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


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  2. There are many plants that can be grown in these wetlands like: red maple, silver maple, carpinus carolianiana, quercus phellos etc. No matter which plant you grow, they will definitely serve the purpose of enriching the natural environment and maintaining the ecological balance. The only thing to be kept in mind is that, you must take the proper guidance and also see with what is your aim of doing the plantation. native plants tree nursery


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