2017-10-04 / News

Midlothian gardener steals the show at State Fair


Martha and Cleveland Lamison stand in front of their prize-winning cockscomb plants. ASH DANIEL Martha and Cleveland Lamison stand in front of their prize-winning cockscomb plants. ASH DANIEL Standing in the horticulture tent at the State Fair of Virginia, Cleveland Lamison is surveying the dozens of awards his plants have won. He couldn’t be prouder.

Lamison grew up the son of a sharecropper in rural Southampton County. Cultivating plants was how his family made their living. Today, the Midlothian resident and retired educator nurtures his garden simply because he enjoys it. But he hasn’t forgotten those roots.

“When I was a little boy, my father gave me a garden plot,” explains the 72-yearold, stationed near a magenta-flowered cockscomb plant of his that won first place last week.

Lamison’s early love of growing vegetables expanded to flowers after he and his wife, Martha, bought their first home in 1976. Lamison and his then-neighbor launched an informal competition to see who could grow the best flowers, and soon marigolds, mums, gladioluses and roses found a home in his former Southside Richmond garden.

Cleveland Lamison holds the tag for his first-place marigolds. ASH DANIEL Cleveland Lamison holds the tag for his first-place marigolds. ASH DANIEL A Chesterfield resident for more than 30 years – he lived in Bon Air before moving to RounTrey in Midlothian in 2008 – Lamison is a master gardener and cultivator of 60 rose varieties alone. His green thumb has garnered him multiple awards, including at this year’s State Fair of Virginia, where he took home seven blue ribbons and 19 other awards. Martha Lamison is also a master gardener, taking home 11 awards, including three blue ribbons at this year’s fair.

Last year, Cleveland won two sweepstakes awards for horticulture, as well as 13 regular awards, seven of which were blue ribbons. This time around, the Lamisons are at the top for a number of categories. His cockscomb took first place; hers won third. On rosemary, they’ve flipped, with Martha’s taking first and his taking third. His marigolds and kale won first place; hers won second. The list goes on.

Though they compete against each other sometimes, the Lamisons say it’s not a point of contention between them. While Cleveland lives for competition, Martha is more concerned about attracting pollinators like butterflies and bees to their garden.

“It’s so much fun to see the butterflies come,” says Martha, whose green thumb started with indoor potted plants. Though there’s overlap, she mostly handles the indoor plants; he’s mostly outside. “We’re interested in the same thing, but we have different reasons.”

Cleveland, a retired vice principal and teacher at Richmond’s Boushall Middle School, says he spends most of his time in the garden.

“Since I’ve retired, I’ve had the time,” Cleveland says, before ticking off the various nurseries he frequents. “They know me at the Great Big Greenhouse, they know me at Strange’s, they know me at Lowe’s, they know me at Home Depot.”

Tammy Kersey, an employee of the Great Big Greenhouse, says Cleveland comes by once or twice a week on average.

“He’s very sweet, he’s very reserved, and he does love plants,” she says. “I always see him at the local farmers market [at the Great Big Greenhouse] every Thursday.”

The Lamisons love roses, and both belong to the Richmond Rose Society and the American Rose Society. Martha’s favorites are yellow rose varieties like Julia Child and Graham Thomas roses. Historically, roses were usually named for royalty, but that changed in the middle of the last century when American growers decided that they’d rather host Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe in their gardens than Queen Victoria. A variety of famous people now have roses named for them, including presidents.

One of Cleveland’s favorite roses is Mr. Lincoln, known for its sturdiness, strong fragrance and ability to climb to 7 feet in height.

“It’s a good representation of Mr. Lincoln,” Cleveland says.

To feed his roses, Cleveland says he often comes up with original “concoctions,” including ones that feature tea, coffee grounds and banana peels.

“If you have roses, you got to feed them every day,” he says. “They’re big eaters.”

Now, Cleveland is readying his garden for fall, acquiring pansies, ornamental cabbages and kale. While his roses might get the most attention, he’s proud of his other plants, too.

“I got some hydrangeas that you just won’t believe,” he says with a smile. ¦

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