Submitted by Jody Rice
Hey, it’s Jody Rice again. I’m happy to be back with you in This is Reno, sharing stories of Reno’s past! No, Karl hasn’t been hit with the virus, nor has he “lost a step.” He is just making room for you to hear stories from others and to continue the work he has done and is still doing, fortunate for us.
It is easy to be entranced by a 1955 black and white image of a lone woman bearing a bouquet awash in a glorious field of grandiose gladioli.
Almost engulfed by the sea of flowers, the figure identified as Dot Brown, feasts her eyes upon what we can imagine is a profusion of color and varieties of gladioli. Sweeping rows of red, lavender, orange, yellow, maroon, golden and amalgamations thereof once greeted travelers between Reno and Carson City.
The year 1954 proved to be especially spectacular with 75,000 bulbs planted in the 6- ½ acres bloomed into nearly 500,000 soaring flowers. What a site the Washoe Gladiolus Farm must have been amid the Truckee Meadows flush with sagebrush and towering cottonwoods! Now, mid-April, would be the planting season; each bulb cultivated by hand and with special care not to mix colors.
Bob Ginocchio, whose father, William, and uncle, John, leased the land to farm owners Jack and Ruth Sutherland, said the process was laborious and painstaking. To dig the bulbs up come fall, the entire neighborhood was employed. It sounds as if Ms. Brown was one of the lucky few to walk the gardens.
“Nobody got into the fields,” said Ginocchio, 83, and still lives on Foothill Road a short distance for his family’s former homestead and the gladioli farm. “They mostly just bought the flowers at Jack’s house where he had a stand (on the east side Holcomb Ranch Road and Virginia Street).”
Many made the trip between the Biggest Little City and the state’s capital city to buy flowers for meetings, luncheons or special occasions such as weddings. The Sutherlands often donated flowers for fashion shows, fundraisers and gave talks on the best growing practices for the Truckee Meadows.
Susan McCormick, a descendent of the Holcomb family lives here in Reno and credits her love of color to her 1950s childhood visits to the gladiolus farm, opened in 1945. She likened the experience to the tulip fields in Washington or the Netherlands.
“It is one of my fondest memories,” said McCormick, 72, an artist and retired special education teacher now living in Fallon. “To this day, it is a necessity to have flowers in my house. It’s something I have carried with me my whole life.”
For eleven years, the Sutherlands toiled the soil. First located in Washoe City but two years later moved to south Reno for better access to water. The gardens where Brown stands amid thousands of gladioli was leased acreage on the west side of the road between South Hills Drive and the deteriorating ranch buildings just south of Foothill Road. Today a large pile of hay marks the site.
Thanks to author and master researcher Joyce Cox and the Nevada Department of Transportation we share this photo of Ms. Brown. While there are some leads as to who she may be, her whereabouts elude me. But, I’m open to hear from those who may know more!
While McCormick was glad that she had the good fortune to stroll the fields, her memories surround the small, 4×6 foot root cellar with French garden buckets filled with enchanting varieties. Nevertheless, it was more than enough to make a lasting impression.
“I can still close my eyes and see it,” said McCormick, who frequented the farm with her mother to buy fresh flowers for tea parties, meetings and special occasions. “I remember being five years old and being allowed to pick a dozen. I thought they had it just for me.”
In the early 1950s, the Sutherlands sold a dozen stems for a mere $1. Today one stalk runs about $4. The venture was financed by selling the bulbs through a San Francisco-based wholesaler, with contacts as distant as Florida. First, though, it was a labor of love and artistry, according to a Reno Evening Gazette Sept. 16, 1954 article quoting Ruth Sutherland.
“Many stopped by back then and asked us why we were raising garlic, since the young glads do look like garlic plants,” laughed Mrs. Sutherland; “Perhaps we could make more money by raising garlic but the satisfaction wouldn’t be as great.”
Local historian Jerry Fenwick, whose family owned an art supply store in downtown Reno for decades, remembers at age 16 driving his 1947 Dodge Sedan to the farm so his then-girlfriend could buy flowers for her parents.
Only six year before, he had moved from lush California. Passing by the farm on the way to restaurants like the Mesa, later the Lancer, or the Christmas Tree was a welcome relief from the dry, barren Reno climate he had yet to appreciate.
“It was striking when you drove up when they were in full bloom,” said Fenwick, 83. “Man, those gladiolas grew like crazy.”
Ruth Sutherland, 78, died in 1976, 21 years before her husband Jack, who was also a carpenter by trade. The couple founded the Merry Mixers square dance club of Reno.
And that’s 30 for this Sunday morning in This is Reno! As Karl would say, stay safe out there, huh? (Gotta keep him happy, I guess…)
From Karl: Jody Rice is a Reno lass who grew up with my sons, learned to write good at Swope Middle School, then Reno High and the University of Nevada Journalism College. She’s been writing around our hamlet for years and I’m pleased to have her join me for an occasional foray into local history!
Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally.
Read more from Karl Breckenridge
Karl’s pal Jody shares the rich history of bootlegging, decorating, and engineering within the confines of the Truckee River’s banks and its picturesque islands.