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Catering to the ‘do-it-yourselfer’
by Garrett Valenzuela
Apr 23, 2013 | 6933 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- Rail City Garden Center employee Tanner Peckenham waters a batch of of the Sparks business' plants Tuesday afternoon. The garden emporium has been in business for more than 15 years and continues to expand and alter its inventory to fit its customers' needs.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- Rail City Garden Center employee Tanner Peckenham waters a batch of of the Sparks business' plants Tuesday afternoon. The garden emporium has been in business for more than 15 years and continues to expand and alter its inventory to fit its customers' needs.
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SPARKS -- About halfway through a personalized tour of Rail City Garden Center, owner Pawl Hollis turns to discuss his vertical gardens, hanging from a fence inside his property. And as he fans his fingers through the leaves of the four rows of vegetables, he can’t help but rip off and sample a few leaves of lettuce and spinach, proving their freshness.

Hollis explored and discussed nearly his entire inventory Tuesday afternoon as his customers ventured in and out, greeting him by name and finding the perfect plant, flower or edible item to take home. In the 15 years Hollis has maintained and expanded Rail City Garden Center, he has seen its evolution from a rock and landscaping business to an expansive gardening locale with several subdivisions for its customers.

“We try to be complete,” Hollis said. “We pretty much wanted to have everything for the do-it-yourselfer, which I was and I had to hunt things down at different stores. A person can come here and get everything done.”

Hollis explained that “everything” is comprised in Rail City Garden Center’s certification in fish health and care, which allows it a large inventory of ponds. Its license as a construction contractor for on-call maintenance and landscaping, and Hollis’ certification as an "arborist," allows for tree growing information.

Hollis said much of his inventory is no stranger to the constant changes of the world, and he said he tries to adapt his vegetables, plants and other items to cater to his frequent customers.

“Our inventory has been hard to find items or unusual items, especially in the vegetable garden,” Hollis said. “We have shifted our inventory and part of it is we are probably the number one center for a vegetable garden. If we find it on a market and it is cool, it is coming here.

“The way it works is my wife and I go shopping. She buys all the decorative stuff and I take care of the stuff that I like. I am trees, rock and dirt and she is wind chimes and bird baths. She is good at that, while I am horrible with that.”

Giant windmills, countless yard ornaments and plenty of green-thumb signage lie throughout the stocked rows of the garden center. It provides a nice addition to the outdoor setup, complete with all you need to build various planting beds, secure your plants from predators or even build your own ‘roundhouse,’ a type of greenhouse.

“We try to provide what people need but the most important thing is giving them current, responsible and accurate information,” Hollis said. “Things have changed and there are always new plants coming into this market.”

The exchange of accurate information, according to Hollis, is largely facilitated in the newly created Green College, which is held on site and explores numerous topics in the world of agriculture. With weekend classes and a constantly updating website, Hollis said it helps people gearing up for the gardening season.

“The last couple weeks have been, ‘What am I going to do with my peach tree blooming? How do I protect it?’” Hollis said of his current and most frequent questions. “We can answer that and show you how to protect it. The other one is about rabbits and squirrels showing up. So we have product to help them with that.

“(Green College) went from a temporary tent we had in the parking lot and then we moved it back here; and as it grows we adapt,” Hollis said, pointing to a building in the center of the property. “Everything is as it grows. We make adjustments and we stay on top of what people want to do and what people want to grow. People want to grow their own veggies and they want to take ownership of what is in their yard and what they are eating.”

As a former horticulture and landscaping teacher at Glen Hare Center in Reno, Hollis said changing “phases,” from specializing in rock building to learning continually more about growing vegetables and plants, was an easy transition. The biggest enjoyment for him: the great outdoors.

“Number one it is working outside,” Hollis said of his job. “I kind of got into this and this is what I like to do. We are our own boss so if there is something we want to do, we do it."

Though growing and planting may be his specialty, Hollis said he still learns plenty from his Nevada farming customers on the best way to grow in the challenging Nevada soil. He said each day brings something new for his business.

“It is definitely a challenge,” Hollis said of growing in Nevada. “Number one, we have probably the crappiest soil in the world. On top of that, we have dramatic weather changes. The best information I get is from my customers because you have people that have been extremely successful growing all kinds of things.

“That is what we rely on for what is current in this area and you learn from everybody. We are always learning something new, honestly.”
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