Plant sellers set up annual shop outside Broadway Square

Published on Sunday, 6 October 2013 22:54 - Written by CASEY MURPHY cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

After nearly 40 years in the plant business, Sue and Richard Oden don’t plan on hanging it up anytime soon.

At its peak about 20 years ago, Oden’s Plant Farm in Jacksonville had 50 greenhouses and sold hanging baskets and bedding plants of all kinds wholesale to big retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowes.

Since semi-retiring about 15 years ago, the Odens have become strictly a retail operation, setting up shop in Tyler twice a year during the fall and spring seasons.

Oden, 75, Mrs. Oden, 71, and their daughter Linda Yates, 51, all of Jacksonville, opened Oden’s Plant Farm in the Broadway Square Mall parking lot on Sept. 27. Through Oct. 27, they will sell mums, pumpkins, hay, corn stalks, scarecrows and other fall-related d←cor and plants.

For the spring season, which runs from the last week of March through the second week of June, they sell geraniums, caladiums, begonias, petunias, hibiscus and other flowers.

Mrs. Oden said when they retired from growing wholesale, they knew they didn’t want to quit the business, but they wanted to slow down. Every year they come to Tyler, they are a little busier and see a lot of return customers each year, she said.

“I like to talk to people,” Mrs. Oden said of her favorite part of the business. “That’s what my husband says I like most about it.”

While she and her daughter run the stand, along with two other employees, her husband spends his time hauling plants and other merchandise.

“It’s been good,” Mrs. Yates said of the twice-a-year operation. “We have so many repeat customers, and we’ve met so many friends being here.”

During the fall season, she said a lot of people come just to have their pictures taken with the pumpkins, and children like to pick out their own pumpkins.

Mrs. Oden said they don’t have any plans to hang it up anytime soon, and when they do get too old to run the business, they will have their daughter do it.

“It kind of got in our blood, and it’s still there,” she said.

Although they don’t grow plants for customers anymore, Mrs. Oden still “piddles” with potting flowers at her house and said geraniums remain her favorite. The flower also was once the business’ most popular product.

The Odens have been married for 53 years and were already farmers, running a custom hay-baling business, when a friend built them a greenhouse. In the mid-1970s, they started peddling flowers out of the back of their pickup to local produce stands. They continued to expand the business, moving to a larger truck, then to four 18-wheelers and selling to major retailers in Dallas, Houston and all over Texas, as well as Louisiana and Oklahoma, Mrs. Oden said.

She said their most popular plant was the Geranium, but everyone also loved baskets of Petunias and ferns.

About 16 years ago, the couple decided they were getting too tired to work all day and night and made the switch to retail. Now instead of growing their own plants in greenhouses, they buy from other growers, she said.

Mrs. Oden said all of the family members worked in the business.

“It’s been great,” she said of working with her children and grandchildren.

Mrs. Yates said she has been involved in the family business since she was in junior high school, when her parents started it. She recalled her first job, transplanting seedlings from long seed trays on a conveyer belt, taking what amounted to tiny, fine hairs and splitting them apart to be placed in little cups.

She also recalled a bad winter when she and a friend stayed up all night to make sure there was enough butane running to keep the plants from freezing.

“It’s been fun,” she said of working with her family. “We’ve always all stayed together. It’s something everybody got into, helped and worked. … It’s a family deal.”

At some point, all of the children and grandchildren have been involved in the business.

Mrs. Yates, as well as her brothers, Stacy Oden, of Whitehouse, and Scott Oden, of Jacksonville, helped and all three siblings each have three children. She said working together has made their family close.

In the company’s heyday, the siblings were salesmen for the business, Mrs. Oden said. And when they were younger, they often raced to see who could put out the most baskets, she added.