A Long-Term Relationship Going Back to the Nursery.
Relationships with nurseries often mirror relationship patterns with people. I have a wide circle of nurseries I am acquainted with. Some I am initially taken in by, then wish I hadn’t been so immediately enamored. Some, glamorous and well accessorized, encourage me to spend beyond my means. Some have appeared to be the answer to my prayers, but aren’t there when I show up for my date the next year. Some are passing acquaintances that I go to every now and again. Others are last resort options, when I have exhausted every other other avenue, and it is down to them or nothing. As one’s garden matures and evolves, the things one sought out earlier on might be irrelevant, and one’s needs change. Fortunately, there are always a few nurseries out there that you can develop solid, long-term relationships with. They may not be intense affairs, but you can always depend on them, and have faith they will be there to provide what you need, even if you don’t see them every week. I have two in particular that I make a point to go to each year (one in spring, the other in fall). I lean on them for advice, value their counsel, and try to support them in turn (albeit by paying for things).
Northern Dutchess Botanical Gardens is my “go to” nursery in the spring. Going there for the first time, it isn’t the easiest place to find. Tucked in the woods off of the Salisbury Turnpike, you have two chances to miss the turn. Recently, they have added several (discrete and tasteful) signs to help you find it.
Thoughts of it being a secret find dissipate when you see that the parking area is often full of customers’ vehicles (having said that, no matter how many people are there, it never feels overcrowded).
Although very attractively landscaped and visually appealing, you can tell this is a working nursery, not simply a retail operation. The plants are grouped in easy to navigate sections - annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, and shade loving plants all have their own specific areas.
The perennials in particular, are laid out in neat rows, alphabetically. What amazes me the most is not how easy the plants are to find, but why more nurseries do not adopt a similar method of display.
Aside from being well laid out, the plant selection itself is interesting and diverse. Not only do they have unusual plants to appeal that advanced gardeners, they have a healthy selection of old standbys, that snobs might consider “pedestrian”, mixed in. It encourages you to think of new combinations of plants, with a huge variety of colors and texture cheek and jowl with each other. Even better than the selection is the incredibly knowledgeable and helpful staff. Asking just the right questions in an efficient manner, they can accurately get a sense of your interest, skill level and experience, and will adjust their recommendations accordingly. I have listened with amazement as they talk to a master gardener customer about a very specific blight, then without skipping a beat turn to advise a novice on how many geraniums they will need for a pot, with an ease and collegiality that encourages both types of customer. They have always steered me in the right, and often new directions.
Even though I only go there two or three times in the spring each year, they recognize me and greet me with a friendly “hello” each time. Since I generally don’t know what I am talking about, they have developed a short hand method of asking me questions, following up in a flow chart style based on my vague answers, to help me out.
A typical exchange can start with my asking,
“ I am looking for some silvery plants I bought here last year for my pots, but I can’t remember their name”
“Do you remember how tall they grew?”
“Not really, maybe between two and four feet?”
“Feathery or stalky foliage?”
“Kind of both. I think”
“Were your pots in the sun or the shade?”
“In the sun! Definitely the sun! In the mornings, that is!”
Incredibly, within 5 questions or less, instead of my deserved smack upside the head for lack of clarity, they can usually actually direct me to the plant I was thinking of. Aside from wanting them as partners should I ever appear as a contestant on The 20,000 Pyramid, they never make me feel foolish, or seem put upon when my initial questions are inevitably vague. In addition, over the years they have encouraged me to take chances on color combinations and try plants for their fragrance. They have gently coaxed me into actually remembering a latin name or two. Without their advice, I would probably never have had the nerve to pinch the tops of my coleus and annuals off to encourages bushier growth, or have caladium happily growing in my shadier containers.
I encourage anyone interested in gardening, who hasn’t already, to take a right onto the Salisbury Turnpike the next time you are driving east on Route 308 out of Rhinebeck. Look for a couple discrete signs telling you to make some lefts, and be ready to embark on a low key, low pressure, longterm relationship (that’s all about plants).