High Ground 9

SHE WAS A CHARACTER. Whether she entranced you or terrified you, whether she made your eyes sparkle or your knees quake, she was one of a kind. When Joy Logee Martin passed away, an era of outspoken, utterly unflappable gardeners came to an end.

The place where Joy held sway was Logee’s Greenhouses, a retail mail-order business in the tiny, slightly down-at-heels town of Danielson, Connecticut. First begun by her father in 1892 as a cut-flower shop but shifting to tropicals and houseplants shortly thereafter, Joy spent almost every day of her life wandering the aisles of Logee’s, explaining to customers why they couldn’t live without Murraya paniculata or some other plant that had caught her eye.

She would hold forth in the office, announcing who she was to anyone who might venture in. “I’m Joy Logee Martin,” she would declare before you’d even gotten through the door. “And who are you?” Although she might have an opinion on your lineage, origins, or place of residence, more important to Joy was whether you knew your calatheas from your marantas. If so, you were worthy; if not, you would have to be educated.

For Joy, all topics led to houseplants, and within her chosen realm she cast a broad net. Joy’s goal was to expand the definition of houseplants until it included herbs, violets, geraniums, brugmansias, tree tomatoes, kumquats, ‘Ponderosa’ lemons, jasmines, and thousands of other plants. She never met a plant you couldn’t grow on your windowsill.

Although Joy wasn’t a large woman, she was formidable. She was legendary in the field—for her knowledge, presence, and salesmanship, all gained without benefit of formal education. As a child, on her way to and from grammar school, she learned to persuade potential customers that, although they lived in a mill town far removed from fancy dress balls and the opera, what they absolutely needed was a violet corsage. And throughout her life, even after the family moved away from florist work, she was always willing to throw together a fantastic impromptu bouquet (formulated from whatever was blooming at hand) for a modest $10. Flowers weren’t a luxury; they were a necessity.

Tovah Martin pays tribute to a singular figure in the world of horticulture

Eventually, Joy brought her finely honed arts of persuasion to radio, spreading the word via the air waves. By the time Thalassa Cruso was taping her television shows, Joy was on the A-list for guest appearances. When Joy spoke, people listened. Or else. She used to boast that there wasn’t a garden club in New England that hadn’t invited her to lecture—and she knew every program chairwoman by name. She was even better with botanical Latin. Until her dying day, she could rattle off the binomial of just about anything that photosynthesized.

Although she was a silver-tongued, frighteningly persuasive saleswoman, she was also a handson gardener. During the Depression, when her brothers worked at local gardens (Joy was one of 16 brothers and sisters, many of whom remained in horticulture), she consulted at the finest estates in northeastern Connecticut. Way ahead of her time, Joy was marching around in jumpsuits, work shoes, and her signature beret when other career women were stumbling in high heels and white gloves.

When the Mark Twain House renovated their conservatory, they called Joy in for advice. Several botanical gardens sought her guidance when compiling begonia collections (begonias were her first passion, but herbs followed close behind). When garden clubs were putting together award-winning flower show competitions, their first order of business was an appointment with Joy.

When they came, they would find Joy in her glory, marching up and down the aisles of the greenhouses, muttering because someone had neglected to hose down her camellias, brandishing a watering can to quench whatever stray cyclamen or acalypha might be wilting. Always outspoken, pruning was a particularly sensitive sore spot with her. I remember Joy Logee Martin—my former mother-in-law—arriving on the scene just as I’d finished grooming a bench of begonias. “How would you feel right now,” she demanded, “if I cut off all your fingers and toes?” The pleasure of pruning has never been quite the same since.

She was a mentor to many, many gardeners—not least of all to me. And I miss her terribly. H

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