LOVE AND MEMORIES POTTED UP AND PLANTED: Gainesville mayor’s plant collection includes 67-year-old pothos from her mother, starts from many other loved ones

Gainesville mayor Gail Reich stands with a selection of her many house plants. Reich says all of her plants and most of her pots have been given to her by loved ones over the last 50 years.

Among Gail’s plants are a Christmas cactus, far left, that is at least 60 years old and inherited from her mother, Alene Turner, and a tall ponytail tree (against the far wall) that was sent to her when her dad died 42 years ago, among many others. "Every plant has a story," Gail says.

The pothos is nearly 70 years old and was owned by her mother. It was given to Gail by family members after her mom passed away.

Gail is currently “plant-sitting” her granddaughter’s plants, including this dessert rose succulent, while she is hiking an over 1,800 trail in New Zealand.

Gainesville’s Gail Reich is a plant lover - that much is clear from upon stepping into her well-lit living room on Cedar Oak Drive. From the front door, at least a dozen various plants can be seen, perched on top of stools and chests, in large pots on the floor and in smaller pots sitting on wire racks. Others are integrated into wall decor or planted in coffee mugs sitting on tables and stands. 

When I was there last week, new plant cuttings were growing happily in a sunny kitchen windowsill awaiting future potting when their roots have grown large enough to sustain them.

The diversity and number of plants is interesting enough, but Gail says the real magic of the collection comes from the tales of how they came to be hers.

“There’s a story to every plant I have,” she said, glancing around the room lovingly at pots upon pots of plants of various sizes, shapes and colors. 


A 67-year-old, second-generation pothos

Gail says that her oldest plant is a 67-year-old pothos that belonged to her mother and was passed to her after her mom died. She said she still remembers when her mom was gifted it in the 1950s.  

“It was when Gier was just a baby, just a week or two old probably - maybe not even that,” she said, referencing her brother Gier Turner, another well-known Gainesville resident who works at the funeral home in town. “There was a tornado that blew away Hickman Mills in Kansas City, and mom and dad drove out there. That’s where a woman gave mom that plant - in that same pot. That’s been 67 years ago. It’s never been transplanted, and it’s had miles and miles of vine cut off.”

Gail said that every time she looks at the pothos, she’s reminded her of her mom, Alene Turner, who died in 2021 at the age of 95. 

“Mother would beat any kid that touched that thing. That was the only thing she’d spank a grandkid for... for touching that plant. It sat on a coffee table that Larry made in high school,” she said. Larry Turner is the brother of Gail and Gier, who share other siblings Jamie Turner Wyman, John Turner and the late Evelyn Sue Turner. They are the children of Ancil and Alene Turner, and “come from a long line of Turners and Lawsons,” Gail said last week. 


A 43-year-old ponytail plant

While the waxy heart-shaped leaves of the pothos bring back memories of Gail’s mom, it’s the long, ribbon-like strands of a ponytail plant that sits just a few feet away that reminds her of her father, Ancil Turner, who died in 1981.

“The ponytail plant is 42-years-old now. The sheriff’s department sent it to me when dad passed away, which will be 43 years ago in August,” she said. Gail was employed with the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department as an administrative assistant for 36 years before her retirement in January 2019. “Some of those ponytail plants grow in real thick, but mine’s just shot up tall.

“I’m lucky it’s still alive, no thanks to that one,” she said, pointing at her little dachshund dog. “One day I came in and [my daughter] Sheila [Dilts] told me, ‘I whipped your dog.’ She said, ‘I come in and he’d chewed a limb off the ponytail plant.’ So Sheila took that limb and spanked her. And she hasn’t touched it since.” 


Over 60-year-old Christmas cactuses and an African violet

Other plants from her mom include two Christmas cactuses. “The oldest one was from when Mom lived on JJ Highway before Jamie was even in school yet. She had it hung in the basement through winter, and there was a window down there. Between the wood heat and the light from hanging in that window, that thing would just get full of blooms,” Gail remembered. “When she moved, she hung them out on her front porch after the danger of frost had passed, and they’d stay out there until late fall when it might frost again.”

