With a mug of coffee in her soil-stained hands and two green thumbs, Sandi Cannon opened her door to blue skies and a cool breeze early Friday morning. She paused and whistled for her pups, Latte and Dolly. They came running, their plump little behinds wiggling — knowing if they were a step slow, they’d miss opening day.
When the doors open for the season at J&S Greenhouse, customers are usually already waiting. The plants and service at the business south of Powell bring in customers from around the area.
“We have customers from as far away as Billings and Casper,” she said.
Opening day is an occasion that Cannon has relished for nearly four decades. The greenhouses are only open from mid April to late June — the favorite time of year for the Cannon family. But this year, the day was going to be tough.
Two individuals who helped to make opening day sweet for many years wouldn’t be with her to share in the tradition. Sandi’s husband, Jim, passed away April 2 and Max, the “greenhouse dog,” died just a couple months earlier. Both losses hit Sandi hard.
Loyal customers paid their respects while checking out with colorful potted plants or flats of tomatoes in tow. There were times she fought back tears in moments alone, but remained tough for the shoppers through the morning. The only girl in a family of seven kids, Sandi has always been one tough lady. “I was just one of the guys,” she said.
A former neighbor knows different, saying “she ruled the roost,” but wishing to remain anonymous, out of respect or fear.
Sandi and Jim raised five sons and a daughter. All the while they fought for everything they had — doing odd jobs and having second careers. Despite the greenhouse business only being open in spring and early summer, it’s a year-round job. Still, Jim was a roughneck in the oil fields and Sandi continues to work with special needs clients.
Everywhere she looks, there are reminders of Jim and Max. Fortunately, she said, the two chocolate-colored, plump pups weren’t about to let her get more than a few steps away. Sandi had bought Latte and Dolly to comfort Jim while he was sick — a replacement for his miniature dachshunds who had died not all that long ago. Now they have become Sandi’s constant companions, smothering her with gentle puppy kisses at every opportunity.
Sandi and Jim had started the business by accident in the early 1980s. They were growing vegetables on their dining room table in an effort to lower the couple’s grocery bill while raising their large family. Jim kindly offered to build a greenhouse for Sandi as they ran out of room.
Soon after, neighbors began asking if the couple would mind doing their seasonal starts. There wasn’t enough room. So Jim built another greenhouse. They continued the cycle until there were a dozen.
Sandi’s favorite space is the Pot House. There she can come out early in the morning to assemble fancy potted plants, from small gift-sized plants to giant, multi-plant pots too heavy for one person to tote without risking injury. Jim had built the fortress of solitude — complete with bathroom facilities — special for Sandi. Moments spent there were “therapeutic and productive,” she said. “It’s my only quiet time. I can come back here and make beautiful things.”
While Sandi spent extra time caring for Jim during his extended illness, she counted on her year-round, full-time employee Della Sheridan. Sheridan is a master gardener, known around the county for doing volunteer gardening and instruction, including at the Powell Community Garden.
During Sheridan’s interview, she surprised Sandi with a brash statement.
“I asked her, ‘What do you hope to get out of this job?’ And she says I’m going to buy the place,” Sandi said with a loud, honest laugh. “That was her first day.”
Now Sheridan is working on making her dream come true. She’s doing intensive gardening and business studies with Sandi in anticipation of taking over. It’s not just about growing plants — the job involves public relations, accounting, education as well as gardening. The two women’s working relationship could soon reverse.
While Sheridan wants to be the boss, Sandi wants to apply for a job at the greenhouse operation as soon as the sale is final. She wants to be close to the customers who treat her like family, the plants she loves and the place she raised her family with Jim.
“I knew when Jim passed and I missed him I could just walk out [to the greenhouses]. He’s everywhere here,” she said, struggling for but a second to stay composed. “This is my life.”