Happy 100th birthday George Story!

I want to wish George Story a very happy birthday. George (the founder of Story’s Nursery in Freehold, Greene County), turns 100 years old on Feb. 22.

George Story was named after George Washington, who shares the same birthday. Many young people today don’t know when Washington’s birthday is, but I sure do! Old folks like me grew up knowing it, because we got a day off from school for both his and Lincoln’s birthdays. Now we celebrate “Presidents Day” in lieu of Washington and Lincoln’s actual birthdays.

Both of these former presidents were very inspirational for our country.

George Story inspired many, many budding horticulturalists including his kids, grandkids, countless nieces, nephews, many students and me! Most of what I know about commercial horticulture I learned from George and at Story’s nursery. My career at Cornell Cooperative Extension could not have succeeded without the knowledge I gained from him.

George was a pioneer in the nursery/greenhouse business and he built his business, literally, from the ground up. Originally, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he sold vegetables that he grew at a roadside stand, but he soon recognized there was an emerging market for ornamental plants as World War II soldiers returned and started building houses.

After graduating from Cornell University, George began selling nursery stock that he grew in the fertile, well-drained soil on the floodplain of the Catskill creek in Freehold. Most of these field grown plants were sold as “bare root” or “balled in burlap.” It is hard to imagine that something as ubiquitous as plastic pots or plastic containers of any sort, were unheard of back then.

His main crop in the early days were Japanese yews, which were a very popular landscape plant in the 1950s. In those days deer predation was not an issue, nor were they any barrier to gardening. No one needed a deer fence to garden in Greene County in the 1950s. Even sighting a deer in the mid 1950s in our region was a topic of conversation for days at the local general stores. These days deer populations are so high, that preferred food plants, such as yews cannot even be grown by most rural or suburban residents.

I saw George this past summer, still working at Story’s Nursery. He was watering and primping bedding plants as he has done for more than half a century. He is still physically and mentally sharp, although he gave up bowling and driving to Florida not too many years ago.

His granddaughter Kelly, who is also my stepdaughter, grows all sorts of interesting palms at her home here in Florida, and her brother Will also has a green thumb. I guess it’s true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I was very fortunate to be married to George’s youngest daughter (of seven kids!). She and Christine worked at the nursery for years when I was the Greene County Agricultural Extension agent.

I built our log cabin home on some of that wonderful flood plain land in Freehold that George gave to us in the late 1980s. I have never had such good land to grow on before or since!

Many of his kids and grandkids are still actively involved in the horticulture business and now he has great grandkids who, I bet, will continue the tradition.

There will be a public celebration of George’s birthday 1-4 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Freehold firehouse on Route 32 in Freehold.

Stop by to wish him a happy day and thank him for all he has done this past century! I wish I could be there to attend in person but travelling home from Florida at this time is not possible for me. I think I will have to wait to see him in person sometime in May.

He will most likely be tending to some lovely plants at the garden center!

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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