When Barry Powell lost his job during the pandemic, he had two choices: become a fisherman in the south or a gardener in the Northland.

After some weeks doing the former in his home state of Texas, he found it wasn’t for him anymore. “It cooked me,” he said.

So, Powell used his stimulus and unemployment money to launch Barry Powell’s Nursery in Norton Park.

Barry Powell gives a peak into a green house he built using PVC piping and construction-grade plastic behind his nursery at 7803 Grand Ave. Behind Powell are some of the barrels he uses to collect rainwater to water his plants. “I use over 25 gallons of rainwater a day,” he said. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Barry Powell gives a peak into a green house he built using PVC piping and construction-grade plastic behind his nursery at 7803 Grand Ave. Behind Powell are some of the barrels he uses to collect rainwater to water his plants. “I use over 25 gallons of rainwater a day,” he said. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

He started investing in December, which included cleaning out the cobwebs, polishing the floors and repainting the space at 7803 Grand Ave., so he could open May 1. He set up brand-new stainless steel shelves and LED lights, and today:

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“I’ve got all kinds of goodies here, from tomato plants and spices and a bunch of heirloom vegetables.”

He said his plants are organically grown and organically fed with rainwater via a setup he made on his roof.

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Powell recently planted berries, and he plans to launch a farmers market onsite this summer.

Growing up in Texas, he grew everything from cotton to corn to blue bonnets. He moved here for family a decade ago. “If I didn’t see seagulls and the water, I don’t think I could’ve made it this long,” he recalled.

There were some gardening adjustments and a learning curve when he moved to Duluth, but he has it down pat now.

“I know what grows in Duluth; I know what doesn't. I know how to make it live, and I know how to make it pretty and healthy.”

Powell took some time to answer questions.

Barry Powell holds onto a few plants outside his nursery at 7803 Grand Ave. in Duluth’s Norton Park neighborhood on May 9, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Barry Powell holds onto a few plants outside his nursery at 7803 Grand Ave. in Duluth’s Norton Park neighborhood on May 9, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Q: Tell me about your intro to gardening.

A: I must have been 5 years old or less, and I had to grow a spinach plant in the backyard because of Popeye. I bought seeds and maybe a little garden plot in the backyard. I still remember how green the leaves look, how I was so proud of it.

Q: Tell me about learning to garden in Duluth and in Minnesota.

A: I grew my first garden in Duluth over 10 years ago and learned right away that you got to have a good head start, unique plants that will grow in this climate and a little bit of luck.

Q: What are the differences and similarities to growing goods here and in Texas?

A: In the south, there is no end to the growing season. Things stay green all year, and it's super hot gardening in. Duluth is a challenge. The cold weather is hard to get adjusted to.

Barry Powell points out some of the varieties of tomatoes growing in his greenhouse behind his nursery in Duluth’s Norton Park neighborhood Sunday afternoon, May 9, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Barry Powell points out some of the varieties of tomatoes growing in his greenhouse behind his nursery in Duluth’s Norton Park neighborhood Sunday afternoon, May 9, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Q: What’s the most gratifying plant to grow there, and here?

A: Rosemary is the most gratifying and hardest plant to grow, and they smell wonderful.

Q: Why Norton Park for your nursery?

A: Norton Park is a food desert, and there's not many stores out here. It needed something like this.

Q: What are your biggest sellers?

A: Cherry tomatoes, followed by cucumbers.

Barry Powell stands by one of the greenhouses he built from donated wood and old storm windows behind his nursery in Duluth’s Norton Park neighborhood Sunday afternoon May 9, 2021. “I was an Eagle Scout," he said, "so I think a little differently about things.” (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Barry Powell stands by one of the greenhouses he built from donated wood and old storm windows behind his nursery in Duluth’s Norton Park neighborhood Sunday afternoon May 9, 2021. “I was an Eagle Scout," he said, "so I think a little differently about things.” (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Q: What’s next for Barry Powell's Nursery?

A: Plant everything for the farmers market. Grow flowers in the summer, start preparing more strawberries for next year. Very short supply this year, same with the raspberries and blueberries. I have a permanent tourist attraction here where you can sit and pick berries with the kids.

Q: Tips for new gardeners, new business owners?

A: Be prepared to work. It is not easy, and if you don't know what you’re doing, don't even try. It took many years for me to become a master gardener.

Q: You can (safely) dine with three people, alive or dead. Who are they and why?

A: Jim Powell, Jim Faughn and the James gang; they gave me wisdom. (The James gang was my dad's biker gang in Houston.)

Brandywine Pink tomatoes grown in Barry Powell’s greenhouse in Duluth’s Norton Park neighborhood on May 9, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Brandywine Pink tomatoes grown in Barry Powell’s greenhouse in Duluth’s Norton Park neighborhood on May 9, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Barry Powell's Nursery

218-481-7312

7803 Grand Ave.

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday