Bittersweet Best Wishes
My garden projects got put on fast forward in late August when I visited my favorite nursery, Plainview Farm, to buy plants for my new Side Slope planting, and learned that the owners, Donna and Steve Palmer, had decided to retire and were closing the nursery at the end of this season. Plainview Farm has been my go-to nursery since I first discovered it 15 years ago through Ruah Donnelly’s The Adventurous Gardener: Where to Find the Best Plants in New England. (See The Gardening Book That Changed My Life) At that time, the nursery had already been in business for 15 years, with husband Steve as the plantsman who provided the vision and wife Donna as the business person with primary responsibility for day-to-day operations.
What made Plainview Farm special was an impressive selection of plants (many of them propagated on site) and wonderful display gardens where you could see those plants in the landscape. When I was planning a new garden area, I would typically walk around the display gardens at Plainview Farm for inspiration. Then, as I worked on a design for the new garden, I would use their web site to develop a plant list. When I was ready to plant, I would go back to Plainview Farm to buy the plants – and very often, I would be able to find everything on my list available for sale.
I knew that Donna and Steve were thinking about retirement. They are of an age to retire, and the years of recession after the financial crisis in 2008 had been difficult ones for independent nurseries. Plainview Farm had scrambled to add products and services (e.g., growing heirloom tomatoes and selling them at area farmers’ markets) to keep the business going through the hard times. Because small specialty nurseries are usually extensions of the owners’ homes and expressions of their personal gardening visions, it is not unusual for these nurseries to close when their owners retire.
But I am in the middle of a big multi-year garden project; and even if the nursery’s closing was not entirely a surprise, it would leave a big gap in my available gardening resources. Donna encouraged me to rethink my schedule to speed up the development of my new Fragrant Garden and take advantage of the big discounts they were offering as they cleared their stock. So I got busy preparing the soil for this new garden area and went back to Plainview Farm twice during their last month of business to buy plants. I was impressed all over again by the depth and and breadth of their stock and by how many plants were still available even in late September. Once again, I found everything on my shopping list. As I was checking out, Steve asked me if I had a shady spot that would make a good home for a cultivar of native baneberry, Actaea pachypoda ‘Misty Blue.’ “I only have two left,” he explained, “and I’d like to see them go to knowledgeable gardeners who will appreciate them.” Then he led me out to the shady display gardens to see the plant growing there. This, of course, sealed the deal, and I added ‘Misty Blue’ to my cart.
This last visit to Plainview Farm was a bittersweet occasion. As a happy retiree, I can only wish Steve and Donna best wishes as they move into what I hope will be an enriching new phase of their lives. But I couldn’t help feeling sad that I wouldn’t have this special plant shopping experience again. Steve seemed to be focusing on the sweet side of retirement, looking forward to a somewhat slower pace of life and enjoying chats and little celebrations (including several gift bottles of champagne) with long-time customers. Donna was more inclined to tear up. Fortunately for all of us, we were saying farewell, not goodbye. Donna and Steve have tentative plans to open their display gardens to the public at some point in the not-too-distant future. Even as I mourn the loss of this wonderful nursery, I am looking forward to future occasions when I will walk through their display gardens to admire plants and be inspired.