Showing posts with label Chelsea Garden Center. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chelsea Garden Center. Show all posts

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Front Yard

Yesterday I planted a new front yard. I had this insight to share, a definition of a garden: A garden is a place that has easily-dug soil. That's it.

But its not a garden until this is true. What I did yesterday -not a garden. Not even now. But a front yard with new plants. If you have to work as hard as I did with a shovel and a maddox, its not a garden -yet. You have to make it one.

Together with two, at one time three others, we drove to the Red Hook Nursery District and then our local J & L. Five shrubs and 25 perennials later, but emptied-handed when it came to the desired tree, we took on another passenger and headed to J & L. There they saw it -the perfect weeping cherry tree. Nothing attracts a new yard builder like a weeping cherry tree in April. They had one in back, full-flowered branches weeping nearly to the ground. I could tell it was in a pot too small for its 2.5 inch caliper. As I tried to steer them back to the younger, more spindly cherries, they gravitated back to their desire. Sold!

The tree was some of the worst pot-wound, root-bound I've ever dealt with. I hacked until I worried, then planted the sucker. They were watering in at 9:30pm. What a day. Today I am shot.

I am always concerned when anyone wants to plant a tree three or four feet from their house. But the desire for what they see now is so strong, it overcomes rationality, its an emotional decision. After all, there are so many others on the block and they are fine, right? And the neighbors, they love it. It got lots of looks, and even a few comments. Nothing pleases like a cherry tree in April.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Red Hook Nursery Tour Spring Update!

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 Center

Liberty 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.

strange elevated walk for shade loving shrubs and perennials

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.

unlabeled peppers at Liberty

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.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Hook Nursery District Tour

This Sunday was such a lovely day that I walked through Green-wood Cemetery to get over to the 5th Avenue entrance. Here I picked up the B63, took it to the B77 which I rode to Van Brunt Street for my Red Hook Nursery District tour. Now I must mention that this may not be the best time to gauge nurseries. However, they are open, have items for sale, and as I have stated before, autumn is an excellent time to plant. Plus, I was excited to visit three nearly new nurseries in one area. So why wait till spring? I will qualify my pros and cons with the statement that this was a preliminary visit, in an off season. New visits in spring!

Chelsea Garden Center:

The first thing you should know about the Chelsea Garden Center is that it is broken into two parts with two separate addresses. The main entrance, at 444 Van Brunt Street opens onto their plant yard. This time a year I do not expect much to be laid out here, but this nursery did have an assortment of shrubs and small trees. Chelsea is probably closest to the name "garden center" because it sells plants and all the extras like trellising, pottery, wooden planters, and other decor items. Also carried are an assortment of tools, fertilizers, and soil amendments.

What caught my attention was their decision to offer this season's remaining half and one gallon perennials at 50% off. This was the greatest surprise and delight. They had little in terms of selection, but the willingness to cut prices to reduce over-wintering of these plants makes this gardener happy. Next year I'll get there on the first day this deal is offered. I would say that their plants looked healthy and were well labeled. The selection of 1/2 and full gallon pots ranged in price from $16.95 to 19.95, although a few were $14. Hostas seemed to range higher, up to $24.95, and this higher pricing for hostas occurred at the other nurseries as well.

The other address (on the corner of Reed and Conover Streets) contained their large selection of ceramic pots and the greenhouse. The greenhouse has less houseplants than I expected given its size. A number of people I assumed were the staff did make an effort to say "hi" to me as I wandered the plant yard. I usually don't need the help and I am happy when staff leaves me to be instead of continually asking if I need help.

Pros: Currently fifty percent off perennial pricing! (making pots $8.50-10), lots of planters, pottery, trellis
Cons: Smallish plant yard, little selection of perennials
Prices: The highest in the district $16-24.95 1/2- 1 gallon perennial pots
Quality: Plants appeared healthy. Chelsea sells Monrovia plants, good plants but they are shipped great distances
Selection: Average to low (but it is late October)
Staff: Says hi, leaves me be

Afterward, I left busy Van Brunt (used to be so quiet on Sundays) to move on to 204-207 Van Dyke Street, home of Liberty Sunset Garden Center.

Liberty Sunset Garden Center:

My first impression was built on the confusing signage which told me the entrance was in two opposite directions. First, I went left, then right. Turns out right was, uh, right. As I head down the pier, I begin to see the plants lined up along its edge. A woman with a large dog says that I may go inside. On the right is a multi-tiered display of plants, from annuals to perennials, herbs to flowers. On the left, more of the same.