Both are at least 60 years old, Gail says, but the younger of the two was grown from a part that broke off the older one. 

“It happened when we were carrying it back and forth from the basement, and we broke it off. So we just stuck it down in some damp dirt, and off it went.”

The older of the two has only been repotted once in its lifetime, she said, and that was because it grew so big that it broke the pot it was growing in.

She also has an African violet that came from a start off of her mother’s plant. “There’s no telling how old that is,” she said.


Plants after deaths

Other plants have come to Gail in times of mourning when loved ones have died. 

In 2013, Gail lost two aunts within a short time frame. She asked for a cutting off of a plant given to the family at each funeral, one was fully green and the other is a variegated variety of light and dark green stripes. She decided to plant them both in the same copper pot, given to her by cousin Gay Strong, and the result is a beautiful display that represents her three family members in their own, unique way. 

In a corner of her kitchen, an aloe plant is potted up that reminds Gail of another cousin, June Turner, who died in 2019 after a battle with cancer. “When she got sick, she couldn’t take care of it anymore, and June’s sister Judy asked me if I’d like to have it. I said yes. So she brought it to me. So that’s my ‘June plant,’” she said. “See, they all just have a story.” 

Another sentimental piece involves a slab of barnwood mounted to her dining room wall that has four silver canisters screwed to it with pothos and wandering dude growing in them. Gail said the canisters were those of Theodosia resident Frank Jenkins, who died in September 2020. 

“I was dating Frank, and we both got covid at the same time. I got over it, and he didn’t. He passed away three years this September,” she said with tears in her eyes. “He always had a these canisters on the end of his counter, and he’d put cash and coins in them. After I got them, I thought and thought about what I wanted to do with them. Then one day, I went out in the garage. I’m pretty handy with tools, so I got that piece of wood and measured and drilled and made that thing, getting it just the way like I like it.”

She pulled starts from her mother’s pothos, and her daughter Sheila brought her the start of a wandering dude plant. She placed cups of water in the canisters and dropped the starts in the water. “They grow like that. They don’t need dirt,” she said. 

Another plant was gifted to her from the Gainesville City Hall employees when Gail’s nephew Rob Hathcock died unexpectedly at age 38 in December 2022. The arrowhead philodendron now sits in her living room next to the ponytail plant she received after her father’s death. 

Another plant came from Virginia Gaulding, the mother of Gail’s sister-in-law, the late Phyllis Gaulding Turner. Phyllis was married to Gail’s brother John Turner at the time when she passed away in 2019. 

“And that pot it’s planted in was given to me after Earlene Crisp died,” she said. “I’d go by Earlene's house almost every day, and she’d always wave at me. She lived there on the corner. When I think of her I always remember Earlene getting in that old truck of hers and revving up that motor. Then she’d pop that clutch, and off she’d go. It didn’t even have power steering. And she was just a tiny thing. But anyway, that pot sat there on that porch for years, even after she passed away. One night, I was at the city council meeting, I told Dana [Crisp] (a city councilman and Earlene's grandson) that I collect pots and flowers that have a lot of meaning. I told him ‘there’s a pot sitting on your grandma’s porch that I would just dearly love to have.’ He said, ‘I’ll see what I can do for you.’ One day someone knocked on my door, it was him and [Dana’s grandson] Cooper, bringing me that pot.”


Gifted plants and starts

Some of her plants have been given to her over the years as gifts or as starts from friends’ or neighbors’ plants. 

“See that cup over there with the yellow hearts on it. There’s a story with it. I’ve kept it a lot of years. When they built the nursing home, they planted a tree out front. It has a plaque on it dedicated to Clara Whitesell, who was the first patient in the nursing home,” Gail said. “Well, Kirby had a beauty shop in Theodosia, and I worked there. When Clara was going to go in the nursing home, her daughter brought her in to the beauty shop to get her hair done, and they brought me that coffee cup. It meant something to me, and I always kept it in the back of my cupboard so people wouldn’t drink out of it. Then finally I thought, ‘I know how to keep them from drinking out of it. I’ll put my plant in there.’ And that’s just what I did. I planted it in honor of her.”

