Get well soon, my dear friend…

This is the way North Haven’s annual color sales area looked in the spring. It would be different plants in the fall, but it always was beautiful. Until the North Dallas tornado struck Sunday night.
Shade-loving plants were showcased through their own sections of the 9-acre nursery.
Meanwhile, in the full sun their wide range of crape myrtles sported spring foliage of all shades of green and purple. It will be back – that’s the good news!

I was 26 years old when I first shopped at North Haven Gardens. I’d just taken the job as Dallas County Extension Horticulturist, and everyone had told me how much I would enjoy visiting the nursery and meeting Ralph Pinkus, already renowned as one of Texas’ premier plant people. That was 1970.

But I was a young horticulturist, nervous about meeting people of that stature, so I just went in quietly as a shopper. I bought a Chinese pistachio and a couple of other plants. But I came home with something else. I came away with an appreciation for a nursery that would introduce Texans to generations of new plants none of us had ever known.

Ralph stopped by my booth at the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association in 2006. We had a great visit. To me it was like standing alongside Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle!

Ralph and Muriel, his wife of more than 70 years, started North Haven Gardens at 7700 Northaven Road in 1951. Ralph told me once that when the nursery opened, “I could hear the traffic down on Northwest Highway while I was out watering my plants.”

North Dallas didn’t extend much beyond where the nursery was at that point. In fact, I just read that the city limits of Dallas were two miles south of them at that time. There was no LBJ freeway (I-635) and certainly no “High-5” (5-layered traffic exchange) nearby to the north. Dallas built up around them, and there they were just a block west of Central, doing their thing to beautify their part of the world.

To tell you just a bit of the rest of my story of the 49 years that I’ve known this nursery and this great family, let me reduce it to highlights. Some of these are really important, so scroll on through them.

Ralph expanded his retail business to include two large wholesale greenhouses and nurseries in neighboring communities. Their sons David and Jon joined them in the family business.

Muriel was very active in interfaith affairs. She and Ralph were good friends with our Lutheran Bishop Mark Herbener and his wife Donna. When we went to dinner with Ralph and Muriel I was always over in the corner “talking plants” with Ralph, so I never knew the full depth of what Muriel was doing, but I could always tell how passionate she was. They were both remarkable people.

The café at North Haven was Jon’s pride when it opened several years ago. Great food. Great surroundings.

I sold the pens I made as a fund-raiser for Serenity High at North Haven Gardens for 17 years. I probably sold 750 pens in that store over those years. Jon was always so kind to give me prime space. If vertigo hadn’t shut me down, I’d still be doing it.

We held the landscape consultations of our home landscape school there every spring in their meeting room. Once again, Jon gave us prime space.

• Here is a big one: In the 1970s Ralph formed a committee to help him develop the concept of a major botanic garden for the city of Dallas. Let me rephrase that. The Dallas Arboretum was the brainchild of Ralph Pinkus! I was lucky that Ralph invited me to be on that committee.

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I called North Haven looking for Ralph about 24 years ago. It happened to be on his 80th birthday. The reply was, “Oh, he’s in China with David looking for hostas in a tissue culture laboratory.” I think he had some kind of medical thing going on, but he opted for China instead. That was so Ralph.

Shortly later I was asked to emcee his 80th birthday celebration at the Dallas Arboretum. What a special highlight that was. And he didn’t mind that I told some of my favorite Ralph Pinkus stories. He laughed as hard as anyone.

And then I was blessed to be asked to emcee an incredible event when Ralph and Muriel, surrounded by their children and grandchildren were celebrated by hundreds at the 2007 Jewish “For Love of Family” annual banquet. How they ever let a Lutheran, now Methodist be involved at that level is beyond me, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Lynn and I visited Ralph and Muriel six years ago, just a couple of days before we lost him. “What was the plant you’re most proud of introducing, Ralph?” I asked Ralph. Lucid as ever he replied, “New Gold lantana. It blooms and blooms, Neil. You know it’s a triploid? It never sets seed.” And then he went on to remind me, “You remember that I’m the one who suggested you write a book, Neil?” And he chuckled. He had told me that several times, adding, “I should have been your agent.”

So, while much of what I’ve written is about Ralph and Muriel Pinkus, the greater view is of a legacy nursery that has provided legions of gardeners with plants and plant products for generations. It’s for all of that that I wanted to write this today.

This is what the people at North Haven Gardens found when daylight unfolded Monday morning. It’s hard to imagine that this had been 9 acres of beautiful plants just 12 hours earlier.

But as their website said within just a few hours, “We’ve rebuilt from adversity before, and this time will be no different.”

I’m sure I’m joined today by hundreds of men and women in the nursery industry around Texas who cut their teeth at North Haven Gardens. They, too, are grateful for what they have gained by having been there.

“Get well soon, my dear friend…” That’s how I began this. And we all wish the Pinkus family and North Haven Gardens as a whole nothing but clear sailing from this moment on. I, and we in the nursery industry in general, stand ready to help in any way possible. We love you folks!

Some one of their people made his or her way through the debris field to what remained of the store to post this beautiful message just a day after the storm. May we all do all that we can to help them reach their new goals.


Final Note: I’ve had the blessing of working with some of Texas’ finest nursery leaders over the years. They are an association of friends who band together to support one another. Names like Hilscher, Cornelius, Archie, Lambert, Covington, Bracken, Smith, Weir and McCauley, my friends from Calloways and so on and on, no one wants to see a fellow nursery owner hurt like this. My good friend of the 1970’s, the late Steve Dodd Sr., once said it best: “Those other nurserymen around me aren’t my competitors. Those are my friends. Golfcourses and fishing boats are my competitors.” I’ve never forgotten those words.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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