James Price has a gift, and he goes from garden to garden sharing it. He cares for roses and, from the looks of them, they care for James.
When he was a baby, his daddy gave him some gardening tools. Every day when his daddy got home from work, he and James went to the garden.
“I’d follow him around in my diapers with my shovel,” James says, “then he’d take me down the street for an ice cream.”
As a kid he was called “Lake of Water." “You could look at me the wrong way and I’d cry,” James says with a laugh, “but once I got over crying and started smiling, I got a new nickname, ‘Sonny.’"
“Smiling DOES make the world a better place,” he says, beaming.
Indeed. So do the roses James grows.
When he finished high school in 1970, his cousin was drafted into the Army. His cousin’s last name was Henry, and James figured, “being a P,” he was next in line. So to avoid being drafted, too, James joined the Air Force.
After basic training he was sent to Okinawa. Two years later, to Great Falls, Mont., then to Guam, essentially doing the same thing – getting bombs ready for deployment.
In 1974, James was sent back to Montana where the Air Force re-trained him to be a mechanic. “But I couldn’t stand to get dirt under my fingernails,” James told me. “I’ll finish the training,” he thought, “but I’m not doing THIS for a living."
In April of that year as the Vietnam conflict was winding down, he was given a three-month early release and an Honorable Discharge and returned home to Dallas.
The following years were a mix of college, a move to California and loss for James. While living in California, his mother became ill, so James returned to Dallas where, sadly, she died a few months later. After his daddy died a few years later, James got a phone call from his two sisters in Houston encouraging him to come on down. The idea sounded pretty good to him so he did, landing a job with Schepps Dairy. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday he drove an 18-wheeler to Dallas; every Thursday, to Beaumont. But here’s when roses came in the picture.
While living with his sisters, there was a 6-by-9-foot picture hanging on his wall of a big yellow rose that James remembers, “had big dew drops on it." “That’s when I started liking yellow,” he says. “I haven’t seen nothin’ in yellow I didn’t like yet.”
In 1988, through the Houston Job Partnership Program, James got an interview with Julia Thompson, whose company, “English Thatch,” sold imported bird houses from England. She hired James immediately, putting him in charge of shipping. Four years later, when brothers Lance and Gregg Thompson (Julia’s sons) opened Thompson + Hanson Landscape Architects and Contractors, they asked James to join their team. Good call.
After going through the T&H training program, James was put with the spray technician so he could learn about roses.
“I got stuck a lot,” he says, “but watching those roses grow as big as your hand – being there watching them open up – it’s fascinating.”
There’s another part though, “very rewarding” to James.
“I’m growing these roses and the people are coming out of their houses saying, ‘Oh, these roses are so beautiful,’ and I thought, ‘Yep, I think I’ve found my niche.’”
Rewarding to James, remarkable to us. The way he moves through a rose bed seems similar to how a cellist might play something mellow…a weaver work a loom…a doctor over surgery. Professions that require knowledge, handwork, instinct, sense of connection and passion to learn – all actively engaged simultaneously. In the truest sense, a labor of love. The results are as fragrant as they are beautiful.
One might assume that James is happiest in a rose garden. Not quite. It’s time shared with Debra, his wife, that “are the happiest years of my life,” he told me. And he knew she was the one the moment they met. “I saw that beautiful smile…she lit up like a bright light. I looked at her and thought, ‘Oh, yea.’ A match meant to be? Surely. Debra has a nickname, too: “Sunshine.”
When I asked James if he had a favorite rose, his answer came swift and sure. “Sunburst” or “Peter Fonda,” he says. “They glow in the dark they’re so bright. It’s like a ‘hot pink yellow.’”
Retirement? James isn’t looking for it. He told the folks at Thompson + Hanson, “You’ll find me dead in a rose bed…peacefully.”