When I discovered the world of small specialty nurseries about ten years ago (see The Gardening Book That Changed My Life), one of the first I visited was a shade nursery called Fernwood, located in Swanville, Maine, about two hours from my home.
Fernwood was a wonderful place. Like many specialty nurseries, it was located at the owner’s home. It had beautiful display gardens, a marvelous collection of plants, and a very helpful and knowledgeable owner, Rick Sawyer. The first time I visited, I was working on the first section of the deck border, and I came home with many plants that are now part of that mature garden. These include my favorite hosta, H. nigrescens, which has grown into such an impressive presence in the back garden, and the Aruncus dioicus whose airy plumes float in the breeze above my head each July.
After that first visit, I found an excuse to drive out to Fernwood about once a year. On several occasions, I used an outing there as a way to spend time with gardening friends who were vacationing in Maine. And the year I was helping my sister put in a new shade garden at the front of her house, I went to Fernwood, filled my car with plants, and then drove down to Massachusetts with them.
One of the things I have always loved about Fernwood is Rick Sawyer’s adventurous spirit about propagating plants. If someone brings him a plant not normally considered hardy in Maine, he will plant it and see what happens, trying to propagate it if it looks promising. One year when I was visiting Fernwood with my friend Laura, I fell in love with a yellow Baptisia perfoliata (a Georgia native) growing in his display garden and asked if he had this for sale. He told me that he was trying to propagate it and that I should check back with him in spring. Alas, when I called in spring, it was to the sad news that none of the divisions had survived the winter – but better to find out this way than after I had been convinced to make a place for it in my garden.
Last year, I never made it out to Fernwood. When I checked the internet to see if the nursery had a website yet that would tell me which days and hours it was open, the only mention I could find was a note from another gardener saying that Fernwood would be moving to a new location in 2009. When I searched again this spring, I could find no mention of Fernwood on line, not even a telephone listing. I began to worry that Rick had tried to move the business from his home to a commercial site just as the economy was crashing and that the business hadn’t survived. I kept putting off calling the old telephone number because I dreaded getting the news that it was disconnected. But when I finally did call one day, I got a recorded message with a different number that I should call if I was “looking for Rick or Fernwood.” And when I called that new number, I found Fernwood. It turned out that Rick hadn’t moved the nursery from his home to a commercial setting; instead, he had moved to a new home and taken the nursery with him.
Last weekend, I treated myself by going to find the new Fernwood, now located in Montville, Maine (about half an hour closer to my home). The new nursery doesn’t yet have the mature display gardens that graced the old location, but the plant selection is still excellent, even in August. I found this lovely variety of Lycoris growing there. I also noticed that Rick is now carrying several of his own Fernwood cultivars, including a gold tetraploid Lily of the Valley (Convallaria) called ‘Fernwood Golden Slippers’ which I intend to add to my garden next year (along with the Lycoris).
You can find Fernwood on North Ridge Road in Montville, Maine, just off Maine Route 3, west of Belfast, and not far from the intersection with Route 220. For more information or directions, call (207) 589-4726.