A gardener shares her extensive plant knowledge

An Iowa gardener who sells plants at the Des Moines Farmers' Market includes expert knowledge of daylilies and many other plants at no charge.

Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
Sha6ron Nelson-Vaux of Altoona, Iowa, sells plants and shares a lifetime of gardening advice at her 6-acre farm and the Des Moines Farmers' Market. Her favorite daylily is named Bitsy.

Her name is Sha6ron – the numeral is silent. She, however, is anything but.

If you linger over one of her plants at her weekly stall at the Des Moines [Iowa] Farmers' Market, she will tell you how tall that particular variety gets. And how wide. Then how much water it needs -- depending if it’s in part shade or part sun. And you know what looks good with that plant?

That’s the kind of gardener Sha6ron Nelson-Vaux is. She has learned a great deal in her 40 years of gardening, and she doesn’t want you to have to wait 40 years to know plants the way she does.

“When I first started gardening in 1970, I didn’t have anyone to ask questions,” she says. “And I never found that person. I had to become that person. And now I am the person I always wanted to meet.”

Ha! Good one, Sha6ron!

A way to break the ice

Her humor is sly but infectious. Take the numeric name, f’rinstance.

“I have something like dyslexia,” she says. “Reading and ciphering – math – are hard for me. So, OK, here’s a little challenge for you. [The name with the number in it is] a little bit of silliness that gives people something to ask me about. Some people don’t have the skills to ask me questions. This is a way to start a conversation.”

At an open garden at her 6-acre home and nursery in semi-rural Altoona, 80 or so friends and fans converged to see more of her quirky plants, the metal sculptures she crafts and her impressive field of daylilies.

Countless daylilies

How many kinds of daylilies does she have?

“Just a drop in the bucket of the 60,000 registered varieties,” she says. She pauses. “I think when people collect things, if they have more than 50 they are kind of a sick puppy.” And? “I have more than 50.”

Her favorite: “Bitsy, a small yellow one that blooms in the spring, the first one. But I’m extremely fickle.”

And it does sound as though each and every plant someone brings to the register is her favorite. The variegated burnet, the viburnum with veined leaves, the cherry-pink clover, the angular ornamental grass … they all go out the door with advice, enthusiasm, and congratulations.

“Now they can all play show and tell,” she says. “ ‘Look, look, look: I got a real big one!’ Or ‘I got a real little one.’ If I’m interested in it, I think other people might be. And sometimes I’m right.”

What else I’m into this week: Weeding. Watering. Waiting … and whatever.


Craig Summers Black, the Transplanted Gardener, is an award-winning garden writer and photographer who blogs regularly at Diggin' it. You can read more of what he's written by clicking here. You may also follow Craig’s further adventures in gardening, music, and rural life on Twitter.

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