Rusty E. Allen coordinates educational programs at North Haven Gardens to answer that question — and many more


Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

Great-Spaces-logoWanna grow your own vegetables in the backyard? Maybe some herbs? Or perhaps you’re aiming to win the coveted “Yard of the Month” honors in your neighborhood?

Whatever your goal, said Rusty E.  Allen, North Haven Gardens has not only the supplies and the plants you need, but the information as well.

Allen is now in his third year as the education and outreach coordinator for North Haven Gardens, an independent garden center that has been situated on Northaven Road, just west of Central Expressway, since 1951. It’s his job to create and coordinate the classes and workshops that NHG’s customers need to get the results they want, and to coordinate training for the garden center’s staff.

Allen is also NHG’s first education and outreach coordinator. The position was created, he explained, specifically to “allow us to develop programs here according to the needs of our customers. That’s our number-one goal — to have our customers be successful in whatever it is they want to do.”

North Haven Gardens holds four major events a year — spring open house, summer open house, fall open house and holiday open house — each tied to a different season and each with its own theme, Allen said. The spring open house begins today (Friday, April 22) and runs through Sunday, April 24.

Allen said each open house is usually themed around plants that are either grown or harvested in that season. For instance, for the spring open house this week, the garden center is celebrating Herb Weekend, with special prices of certain herb plans and classes presented throughout the day on Saturday.

Saturday, April 23, starts at 9:30 a.m. with a class on “What to do with the herbs you grow” presented by The Herb Society of America, followed by a tour of North Haven’s herb sections led by Allen, a workshop on herbal oils, a second workshop on healing herbs and species and a second tour of the herb sections. The day ends with a class on Creating International Herbal Tastes, presented by Greater Dallas Organic Garden Club.

There is a difference, Allen noted, between the “classes” and the “workshops” offered at North Haven. Classes are usually free, whereas workshops involve a fee. The essential oils workshop is $30, and the healing herbs and spices workshop is $40.

The reason “workshops” involve a fee, he explained, is that workshops last longer, are more “hands-on,” have special instructors and require supplies, the costs of which are covered by the fees. Workshop participants also receive a “certificate of completion” and a $10 gift certificate they can use toward purchases at North Haven.

Saturday’s schedule also highlights another advantage of North Haven’s programming: A variety of instructors lead the classes and workshops. While Allen leads many of the classes, he said that experts on various topics are often brought in to lead classes and workshops. North Haven’s cooperation with local gardening organizations helps guarantee that diversity and the quality of the instructors.

Allen said that the North Haven classroom and other facilities are available to rent for club meetings and events. And often, when one of the clubs is planning a special program or bringing in a special speaker or instructor, those meetings are opened up to the public.

“All of that together helps us offer a very well-rounded program,” Allen said. And the program doesn’t just end with the usual types of gardening programs. “We are expanding our offerings,” he said.

North Haven Gardens wants to be “a hub for gardening and everything related to gardening,” Allen said. “Everything related to gardening,” he continued, means the inspiration that individuals can draw from gardens and gardening in art of all kinds.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Allen said, North Haven opened The Gallery at NHG, which features photography, painting, sculpture and more, all focused on gardens and plants. At the first of March, he added, the garden center opened The Café at NHG. All of it, he said, is intended to draw customers into the garden center, entice them to stay longer, enhance their appreciation for gardens and gardening and entice them to improve and enhance their own spaces.

The café and the gallery have also prompted Allen to broaden the spectrum of classes and workshops even further: on May 7 NHG offers a Painting the Garden Workshop focusing on hydrangeas, and then on May 14, there is a Photography in the Garden workshop.

While a large part of Allen’s job is to improve and enlarge the garden center’s educational programs for its customers, he is also tasked with overseeing ongoing training for its staff.

“I’m still a garden advisor here. That’s what we call our customer service people — garden advisors, and I am available to assist customers,” Allen said. “One of the things we pride ourselves on at North Haven is having a knowledgeable and experienced staff. We are all gardeners here, and we all have a passion for gardening, for growing plants and for helping others reach their gardening goals. That’s our number one goal.”

For information and the full schedule of classes and workshops at North Haven Gardens, visit and look for the Garden Education tab. Contact Rusty E. Allen at the garden center, 214-363-5316, for information on renting facilities at North Haven for classes, meetings or other special events.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 22, 2016.