Profile: Joy Logee Martin

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Joy Logee Martin, here surrounded by flowers in one of her greenhouses, has spent a lifetime with horticulture. Her love of herbs and flowers is her family’s legacy.
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With practiced motions, Joy’s hands quickly shape a Victorian-style nosegay.

Joy Logee Martin is the anchor of Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, ­Connecticut. Horticulturist, grower, and artist, Joy has been working in the greenhouse since she was old enough to walk. She is a founding member of the American Begonia Society, secretary and horticulture chairwoman of the New England Herb Society, and a fifty-eight-year member of The Herb Society of America. Her plant collections include species from all over the world, and she has developed many new varieties herself. I ­visited her at the family greenhouses.

“My father was a Victorian,” Joy Logee Martin said. Wil­liam Logee did not have the industrialist’s flare of his father, a Rhode Island investor and inventor. Instead, the young man took after the generations of farmers in his ancestry. “He loved roses,” his daughter recalled. “He wanted to be a rose grower.” When he was eighteen years old, his father sent him to Boston so that he could learn from the best growers in the region. The year was 1888.

In 1892, young Logee returned to his native Danielson, Connecticut, and married the girl next door, Ida James. That same year, they opened a greenhouse and flower shop and started what was to become a large family. “My mother was a botanist,” Joy said. “She took us to the woods and fields, where we gathered herbs. She used herbs in the home for colds and coughs, childhood illnesses. My father gathered elder flowers in June and dried them in the attic on a blanket chest. If he had any illness, he drank elder-flower tea until he was well.”

By the time Joy was six years old, she was already helping in the family business. She could stem the cut flowers and put them on picks with wires. As she grew, she learned about the bounty of nature, not just from her parents, but also from her brothers and sisters. When Ernest, the eldest of the Logee children, put his thumbs between his teeth and gave a shrill whistle, the younger ones would come running because they knew that he had found a blueberry bush. “He knew all the swamps in the area,” Joy said. “We’d pick all day, and he helped me can them into the night. One night, we put up sixty quarts.”

Flower Passion

Ernest loved his father’s greenhouse, and when he took an interest in the florist trade, the business took off. In 1922, when Joy was eleven, the family rebuilt and expanded the original greenhouse, adding an office and more growing space.

Her mother died when Joy was young, but the family pulled closer together and continued their work with flowers. Joy was fascinated with plants. “I would comb the catalogs with my father. He said I could buy any seed I wanted. I had a deep interest in plants and their botanical names and history. I studied those catalogs for hours on end,” she recalled.

As the children grew, many of them showed the same talent in horticulture and botany as their parents. All started in the greenhouse in Danielson, and some eventually moved away to pursue other horticulture careers. Ernest, Archie, Joy, Mary Ellen, Richard, and Roger worked together through the lean years of the Depression, growing cut flowers and making floral arrangements.

“My brothers Archie and Richard were the salesmen,” Joy explained. “Ernest and I did the arranging. By the time I was sixteen, my father was more or less retired, and my brothers were running the greenhouse. Archie had a regular route. They called him ‘The Traveling Florist’,” she recalled. “Ernest and I made up little bouquets, and Archie would deliver them to the well-to-do in Providence, Hartford, and New London.” Each day, Archie loaded his Model T with boxes of flower arrangements for parlor tables in the cities. Each bouquet was tied with a piece of raffia to hold its shape. All milady had to do was take it out of the box and drop it in a vase.

The Logees grew whole arbors of red Double English nasturtiums. “We put the nasturtium leaves around the edge of the bouquet, and the flat faces of the flowers looked right up at you,” Joy said, smiling. “We also did bouquets of violets, sweet peas, and pansies. Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day were all florist days. Memorial Day was our big time. Back then, they used real flowers for Memorial Day. These were days to work toward.”

Scents and Sensibilities

During the 1930s, the creative potential of the family soared. Ernest began the begonia series that made the Logee name famous among horticulturists, and Joy was about to launch a half-century affair with scented geraniums. It was, as it is still, the fragrances that intrigued her.

“My interest in scented geraniums began with my father’s greenhouse. He had twelve varieties. I became entranced with them, until I had collected ninety varieties. I got seeds from England and exchanged with the people at the New York Botanical Garden and with friends,” she said.

“In 1938, I exhibited scented geraniums and begonias at the New En­gland Spring Flower Show in Boston. Because geraniums are so light sensitive, they had given us a skylight location, and I had bushel baskets of plants. Well, that show lasted six days, and by the end they looked so poor and pinched to death, I wanted to dump them. But my brother Ernest couldn’t bear to throw anything out, so we took them back to the greenhouse.

“They perked right up,” Joy continued. “For the first time in my life, I saw flowers. The bees did their work, and then there were seedlings. When they grew, I selected two varieties that seemed interestingly different. They were named by friends. One is Pelargonium logeei, commonly called Old Spice. The other is the peppermint-scented Joy Lucille.”

For many reasons, 1938 was a good year. That was the year that Thomas H. Everett of the New York Botanical Garden visited the Logee greenhouse. “He was my mentor, an enthusiastic plantsman,” Joy said, remembering him warmly. “He was a great friend. We often talked with him about our plants. We contributed to their collection and they to ours, mainly begonias.” The friendship endured for fifty years.

It was at the 1938 Boston flower show that Joy met herb enthusiast Helen Noyes Webster, who sponsored the younger woman’s membership in The Herb Society of America. Joy is proud of her service in the HSA. “I’ve been a member for over fifty years,” she said. She was the HSA’s horticulture chairwoman, and she inaugurated the Seed Resource List, which generates income that supports the National Herb Garden in the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

Apart from her professional contributions, Joy discovered great pleasure in yet another world of plants. “Herbs became my happiness,” she said. “I designed and planted an herb garden in a wagon wheel, suggested by Mrs. Webster. The wheel is long gone, though the hub remains, and so does the garden. It is my dooryard garden today.”

