Lack of imagination is what creates limitations for people. We observe this in folks who see cities as mere expanses of concrete and asphalt. These are the ones who have trouble viewing anything as a success if it lacks the structure of the standard suburban shopping mall surrounded by a sea of parking spaces; predictably, this vision, this type of American Dream, is held onto most tightly by those who spend very little time in cities.They are also the ones who are surprised, if not in out-and-out denial, by the news that urban dwellers can garden. Some people have backyards that can compete with most in West Hartford, Wethersfield, or Newington. Others, like myself, have smaller yards. I like to think of mine as comparable to the “fun size” candy bars– enough to satisfy, but not so much that I feel gross when I’m done with it. Some only have windowsills or balconies to work from, though a way around this is to rent space for something like $25 per year in a community garden. At $25, without needing to fork over anything for property tax or water bills, this is a bargain. After establishing what space one will have, the next step is to plan for how it should look and where you will get your plants from. Phase one and two should probably take up most of your time, but if you are new to an area or just new to gardening, you might be just as lost about phase three (phase four, of course, is planting the goods and then maintaining them). Here is a review of some places in the area to obtain materials for the garden/yard/windowsill.
- convenience of location: is this in a residential part of Hartford, another part of Hartford, out of town, on a bus line, or way out in the sticks?
- convenience of hours: does this vendor hold normal business hours, times geared toward morning people, or are they open when the planets are all aligned and the moon is in Venus?
- ambiance: no frills? warehouse? an oasis of inspiration? Is this a place that you would visit to linger, even when not seeking to purchase plants? Is this a destination or a quick stop?
- cost: dirt cheap or do they inflate the price of potting soil?
- the goods: obviously, all the above criteria doesn’t matter if the vendor does not have what you need. Is there a wide variety of plants, or just the standards? Are the plants healthy? What do they have besides plants?
- eco cred: selling plants does not automatically earn a person green cred. Are all or even some plants organically grown? Does this vendor use or sell lawn poison? Do they recycle? Do they use earth-friendly pots?
263 Main Street, Wethersfield. If you are looking for a low budget mini-vacation, it might include a stop here. This is in the lovely old(e) Wethersfield, only a five minute drive from the city line. Here, the sidewalks are set back from the street and “Washington slept here” type plaques are in a few front yards.
The front of the building was lined with plants– tomatoes, blueberry bushes, and herbs, primarily. It does not look like a lot, but upon closer inspection, one sees that this is not just the Simon & Garfunkel herbs. They had ones that are a little less common, like Horseradish, Eucalyptus, and Honesty. About half of their plants were in biodegradable pots, which is a higher than usual percentage at garden centers.
Inside the buildings, though, is where things really get interesting. You are not going to find spinning racks or garden kitsch in here. There are rows and rows of heirloom and non-GMO seeds. If you want white tomatoes, this is the place to find them.
They have more than one variety of tomatillo. Most stores do not bother to carry any. I saw packets of ornamental pepper seeds, okra seeds, and flowers I did not know existed.
The seed and plant prices seemed reasonable to me, but where they must make the money is in sales of other items. There were some gorgeous and expensive seed trays that I was ogling. They had terra cotta herb marker stakes which would have tempted me far more if I had not just gone through the trouble of making a whole slew of signs by hand. There is jewelry and soap for sale, along with some self-watering pots.
There is a large room filled with old pieces of machinery, which fits in nicely with the environment of this area of town. Upstairs, they have antiques for sale.
Something unusual was that I was not offered a tray to carry my plants out, and I liked this. It would have been slightly more convenient, but wasteful to use something for only the few seconds it was going to take me to transport my goods to the trunk of the car. They all seemed friendly enough that something would have been provided if I’d asked, but I’m just assuming given how nobody flinched at me taking photos of everything.
During a recent visit, two employees asked if I needed help, but neither seemed pushy or like I was being watched as a potential shoplifter.
I tend to forget that this place exists because it is rare for me to go to Wethersfield for anything, nevermind to the historic section. Besides the rare varieties and just awesomeness of the store, it has the advantage of being in a lovely, walkable setting so that someone who is not on a tight schedule can make the trip feel worth her while. I’m making it a personal goal to do the Historic Wethersfield museum tour thing this summer, and planning to use that as my excuse to return to Comstock, Ferre & Co. to spend my summer teaching money on antique doilies and heirloom beans.
This is, believe it or not, on a bus line. There’s parking aplenty. I imagine it to be a pleasant bike ride through this area, which would place some limits on how many plants one can drag home with her.