All kinds of plants are out and about with no apparent sense of order. Some plants are overgrown and bearing fruit (peppers, tomatoes). To confuse more, some plant pots have white numbered prices hand written on them, others correspond to a list the center has posted with a colored "dot" system. Finding the dots on the plants was not always possible. It was hard to tell if the pricing was current. Many plants were not labeled with description or names. There were shrubs, small trees, and some additional perennials around the back of the pier as well as an awfully inviting set of table and chairs.

This may be the wrong aspect to celebrate when discussing nurseries, but Liberty Sunset has the best view of any nursery, maybe anywhere. You start to understand the vibe when you lose yourself to the winds blowing in off New York Harbor. But wait, I can't be thrown off by this. Look at these plants, blown over by the wind, poorly labeled, overgrown, uncared for. Whats up with the expensive cone flower (new variety, I guess)?

But wait, there's a plant I've been looking for- Salvia Elegans, Pineapple Sage. Its still in flower, leggy as hell and probably root bound. I should get this at a bargain-its annual here in NYC. I better go inside.

Now if the view didn't blow you away, you may swoon at the romance of the 1850's warehouse this nursery decorates. Tall ceiling, wooden beams, big space. Operatic music flowing out of some unseen sound system. Tropical plants, well placed all around-is this a store at all? I head towards the sunlight pouring in through the wood and glass doors in the back. As I approach the sounds of falling water, I look to my right and see a man and woman surrounding an enormous bowl of food (smells good) in a dining area. Suddenly I feel I am intruding and turn back towards the front. I ask the friendly guy at the register if he could ring me out. He didn't know enough to tell me if the plant I was buying had overwintered in this location, but he could tell me that tropicals are the owner's real interest, and that that was him eating his meal. The clerk tells me I get two sages for the price of one, to which I decline because it may not survive the winter, and who wants two if that is the case. I quietly hoped he would offer me this one at half price then, but he did not. At $5 and change with tax, this was no deal for an annual that I could easily propagate from a stem I could easily have snipped. But hey, it was worth $5 just to see this place.

Pros: Great view, Civil War era industrial NYC romance
Cons: Confusing signage, plants disorganized, uncared for.
Prices: Reasonable 1/2 gallon perennials $12.99 - $16.99, 1 gallon perennials $14.99 - $22.99
Quality: Tropicals good, outdoor plants seemed they had seen better days
Selection: Average
Staff: eating lunch, friendly clerk at register

After a brief stop at Mark's pizza on Van Brunt, I jumped on the B61 for a few blocks. Off again at the handball courts, near Hamilton Ave. One block away at 45 Summit Street is Gowanus Nursery.

Gowanus Nursery:

This roving plant center had its start on 3rd Street in Gowanus Gardens or what have you. There were few customers when I arrived around 2 or 3 pm. The two staff were friendly and helpful from the start. I could see the difference in this nursery as soon as I walked through the gates.

There was a logic to the layout and all I had to do was inquire to understand it. As for price labels, a logic here too. A handy color chart enabled me to know the prices based on the color combination of a wooden stake and the letter "g" painted on it. Some stakes were light pink with a dark blue "g". Others were yellow, with a pink "g", and so on. I studied the chart along with looking at the plants' stakes and soon I began to remember prices based on the color combos without having to resort to the chart. All plants were labelled with names and descriptions, often from regional wholesale growers. The staff told me that in the future, plant prices will be right on the container.

The organic layout of the plants encouraged me to linger, which then led to getting into in depth conversations with the two staff members on hand. This was quite pleasant. Also, I didn't feel like I had to buy something for their time, always a relief as I have so little room in the garden as it is.

It appeared to me that the Gowanus Nursery endeavors to find the more unusual varieties of common perennials, keeping plant people happy who are always hoping to find something different. This nursery is doing what many larger out of town nurseries won't or can't do at this time of year -selling perennials! The surprise was that Gowanus had on average the lowest prices in Red Hook. One half gallon and one gallon perennials ranged from $11 to $16. Some plants ranged higher, such as the hostas, but overall most were modestly priced. They also had quart-sized perennials running under $10.

What they had little of was the garden center decor items, such as pottery, trellis, and wooden planters, or bags of soil amendments, like fertilizers, compost or manure. One note of caution, check their website before going next spring as this nursery may be moving once again.

Pros: Best average prices, unusual plant varieties
Cons: Few garden center items, like pots and bagged amendments
Prices: On average, Red Hook's lowest. 1/2 and one gallon perennials ranged from $11 - $16, occasionally higher
Quality: Healthy looking plants
Selection: Best selection in the neighborhood, some unusual varieties
Staff: Friendly, conversational, knowledgeable

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.