Throughout the war years, the greenhouse was shorthanded. Archie and Roger had gone to war. Because no planes were available to fly traditional cut flowers from Florida and California to northern markets, demand was high, and the Logees found new market opportunities opening up. Again they adapted, and with fewer hands to help, the business shifted to meet the times. They published a small mimeographed sheet for mail-order customers–the beginning of what has become a thriving mail-order business. Ernest produced begonia seeds for sale through the American Begonia Society, and Joy offered a select list of scented geraniums in horticultural and gardening magazines.

In 1950, Joy visited an herb garden in Rhode Island, where she met the garden’s superintendent, Ernest Martin. “Everyone loved Ernest Martin,” she said. “He was a man of the soil, a true plantsman, head to toe.” Joy married Ernest that year, and the not-so-young couple started their family right away. Their first son, Geoffrey, was born in 1951, followed a year later by Byron.

On To Potted Plants

In 1950, Ernest Logee died, but his begonias shaped the second half century of the family business, which had long since veered away from William Logee’s cut-roses plan; the younger generation now concentrated on potted plants and eventually phased out the cut flowers altogether. After seeing a pink double wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens) brought in from Sweden by another grower, Ernest had begun hybridizing his own, the first being a dark-leaved double. He created eighteen varieties in all, naming them after such nursery-rhyme and fairy-tale characters as the Pied Piper, Bo Peep, and Goldilocks. The potted-plant business was an exciting new arena for the Logee family.

After Ernest Logee’s death, Joy’s husband, Ernest Martin, continued the hybridizing that his brother-in-law had begun, but he also contributed his own passion for plants and artistry to the business. “He was a photographer, a horticulturist, a naturalist,” she said. “He could make anything.”

Ernest Martin took all the photographs for the early catalogs, including a picture on the cover of the first one of a market basket full of flowering maple (Abutilon sp.) blossoms that Joy had arranged. The favorite plant of Victorian parlors, they bloomed all year on long stems, and Ernest treated the bell-shaped blossoms as cut flowers. Starting with just three varieties, which produced pink, yellow, and white flowers, Ernest hybridized them to extend the range of colors, the result being the many members of the Belle series. Over the years, the Logee’s Greenhouses catalog has changed to meet the times and tastes, but Joy picked up a recent catalog and pointed to the lead photograph: it was Ernest Martin’s photo of the flowering maple market basket, a timeless image.

Ernest Martin saw the future of the mail-order business, and he built it tirelessly for twenty years. He raised the plants and devised the shipping system, and Joy collected orders, prepared them for shipping, acted as secretary, and kept the books. The couple worked different shifts so that one of them was always at home for the boys. As the business grew, it attracted horticulturists from around the world as clients. Joy also gave many lectures to garden groups and traveled, attending annual meetings of The Herb Society of America and the American Begonia Society.

Joy and Ernest had twenty-one years together. Then, in 1971, Ernest Martin died.

The Next Generation

The sons, Byron and Geoffrey, were of college age when their father died. Geoffrey took time off from college and came home. Byron was traveling with a friend, making his living as a migrant farmworker. After a year, he came home as well. “He came into the kitchen,” Joy said, “and laid his backpack on the floor. ‘I’m home, and I’m staying,’ Byron said. ‘I want to work in the business.’ “

Geoffrey is now a mathematical physicist as well as being a skilled plantsman. His wife, Tovah, is a well-known garden writer and Logee’s horticulturist. Byron manages Logee’s Greenhouses (there are now thirteen greenhouses), and his orchids are showstoppers. They arch downward, elegant, exquisitely colored, even more beautiful than the canopy of bougainvillea that reaches across the ceiling of the main greenhouse, more stunning than the 100-year-old kumquat tree.

Each generation, each individual, has brought some special interest to the business. Joy’s is still the scented geraniums. She grows a hundred varieties, including the ones that bear her name. Byron has traveled to Costa Rica with the Fern Society of America to collect ferns and begonias, and he collected 200 of the 2000 species of tropical houseplants growing in the greenhouses that his grandfather started. “His father would be so proud of him,” Joy said wistfully as she tended to a plant in need of water.

A source of pride for the family is a project on which the two brothers collaborated, along with their uncle, Joy’s brother Richard. When Byron wanted a solar greenhouse, Geoffrey did the research to determine what kind of rock they would need for the base and how much would be required to absorb sufficient heat from the sun’s rays. After long hours on the project, he announced: “Mom, it’s going to work. And it will go to twenty degrees or below before you have to turn the heat on.” He laid before her the specifications for the 80-by-30-foot solar greenhouse, which the brothers then built themselves, using 170 tons of Connecticut river rock for the base. It is the largest commercial solar greenhouse in the United States.

Raised in the Victorian traditions of her father, Joy Logee Martin’s own contributions to horticulture will last into the next century. She has hybridized her life with the work of her hands, taking joy and a generous spirit from herbs, begonias, violets, scented geraniums, and all manner of fragrance plants.

“Just look,” she said, gesturing toward the herb garden. “I met my husband in an herb garden. When Geoffrey met Tovah, she was a student at Antioch College, and she came here to study herbs. Yes,” she nodded, “herbs brought us happiness.”

Sue Brander, part owner of an art gallery and gift shop in eastern Connecticut, has been growing herbs for thirty-five years. She uses her gardens to lure visitors into the gallery. She also makes herb wreaths and bouquets that she donates to nonprofit organizations for fund-raising.

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