Verdict: Dig it!
Broad Street between Russ and Capitol Avenue. This is not a garden center or nursery; various vendors show up with plants for sale. There are other markets in Hartford, but this one is year round, which means they have a jump on the others as far as making plants available for dirt cheap. The selection is obviously not as great as it would be as a traditional center; if all you want are vegetable plants or some common herbs, this is good enough. I have seen blueberry bushes appear on occasion. This is on a busy street, so there is no hint of natural ambiance other than the community garden, yet there is an atmosphere of culture — live music, food carts, Italian ice, etc. The central location is convenient and it’s on a bus line; there’s also free on-and-off-street parking. The downside is that there are very limited hours: 11-2 on Thursdays only. Because some of the vendors are traveling from towns further away, the eco-cred is a little damaged.
Verdict: A Good Thyme
The Garden Barn: 228 West Street, Vernon. Over the river and through the woods suburbs is where you have to travel to get here, so combine it with other errands, like stopping off at Rein’s Deli or visiting relatives.
They have a pond and gazebo area which have become popular places for local teens to have their prom photos taken, so I hear. Since my blog reader demographics tend to be parents of teens rather than teens themselves, I don’t know how relevant that detail is. Anyway, The Garden Barn has a huge variety of goods, but is especially the place to go for trees, shrubs, and statuary. They have all the basics, from seeds (nothing too exotic) to gloves to watering cans to sheds. There is at least one residential feline. I would like them more if they were all organic, but they are not. They do sell some plants in biodegradable pots. The prices are mid-range, and they try to soften the blow (or entice you to make more purchases) by offering 20% off coupons. This is the place to visit if you have some major landscaping projects, or really, a yard large enough to warrant the purchase of trees.
Take note: This is not a trip for the bus unless you take your bicycle with you. The trip planner feature with CT Transit reported that this would be an approximately one hour, 45 minute bus trip…and that does not even drop off anywhere near the place! For comparison, it only takes 20-30 minutes by car to get there.
Verdict: The travel could be thorny.
Gledhill Nursery: 660 Mountain Road, West Hartford.
Paradise. Seriously, cue the harps. I can not say enough nice things.
When I first visited this center I accidentally used the wrong entrance, but the car I faced head-on was driven by someone kind enough to pull over rather than speed up and cuss me out. My guess is that the driver was just blissed out from her visit.
Although this is on Mountain Road just after the Route 44 intersection, you’d never know it. This is set far back from the road and is in a wooded area. There are a few ponds with fountains, fish, and frogs. There is also a windmill. And an outhouse. And a wooden train. I’m not kidding and that’s not all. The trails through the wooded areas have informative signage. Several bridges span the rushing stream. A model train is set up near the herbs. I can’t imagine somebody not being impressed by the atmosphere of this place.
The employees were all very chill. Nobody followed me around. I wasn’t greeted by five different people asking if I needed help. As someone who likes to be independent 95% of the time, but able to receive help if necessary, I really appreciated this. When I did have a question, I was assisted immediately by a friendly employee.
In my visits, I have felt inspired. They have done creative plantings and seem focused less on the “perfect landscape” than on an enjoyable one. There are statues, gazing balls, and non-standard terra cotta planters. Most of the plants appeared healthy, even on an extremely hot and humid day, when it’d be understandable for them to just lay down and give up.
They have all the standard herbs and flowers, and then some. I think they have the best variety of herbs that I’ve seen locally.
Something that annoys me about some nurseries is that they only have the huge push carts, but nothing smaller. I find those really unmanageable (but if I’m picking up a lot of stuff, then of course, it’s fine) for a typical outing. Here, they have some oversized handheld baskets which makes shopping for just a few plants much more convenient. The prices here are a little steeper, be warned.
In the parking lot, close to the Garden Center, is a giant bin designated for recycling of plastic pots. There were more varieties of plants with biodegradable pots, including a kind I had not seen before. To haul plants to the car, they use cardboard trays instead of those plastic ones.
If I ever go AWOL, check for me here.
You can take the bus to the corner of Albany and Mountain, and walk the remaining 3-5 minutes. I can not remember if there are sidewalks along this stretch of road or if there is a large shoulder.
Verdict: Five hoes up!
