Even the young version of Doug Byrd was intrigued by plants. He grew up near Mobile and unlike his peers, enjoyed planting trees and growing gardens.
   While in college he and his wife, Barbara K, opened a nursery, and maintained it after he became a coach-teacher in Pascagoula.
   "It started when we moved to George County and one of my coach buddies who was teaching in Semmes, Ala., came for a visit. Semmes is a giant center for nurseries, so someone there had talked him into the business. When he saw our garden, he said, 'You know you can make a living doing that.'
   That was in 1978. The Byrds opened their nursery and he eventually left teaching to be a full-time nurseryman.
   George County, with more than 50 nurseries, is now Mississippi's leading county for plant growing. The Byrds' nursery is Coach Cedar Creek Farms in the Agricola community. Their 80 greenhouses supply independent garden centers in the Southeast and as far north as St. Louis.
   Katrina hasn't changed the demand for their plants, although the hurricane destroyed 20 of the greenhouses, severely damaged 15 and left none untouched. That is despite the fact the Byrds took the greenhouse coverings off before the storm.
   "We never dreamed the naked structures would blow down," Byrd said. "Friends and family and other nurseries showed up to help and we can't be prouder of our two sons, Bryan and Dan, who have joined the business. Everyone worked weekends, too.
   "We needed to have the greenhouses - watering and heating systems, electricity, gas lines, new coverings that raise and lower- all back for the spring growing season. The ones destroyed are built back and others are in various stages of repairs.
   "The storm was really a blessing in that the ones we built back are the newest technology. But like everyone else we didn't' have enough insurance. We're going to be OK and I'm not going to complain, but it's been a long winter."
- KAT BERGERON