.

That entails looking all over the world. I get bare root from the Netherlands ... I get seeds from England, I get seeds from New Zealand, all over. I look for unusual as well as commonplace plants.

Then, once I finish growing them, I work with customers. That's the most fun part. Actually, working with the customers, be it someone who has their first garden, or someone who has been going forever and has something to teach me. It really is neat that way. It isn't a one-way street. We learn a lot from our customers.

Boise has extreme climates, is that the biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge for gardeners here in the Boise area—and I think all over—is that you tend to want to garden the garden you had as a child.

Gardens are so evocative. So, if you are from the Seattle area or Portland, you're going to want to do the rhododendrons, you're going to want to do the azaleas. You're going to want to do things like that. So, it's really hard sometimes to say, "Well, they don't grow well here."

Why do people like gardening

There's a few reasons. One of them is—I think always—beauty. To surround themselves with beauty.

For an awful lot of people, getting their hands in the dirt, it really centers them. In our times, when there's so much uncertainty, going back and planting a row of radishes really centers people, makes them feel better.

I think it links generations together. Grandparents can do something with their grandchild.

Are gardeners happy people?

I think most gardeners are. We love to talk about plants, we love to talk about soil, we love to talk about the weather. It's just something that keeps you every day. You don't say what happened last week, because you're out there every day looking at the plants, what's growing, how's the weather affected it.

You live in the immediate, you don't live kind of next week.

Do people get overwhelmed?

People come in and they're so confused. So kind of apprehensive, so scared. You shouldn't be scared because actually plants will tell you what they want. They really do tell you.

What's your best advice for beginning gardeners?

What you see is only the top. The roots are the most important thing in a plant, so you really have to improve the soil. We live in a young state, so the soil isn't broken down, so we have to improve our soil.

If you improve your soil, most things will be successful.

Do you get a sense of the customer?

Yes. A woman came in and she was elderly and really upset ... We sat down and she said, "My husband died last year and this is the first time I'm picking out plants without him." And my immediate thought was, "Oh, my God. OK, we can do this. We can go as slow as you want." And then she goes, "That God-damned son of a bitch never let me plant flowers, he only let me plant veggies." And, "Oh God girl, we're going to do it."

Do you have a big garden at home?

I live way out in the country and I used to have a beautiful garden. Now that I work seven days a week, 10-hour days, my garden has really suffered. It's sad.

What's the most popular request?

It's the Stella d'Oro day lily, and I hate her. She's bright gold. I didn't carry her for the first two months, and people, every day would be like "Stella d'Oro," and I'd try to talk them into different plants. But people love Stella d'Oro. It's short, squat, big gold flowers that bloom all season. Not interesting.

Any other advice?

Talk to gardeners and don't be scared.

Do people with bare yards drive you nuts?

No, I'm not a judgmental gardener. I'm really not. I think if you walk outside and you see paradise and it works for you, then it works.

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