Bluebird Nursery: How it all started

August 30, 2018

CLARKSON — Harlan and Shirley Hamernik grew up in the Clarkson area, were classmates and graduated from high school together at age 16 in the early 1950s.

Harlan went on to Hastings College as a pre-theology student and Shirley went to Wayne State College to study medical technology.

He was considering whether to join the Presbyterian ministry but dropped out of college his junior year.

Shirley went on to Lincoln, attending med tech training. Harlan then moved to Lincoln, worked at the Lincoln Air Base and joined the Air Guard.

He also was interested in newspapers and was considering returning to Clarkson to run the Colfax County Press. This was the era of Linotype, so he and Shirley moved to Charles City, Iowa, where Harlan attended school to learn the trade.

Shirley accompanied him, working at a clinic while there. The Linotype school operated 24 hours. During the night, Harlan went to school, and during the day he worked for Riverside Greenhouse in Charles City.

Shirley said it was in Charles City that Harlan’s interest in horticulture grew.

“When he was there, he really got the bug,” Shirley said. “He had been involved in ag in high school and his parent were great gardeners.”

His ag teacher encouraged his students to consider things other than production agriculture, such as bee keeping and horticulture.

Nevertheless, Harlan still figured he’d run his hometown newspaper. But when he finished Linotype school, he found out the local paper had been sold to another couple, so he did an assortment of jobs in Clarkson.

Then he learned about a 40-year-old greenhouse that was being sold in Lincoln. So the couple borrowed the money and bought it.

Harlan and Shirley, who was pregnant at the time, tore it down and reconstructed it in Clarkson.

“We were green,” she said, “but we found people who were willing to share and help us in any way they could.”

That included when they opened their first garden center, now galled Gardenland. Mort Cooper of Plumfield Nurseries in Fremont brought a truck load of junipers to add to their inventory and said, “Pay me when you can.”

There were many greenhouses and nurseries in the 1950s to 1970s, including at least three on Victory Road in Norfolk, and others in Albion, Madison and Columbus. Many towns had at least one.

The Hamerniks said over the years, they have tried to repay the kindness and help others as well.

“We didn’t consider ourselves competitors in those days,” Shirley said. “If we had something extra, we shared it, too. You couldn’t hardly start a business like that these days.”

Harlan did a lot of plant breeding over the years. He was always interested in finding hardy plants that average people could grow, but he didn’t care much about promoting his own work.

That included developing a hardy strain of dwarf orchid iris. It features extra large flowers that grow in a mixture of colors.

Hamernik grew thousands and thousands of seedlings. Then with the help of employees, including Rod Ackerman, who is originally from Norfolk, and Sherilynn Hawkins, they selected the best of those seedlings.

Over years, they developed about an 18-inch plant with colors more intense and concentrated in what is now called the Pardancanda Dazzler series. Like the other thousands of plants, it is offered for sale at Bluebird Nursery.

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