Well in the last couple of weeks I have been back to the Red Hook Nursery district a few times. Most things have remained the same but there are a couple of significant changes. Please note that this report is as of spring, 2008. Things undoubtedly will change in the years ahead.
new address for Liberty Sunset Garden CenterLiberty Sunset Garden Center has moved their plant yard off the pier and into an adjacent lot that offers more space, neater appearance, and similar views to the harbor. Their indoor plants are still located in the old brick warehouse, but all their trees and plants have been shifted. They have also built structures like tables, trellis, arbor and pergola to shade the plants.
There was a greater attempt to label the plants with name and price, though some plants were still unlabeled. They seem to be actively building out this new space and the workers were there this Sunday banging away. I thought it was fantastic, honestly. It's probably the most interesting garden center location anywhere -how can you beat that view. The plants play off the 150 year old brick, wood, iron, and concrete well. They also had a huge compost bin and a deck (for events?).
old timbers on the left, deck with solar panel on the right
The plants did look healthy, but some suffered from horticultural pests. I shook some of the perennials and little gnats flew about. I cannot say if these are harmful or not, but I noticed them. You want not to introduce new buggers into your garden, your hands are already full.
Coral Bells (Heuchera) in quart-sized containers on a table
Chelsea Garden Center, now just across the block from Liberty, has expanded their space since I was last there in autumn. There lot size seems to have doubled to be on both sides of the trailer "office".
This spring Chelsea has an emphasis on large-potted perennials. They had many 2.5 gallon pots of basic perennials like yarrow or catnip. Inexperienced gardeners may jump at these larger perennials, but they are really not worth the price. For $24.95 I can buy a 2.5 gallon echinacea at Chelsea Garden Center, or for $9.99 I can buy the same plant, but in a gallon-sized container, at my local J&L Garden Center. I could also go to Gowanus Nursery and buy that same perennial, but a little smaller in a quart-sized container for $7.99. Well-heeled gardeners don't go for the large-potted perennials because we understand how quickly a perennial generally grows. At Gowanus Nursery, you could buy three different plants for the same price Chelsea is charging for the one large plant. I was glad to see that Liberty Sunset and Gowanus had mostly quart and gallon-sized perennials -it really makes the most sense for them and us.
All three Red Hook nurseries had individually-potted vegetable starts, but none had an extraordinary variety. Chelsea does now carry some heirloom vegetable starts, but expect to pay more for them. Liberty did seem to have the greatest variety of individually potted tomatoes and peppers, although the hand-written labels made identifying them tough. I cannot overstate how important it is for nurseries to label properly. If you have been waiting all year for that striped German tomato and some time around August you find an early girl tomato in it's stead, you'll get cranky.
So which nursery to go to? To be fair, you could do well at all three. I'd say that Chelsea may meet your basic plant needs -they have all the plants that you would expect at a mid-atlantic nursery: annuals, herbs, vegetables, trees, shrubs, and perennials, but at a higher price. I go to Gowanus when I am looking for something unusual or something I simply cannot find everywhere else. They may not have it, but then I'll always see something else that I find interesting to grab. Also, at last check, Gowanus still has the best prices for perennials, so many under $12. Liberty seems to exist somewhere in the middle, having both the basics and some unusual plants at reasonable prices. Oh yes, and they have the best view.
If you want Brooklyn's best price on potting soil or compost in bags, head over to J&L nursery. I live around the corner from them and without a doubt, they have the best prices on bagged Farfard soil, compost, and potting mix of anyone in the area, big box excluded. You will pay a few dollars less per bag than at any of the Red Hook nurseries.