A philodendron that sits in Gail’s kitchen came from Verl Lantz and his wife Carolyn, who lived in Theodosia and were friends with Gail and her ex-husband Kirby Reich. “We went to their house one day, and I said something about it. Carolyn glanced at it and said, ‘I hate that thing. Why don’t you take it home with you?’ That was probably 20 years ago,” Gail said. “And here it is.”

Another plant came from longtime Ozark County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher Krista Crisp, who worked with Gail for years. 

“One day she came in and said, ‘Aunt Sis, I brought you a plant. I don’t have anywhere to put it.’ So, I sat it on my desk and kept it watered for awhile. Then I finally brought it home. One day I came home, and it was laying out on the floor. I wondered what had happened. I picked it up and realized it’d grown so big, it grew right out of the pot and fell onto the floor. So, I stuck it in this bigger pot, and it just keeps growing and producing babies,” she said. 

Another time, when Gail was on business for the sheriff’s department, she went to the Associate Court office in the courthouse where Barbara Stevens was working at the time. 

“They had this huge snake plant - or some people call them mother-in-law’s tongue - but anyway, it was sitting by Barbara’s desk. I was admiring it and told her I’d like to have one of those one day. Well, Barbara just got up, walked over to that plant and snapped a leaf off. She said to go home and put it in water, and it’ll root. That was probably 20 or 25 years ago back when Judge Jacobs first started. It keeps growing and growing and having babies, and it just came from that one leaf Barbara snapped off that day.”

A particularly large cactus plant she grew in the sheriff’s office lobby came from then-Ozark County Deputy Jeff Hand. “He brought it home from Arizona, and into the sheriff’s office. We sat it at the end of my desk under a light. Well, it grew and grew over the years, all the way to the ceiling. Then we cut the top out of it, and I potted it up and gave it to somebody. People would come in all the time and say, ‘Oh, I’d love to have one of those.’ Well, I’d just break a leaf off and give it to them. There’s no telling how many people have a cactus plant from that thing,” Gail said. 

Gail says she’s also relocated some plants and flowers outside including a yellow rose bush that belonged to her mother. “But one time a bunch of my great-great-nieces and nephews, who just little kids, were over playing, and they were outside hunting snakes. Boy, were they serious about that snake hunting. I mean, they were after them. Well, after they left, I looked at the yellow rose bush and saw that all the limbs were broke off. I just looked from the broken bush and then to the sky and said, ‘Mother, if you want it to grow, it’ll grow. But if it’s OK what your grandkids did, so be it.’ Well, it didn’t grow back,” she said, laughing. 

She’s also replanted knockout roses from her church, and three sets of irises from different family members, including a set from her granddaughter Ivy (Roberts) Stricklin who brought Gail a special variety from North Carolina. 


Passing the passion to the next generation

The green thumb runs through other veins in the family too. Gail is currently “plant-sitting” several potted varieties that belong to her granddaughter, Karli Dilts, a 2012 Lutie High School graduate who is currently hiking the more than 1,800-mile Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. Karli left knowing her plants would be in good hands. 

Gail says she doesn’t do anything extra special with her plants other than watering them and providing a fertilizer once every few months. She also shares a bit of her coffee with them occasionally, a habit she picked up from her mom. “That old pothos... well, when mother had her coffee in the morning, she’d always leave a little in the bottom of the cup and let it get cold. Then she’d walk by and pour it in that plant,” she said. “So, now I do that, and they all seem to like it.”

With as many plants as she has, Gail said she can honestly say she’s never paid for a plant. “People give you plants, and you trade plants,” she said. “It’s as much about the people as it is the plants. I like to give people starts of mine too if they want them.”

She did just that last week during the interview for this article, handing over a start from a cactus plant. Before I could say anything, she was quick to tell me that you should never thank a person for giving you a plant. 

“An old woman told me that once, and my grandma used to say it too. They say a plant will die if you say thank you for it. The one time I did thank someone for a plant, it died. So, just take the plant, smile and then one day give a start to someone else down the line.”

That’s just what Gail’s done, following in the footsteps of her mother. And thanks to that generosity, their memory will continue to live on generation after generation - potted up, planted and handed out to those they love.

Ozark County Times

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