Hartford Regional Market: 101 Reserve Road. They are open every day of the week, but hold hours best suited for those who are able to function out in the world early in the morning– 5-9a.m. Every time I attempt to go here, I get lost. It does not matter if I have maps or really good directions. The South Meadows and neighboring Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhoods suck out all sense of direction that I might have. After making something like ten wrong turns, I find the Hartford Regional Market compound, but then have to determine where the entrance is. The signage could be improved for those not driving tractor trailers. Once inside the gates, then the trouble switches to “where can I park?”. There is an actual parking lot, but first, you pass trucks galore, cars parked at random, sometimes directly behind the trucks, and pedestrians darting out between vehicles. If you have not sensed it yet, this is a bit chaotic and is without an inviting atmosphere.What does not help confusion is the restaurant in the middle of the lot. Can anyone park in front, or is this for restaurant patrons only? Frankly, I wanted to drive through a truck stop after this because it would have felt more organized.
The next matter is where to find any of the things one came for. They have very inexpensive goods. Besides plants, they have produce, meats, and more. But on the days I went, I could not find any plants. Maybe during the week is not the time to go. Or maybe 8:30 is too late. Of course, though I can not find the plants, I wind up staring right into a box of chicken feet.
The deals might be worth it, but just as I will not venture to a flea market at the crack of dawn, I will not manage to get to the regional market at that time either, before everything has been picked over.
Verdict: I’d rather be vermicomposting
Knox Parks Foundation: 75 Laurel Street. Rumor has it, you can go into the Laurel Street greenhouse and get plants and seeds throughout most of the year, but there is nothing on their website to substantiate that information. I attempted to make contact with Knox Parks to clarify this and received no response, so for now, the rumor remains just that. They do have an annual plant sale (happened already this year) which is announced and quite popular. The greenhouse is not a long walk from the Park Street or Capitol Avenue bus line and they do have a small parking lot. It’s likely that you would not just stumble upon this place, unless you use Laurel Street as a cut-through from one major thoroughfare to another. The plant selection ranges from predictable (tomatoes, peppers, cukes) to more interesting (chard, blueberries, collards). It’s an unglamorous, no frills setting, and the prices are inexpensive. I have had good luck with plants bought from them. The Knox Parks Foundation does a lot of work to beautify the city, from clean-ups to planting trees; I like knowing that I’m supporting these endeavors.
Verdict: Won’t cost you a mint.
Moscarillo’s Garden Shoppe: 2600 Albany Avenue, West Hartford. While this is very visible from a main route, making it convenient to find, the road is also too visible once in the center. Maybe this does not matter to others, but I’d like my source for natural things to be more of nature. They could install more plant-life to create a border between Route 44 and the garden shoppe. Next to the parking lot is a huge bin where customers can return their emptied plastic pots so that these can be recycled. This is a step more centers should be taking; it doesn’t mean others don’t take back containers, but making it easy for customers to return the plastic pots encourages the behavior more, just like having visible bike racks encourages cyclists to make more trips that way. Right next to this recycling bin is where you can find the plants in natural, biodegradable containers. These tend to be a bit more expensive for some reason; that seems true at all centers. I’ve found Moscarillo’s to be hit-or-miss. Sometimes their plants look really healthy, and then sometimes, they look the way plants appear after I’ve taken them home and put them in the ground. To be fair, when I have bought plants here, all but one have thrived, and the one that didn’t died due to my stupidity and neglect. The selection of annuals is better than perennials, at least for flowers. Inside the shop (shoppe) there are statues, kitsch, tools, gloves, bulbs, etc. Outside, the perennials are apparently arranged in alphabetical order, which strikes me as kind of bizarre, since it is less intuitive than arranging them by type (succulents, herbs, etc.). They keep regular business hours, but are open on the weekends as well.
Verdict: A fine way to prune your wallet.
Patrissi Nursery: 35 Ringgold Street, West Hartford. This shop is easy to access from the Park Road bus line and has very convenient, normal business hours every single day. The shop is smaller and offers very little during the off-season. During Spring and Summer, the outside is packed with herbs, vegetables, and other plants. They seem to have the standard plants, with nothing too exotic. I thought the prices were about average, yet overheard a few employees griping amongst themselves about how expensive the prices were and how they would just be shopping at farmers’ markets for their own plants. Yikes! They are a very cat-friendly center, which wins them some points. Interestingly, they are not part of the Connecticut Garden & Landscape Trail, even though Moscarillo’s and Gledhill in the same town are on it. There wasn’t much atmosphere to this place, nor a huge selection, but it’s still steps above the garden centers inside of big box stores.
Verdict: It’ll do, but nothing to soil yourself about.
Is there anything that did not make this list that should have? Were your experiences different than what is described here?