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Finding Fernwood

August 11, 2010

Sign marking the entrance to Fernwood (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) 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, Hosta nigrescens is a stately presence in the deck border (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)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.

A new home for Rick and for Fernwood (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) 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.

Lycoris squamigera blooming in August at Fernwood (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) 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.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. gardeningasylum permalink
    August 11, 2010 1:09 pm

    Jean, I’m so glad you found your old favorite! These are dangerous times for our precious independents – so important to remember and patronize them.

  2. August 11, 2010 5:29 pm

    So happy Fernwood is still thriving, and how lucky for you that Rick moved closer to you!

  3. August 11, 2010 11:29 pm

    Thank goodness that Fernwood is still in business and how wonderful that is now even closer. I do love it when people try growing plants that some say will not grow in a given area because you never know…..

    • August 14, 2010 9:12 pm

      Cyndy, These are indeed difficult times for independent nurseries, and I’m so pleased that Rick is making a go of it in his new location. I’m hoping that Ruah Donnelly’s 2nd edition of The Adventurous Gardener: Where to Buy the Best Plants in New England appears in time for next year’s gardening season; it will give the independent nurseries that are included a boost.

      Clare and Noelle, It is indeed an extra added bonus that Fernwood is now easier for me to get to.

  4. August 12, 2010 12:58 am

    I love nurseries like this. You can sense the owner’s enthusiasm in the plantings and available plants. The lycoris is great, and it’s a plant that both of us could manage to grow in our very different gardens.

    • August 14, 2010 9:13 pm

      I agree, James. I learn so much at nurseries like this. I had never heard of Lycoris until a week ago; now I’m planning where to put it in my garden.

  5. August 12, 2010 4:45 am

    Hi Jean am glad for you about your favorite Fernwood. Regarding your comment in my blog about lobsters in Batanes, yes we have lobsters too here. We have a few species actually, but maybe the production quantity is of course very low compared to Maine. My friend went there just to savor the famous lobsters. Her friend has a vacation house near the very lovely river.

  6. August 12, 2010 6:21 am

    You can dance a little jig in your new Golden Slippers ;>) Looking forward to seeing it, when you have it, in bloom.

    • August 14, 2010 9:20 pm

      Andrea, Thanks for educating me about lobster.

      Diana, I’m planning to get out to Fernwood early in the season next year, when the spring flowers like Golden Slippers are still in bloom, and go on a serious shopping spree. If I buy bunches of plants to go in my new flower bed, I’ll have the incentive to actually get it dug and planted.

  7. August 12, 2010 8:26 am

    So glad you found your ‘old friend.’ I recently “discovered” a wonderful shade nursery in CT, O’Brien Nursery, that sounds similar to Fernwood. I sense my discovery will be one of my stand-by places like Fernwood is for you.

  8. August 12, 2010 9:51 am

    I am so glad you found your nursery. I found Boo for You, a bamboo nursery about an hour from my home this spring when I was looking for bamboo. He started the nursery in memory of his wife and you can feel the love as he shows you around his place, it’s wonderful.

  9. August 14, 2010 10:13 am

    How nice a favorite nursery (I can see why) has moved closer to you Jean. That must have been a great deal of work for Rick. I love the plants you feature in this post, especially the last one! Gorgeous! I can see I need to venture up your way next year.

    • August 14, 2010 9:22 pm

      Joene and Charlotte, Isn’t it just a special treat when you find this little gems?! I found many of the nurseries I love most in the first edition of Ruah Donnelly’s books, which is why I am awaiting the second edition so eagerly.

      Carol, I love the idea of a joint jaunt to nurseries in Maine — although I’m afraid both my accommodations and my garden pale by the standards of Flower Hill Farm!

  10. August 15, 2010 12:17 am

    A favorite nursery is a destination and a place to realize dreams and create more. I’m glad yours didn’t fall victim to the economy. Hope it’s around for many more years to com.

  11. Sandi permalink
    June 8, 2011 6:20 pm

    Found Fernwood again! YEAAA! I was disappointed to hear he’d left Swanville but Thanks to the lady at the town office who guided me to Montville. Rick is such a gentle knowledgeable fellow. And his selections are outstanding! Great place for shade loving plants. And not so far from where he used to be. wish you well Rick!

    • June 9, 2011 9:17 pm

      Sandi, I’m so glad that you found Fernwood again. Since I put this post up on my blog, it has gotten a lot of hits from people looking for Fernwood. When I was out there last year, Rick mentioned that they were working on getting a website up for the nursery. That should make it even easier for people to find Fernwood at its new location. To help the process along, I’ve added the link to this post and to my sidebar.

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