Weekend plant sale success is critical for SFA Gardens

Published: Oct. 8, 2021 at 6:37 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 8, 2021 at 11:09 PM CDT
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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - A bit of normalcy is returning with the annual Stephen F. Austin State University Fall Plant Sale this Saturday and Sunday. Its success is extremely critical to the future of SFA Gardens.

Returning customers will hear the familiar sound of squeaky wagons loaded down with a selection of Texas-tough plants.

“I found an amaryllis johnson I, and it’s one of my very favorite plants,” said Carol Dowd enthusiastically. She’s a customer and garden member provided special shopping privileges the day before the public sale.

All plants are sold at bargain prices to help support the SFA Gardens, a total of 128 acres serving the community and its visitors.

“The Mast Arboretum, the Gayla Mize Garden, the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden, and this place, the Pineywoods Native Plant Center is 40 acres,” said SFA Gardens director Dr. David Creech. “We have seven miles of trails, asphalt trails, that we have to maintain.”

A staff of eight and volunteers are currently working on a shoestring budget.

“SFA Gardens, we’re trying to dig ourselves out of a hole,” Creech said.

Significant state budget cuts led to staff reductions. Exhaustive searches for grants and endowments pay some employees vital to the 35-year program.

Research associate Dawn Stover is grateful for outside support.

“Especially for those that help pay for positions like mine and our education coordinator position,” said Stover, taking a short break from itemizing receipts and making sure inventory is placed correctly. “So, we are very much relying on the public support through plant sales, through donations, through memberships to help keep us going.”

An anonymous donation enables retired SFA professor Dr. Alan Sowards to revitalize outdoor environmental education. The annual instruction of 12,000 East Texas school children was cut from the SFA budget at the pandemic’s onset.

Ironically, Sowards’ lesson today applies to SFA Gardens, as much as to the creatures who live there.

“They’ve (worms) adapted to their environment. For what purpose? For survival. So, your predator cannot eat you,” Sowards said to Garrison ISD children.

Creech said he hopes state funding will eventually are return. Meanwhile, he’s grateful for the support for others.

“I do want to recognize the benevolence and the kindness of so many in the community have been really reassuring that we’re here to stay,” said Creech as squeaky wagons filled with plants passed him by.

The SFA Fall Plant Sale is tomorrow and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It all takes place at the Pineywoods native plant center on Raguet Street in Nacogdoches, just north of the SFA main campus.

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