Friday, October 26, 2007

Hooked on Plants

Who doesn't remember Red Hook when it was a bit sleepier, especially on weekends. Before Fairway, I used to have a studio on Beard Street. Alas, the prices rose and now I am adrift. But what's this, a virtual renaissance of Red Hook's empty lots. Nurseries you say, three?! Maybe for its empty lots, maybe for its new found vehicular traffic on weekends, but there it is-three plant and garden centers in Red Hook. Three?! That is unusual. I guess we need to call it a district now.

I have not been to the Gowanus Nursery since its inception on 3rd. I haven't been to Chelsea Garden Center since it was only in Chelsea. Liberty Sunset, well that's just too new, but I think I was staring at its plastic sheeted greenhouse for at least a couple of years. What I do realize is the dependence on cars to get to these establishments (B77, B71, and B61 buses go to the neighborhood).

Do you know one of those people who will drive all around town to save three cents on gas? Don't drive out of town for plants unless that's what its all about-the drive out of town, nice day in the country (or on the L.I.E.). As for price differences in Red Hook, I say the nurseries are close enough to each other to shop around. But really, what do you think a flat of annuals should cost in NYC? Let me tell you about 4.99 a gallon perennials I buy in Maine when I drop in. And prices are going up, for us and the retailer-the price of fuel alone is driving up the price of everything.

I expect that if each of these nurseries has a specific identity, they all may last. Specialize, have good service. Keep your plants watered. Twenty bucks for a flat of annuals isn't so bad. Twenty bucks ain't what it used to be. The souls who work out in the rurals, those folks who put seeds into flats in humid greenhouses need to make their dollar too. This is NEW YORK CITY! I expect twenty dollar flats to be near the bottom! When I was 19 I worked at Frank's Nursery & Crafts. We sold flats of annuals for 7.99-11.99. This was in 1989. What has happened to the price of everything in 18 years? How much is the real estate you garden on worth? This isn't the suburbs either, where you may have a 1/4 acre to fill with your annual mash up. The lots are small, no doubt not filled with annual starts. In places like NYC small things cost more than big things elsewhere. Either way, I don't hesitate to say, if you want the cheapest annuals, try the big chains.

I do gauge a nursery's prices, but not on a flat of disposable annuals-a luxury product. I gauge them on the price of a half or full gallon perennial and with the knowledge that some perennials will cost more than others, even if all in the same sized pot. I do this with the understanding that year after year, this plant will be with me, and divisible. Suddenly, that 14.99 dollar gallon seems on low side, 12.99 a downright bargain. I'd say that 12.99 is the minimum we may find locally. I suspect, too, that the price of the gallon is relative to the attention paid to it while it at the nursery.

An example: Hick's Nursery and Martin Viette Nursery. Both out on Long Island, about an hour's drive. Viette is on Route 25A in East Norwich. Hick's is on Route 25 in Westbury. Viette has higher prices (12.99-19.99) per gallon perennial, but the upkeep is excellent. Hick's has lower prices, say 9.99 to 14.99 the last time I visited (3 years ago), but their plants often looked abused, often unwatered, tipped over - the reason why its been so long since I have been there. Same plants species at each, but different prices. My observation is that Hick's is an understaffed, high traffic nursery in a slightly cheaper real estate zone. Viette has plenty of exceptional staff, less customer volume, and in a much fancier neighborhood. These differences account for differences in price.

If we want nurseries in our neighborhoods, we must visit them, go at the least three times a year-not counting when you buy Christmas trees. Ask for plants in the spring, summer, and definitely autumn. New York City is a downright excellent place to plant in autumn. Check out the Blogging Nurseryman to keep up on the difficulties of running a small, independent nursery. Its got to be harder in the real estate frenzy of New York City.

Yet what we do have in New York City is discerning, curious plant lovers. Our gardens are small, but come on, this is one of the best places to garden given our climate and rainfall. I hope these nurseries can develop a strong base of customers who support them because they are small, knowledgeable, and have unique offerings. I hope these nurserypeople consider the vast ethnic variety of New York City so that they can provide plants desired by people from all over the world. Good luck. I'll visit soon.

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