As the pollen swirls in the air this month, causing either serious allergies or a “hankering” to dig in the dirt, we wanted to visit with one of Mississippi’s favorite gardeners, Norman Winter. (Who has retired since this article was originally published in April 2008). You may remember him from Mississippi Public Radio and local television stations. He is also an author, a columnist in many local newspapers and he tours the state doing guest lectures. But there’s so much more to the friendly Extension Service horticulturist than meets the eye. We hope you enjoy…
I am a testimony that Vacation Bible School is a great tool in reaching children. I accepted the Lord Jesus when I was 9 years attending Vacation Bible School at Southwest Park Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas. Many might be surprised to know I do have a degree in Religion from Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. I had wonderful opportunities as a young adult to serve as youth minister and music director in small country churches in Texas and one summer in Indiana. The past few years I have been truly blessed to be able to attend Crossgates Baptist Church and Pinelake Baptist Church both of which are in Brandon. Both are doing well and are places where God is reaching out and touching lives. I still believe that God is in the miracle business. I see it every Sunday in the changed lives. I see it on the faces of both young and old as they give their testimony and enter in the waters of baptism.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life and your faith?
Without a doubt it has been my Mom. Mom has been a Sunday school teacher her entire life and she made sure all her children were in church every Sunday. As children our paths were pretty straight and narrow. As adults she has been there to direct or guide us back on the road every time we have been headed for the ditch or for that matter got stuck. I’ll also have to say my son James also had a tremendous influence on my life. He probably doesn’t know it. At a time when I wasn’t particularly close to God I remember seeing him on the sonogram before he was born. To see that little heart beating and the legs kicking inside of Jan was like hearing angels singing. It hit me like a ton of bricks how wonderful God is, how precious life was, and what a miracle a baby really is. The past 17 years of my life since his arrival have been truly wonderful.
How has your faith played a role in your success?
I remember when I was young and the Russian Cosmonaut went into space and proudly boasted he couldn’t find God. Well I see God everyday in flowers, trees and shrubs, hummingbirds and butterflies. Take for instance the yellow blooming cup plant. It provides nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds, seeds for the songbirds, and its leaves even trap water so the birds can drink. I can’t imagine working with flowers with the belief that everything happened by chance.
Where does your passion for plants come from?
This may be Divine intervention. As a youth when my father made me dig a hole to plant something it was kind of like torture to me. But after I had my first garden as a young adult and harvested my own vegetables I was forever hooked. Along the way I fell in love with flowers.
Tell us about your work.
I am an Extension Horticulturist for Mississippi State University and as such I am considered part of the faculty of the Plant and Soil Science Department. My office is at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond. I am blessed that the University has given me the opportunity to work with my love of flowers and my past life which I haven’t mentioned, of working with the media. My family owned a newspaper in Texas. I am at home in a newspaper office. So many Mississippi gardeners see me in various newspapers, hear me on the radio or see me on TV touting some great plant. I still can’t believe I get to do that for a living.
What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment?
If you are talking life it would be raising your children and seeing them all accept the Lord and follow in baptism. If you are talking about work then I suppose it might be starting the Mississippi Medallion Award program where we recognize outstanding plants. On the other hand I am pleased with the three books I have written.
Book number four which will be on the subject of flower combinations is at the printer and will be out in 2009.
Tell us about your family and where they live and work today.
My wife Jan is Executive Secretary/Treasurer of the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association which is headquartered in Brandon. I am so fortunate because this allows us time to be together as we work on many joint endeavors such as the Mississippi Garden and Patio Shows as well as several nursery meetings. James, my 17-year old son, is graduating in May and is an accomplished golfer. He will be playing golf at East Mississippi Community College in September. My daughter Kimberly got married last July and is working for the Mississippi Optometric Association located in Madison, her husband John is a Pharmacy Technician for Brandon Discount Drugs. My stepson Jason and his wife Christy just moved to Mississippi from Texas. He is a Fleet Sales Manager for Gray Daniels Ford in Brandon and is wife Christy is self employed.
Do you do volunteer work, church work, or are involved with any local ministries?
Since moving to Mississippi, I had the opportunity to lead the music for a while when we lived in Mt. Olive Mississippi as well as teach Sunday School. I suppose I am going through a period of taking up space on the pew but I am certainly receiving a blessing each Sunday.
Outside of work, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
Of course I like working with flowers at home. But my favorite hobby has been following my son James at golf tournaments each week during the summer.
What are a couple of your favorite books?
Like many Christians I loved the Left Behind series but two absolute musts for everyone are This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti.
What has been the biggest thing you have learned in the connection between God and gardening?
He made everything, the giant sequoias, the flowers with intricate structures, the amazing way the leaves trap sunlight and turn it into food for the plant, the way a little wasp pollinates a fig tree. It is incredible and to think this Designer and Creator loves us so much He came to earth to know us and to die for us so that we may have everlasting life. It is really something.
This story was originally published in the April 2008 edition of North Mississippi Christian Family at NMSCF April 2008 Norman Winter