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Gardening with grandkids: Couple inspires gardening love in next generation

FRANKLIN LIVING— “I just do it because I like it.” With that simple statement, Jimmy Poss encompasses his feelings about his luscious backyard garden, where he grows cucumbers, peppers, squash, okra, corn and tomatoes.

Poss and wife Billie Sue, of Russellville, don’t grow their produce for the farmers market or a roadside stand, instead choosing to share it freely with friends and neighbors. “My enjoyment is giving it to people,” Jimmy explained. In addition to yielding delicious fresh vegetables, gardening also does something else for the Possess: gives them a special way to connect with their grandchildren.

Jimmy said although he has a family heritage of gardening, his family didn’t plant much when he was young. Lifelong natives of Russellville, Jimmy graduated from Russellville High School in 1961, and Billie Sue graduated in 1959.

“His daddy always had a garden,” noted Billie Sue, though as Jimmy recalls, “When we were growing up, he didn’t have time, a whole lot, for it. He was a carpenter, and he was feeding six mouths.”

The 80-year-old couple has one son, Jim, and he and wife Carmen have the Posses’ four grandchildren: Jayna, 18, Javan, 15, Asher, 10, and Kingzlee, 8 – the younger three of whom have been dedicated gardening helpers since toddlerhood.

“We just like to help him out and help pick everything,” explained Asher. Kingzlee feels the same, often reminding Papaw not to start harvesting until she’s around to help. “Usually I like to pick the grape tomatoes he grows,” she said. “The okra can be hard to pick with your hands, but the squash is pretty easy and the peppers. Everything else is pretty easy to pick with your hands, besides the cucumbers.”

“The big tomatoes, they’re probably one of the hardest things to pick with your hands,” Asher added. “They’re real tough and the vines are pretty thick … You slowly pull it harder and harder, and it will just pop out.”

Of course, the best part might be eating the fruits of their labor. Kingzlee said her favorite is squash and okra, fried up by Granny Billie Sue. Javan also enjoys Granny’s fried squash and okra, and Asher’s favorite is a juicy slice of salted tomato.

Papaw Jimmy said he loves having his grandchildren’s help as he grows and picks his yearly garden. “Oh, I enjoy it,” he said. “I look forward to them coming and helping me out and keeping me straight.”

Garden planning begins around good Friday each year – any earlier and the plants are too threatened by spring frosts and chills. Jimmy buys tomato plants from the RHS Agriculture Department and saved seed of other plants from one year to the next. In addition to his regular crops, he also nurtures pecan trees and muscadine vines.

Tilling and fertilizing precede planting, and an electric fence protects the small garden from deer and other critters. The squash or tomatoes are usually ready earliest, and harvesting continues through August or September – although sometimes the Posses have continued to enjoy fresh tomatoes all the way through to Christmas, green tomatoes ripening in the basement.

“I think the biggest enjoyment he gets out of it is sharing with others,” Billie Sue said. He’s never given a thought to selling what he grows. “That’s not why I raise it,” Jimmy said. “He’d rather give it to them,” Billie Sue added.

The garden fills about a 30-to-50-foot space in the backyard. “It’s just a small garden,” Jimmy said. “It’s enough for me though.” “And me!” Kingzlee added.

“I just enjoy it. You don’t worry about the time it takes or anything else,” added Jimmy, who has had more time for the garden since retiring from commercial construction in his 60s. Billie Sue is retired from the Franklin County Schools system, where she taught business education for nearly four decades.

Son Jim is pastor at Branches Church in Russellville, where the whole family attends, and works with Neil Willis at Artistic Jewelry. Carmen teaches at Russellville Middle School.

In addition to gardening, the Poss grandchildren stay busy with sports and other activities. Javan and Asher play football and basketball, and Kingzlee plays soccer and does gymnastics. Asher also plays baseball and enjoys math, history and robotics; Javan plays tennis, hunts, plays piano and enjoys math, science and singing in the show choir, and he keeps the yard cut at Granny and Papaw’s; and Kingzlee likes reading and learning about wildlife, like snakes and beetles. Big sister Jayna plays soccer, basketball and volleyball and sings with the church praise team.

Jimmy has some simple advice for anyone who is thinking about starting their own garden: “If they don’t like to work, leave it alone.”

“He really has worked hard,” Billie Sue said. “Every other day finds him the garden.”

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