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Bittersweet Best Wishes

October 7, 2016

plainview signApologies for my weeks of silence. I’ve been so busy with gardening that I didn’t have time to blog about gardening!

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.

plainview display garden4What 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.

plainview display garden1

plainvew display garden3

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.

plainview plants for sale plainview plants for sale hostas

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.

plainview display garden2

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Doreen permalink
    October 8, 2016 8:57 am

    I share your sentiments exactly. I too have depended on Plainview for ideas, plants and information for years.

    • October 14, 2016 9:19 pm

      Doreen, Do you have any alternatives nurseries that you like? I usually get shrubs from O’Donals in Gorham, and I’ll probably start buying more perennials from them too. Fernwood, east of Augusta in Montville, is a favorite of mine for shade plants that aren’t generally available elsewhere.

  2. October 8, 2016 11:10 am

    Jean, What a lovely tribute to the Palmers. When we come to rely on an outstanding nursery for our gardening needs, it’s tough to see it close. I’ve had that happen a couple of times in the last 18 years, but found another good company to rely upon. I hope you do, too. But I know Plainview will be missed.

    • October 14, 2016 9:22 pm

      Kathy, I’ve had a number of favorite small specialty nurseries close when the owners retired. I know I will find new sources of plants, but probably not with the combination of variety and quality that I found at Plainview. I’ve gotten spoiled!

  3. October 8, 2016 11:14 am

    Plainview was a great nursery and had a long run selling quality plants in a lovely setting. As a small nursery owner myself, I can appreciate their desire to scale back on the demanding work and time needed to keep the place going. Although my nursery didn’t suffer during the recession (in fact, it thrived), the physical labor involved in running a nursery is tremendous and, at times, overwhelming. It also involves a lot of creative thinking to keep up with the times. And it is not something anyone would do for the money alone :-).

    • October 14, 2016 9:23 pm

      Carolyn, I can only imagine how challenging the work of running a nursery is, especially one that sells the wide variety of plants that Plainview did.

  4. October 8, 2016 11:19 pm

    It’s hard to lose a beloved nursery. Just today, a friend and I drove past the former site of a nursery we both dearly loved. Although the nursery closed in July 2015 when the property was sold to a car dealership after 45 years of operation (which still engenders something close to outrage), it hasn’t yet been leveled and so serves as a reminder of the joy we had shopping there. I’m happy that you will at least be able to enjoy the garden the owners of your beloved nursery developed. Independent nurseries do have a difficult time staying afloat and I respect every one that fights to find a way to share beauty with the public. One of my favorite independents opened a restaurant on its premises last month but, as the mixed use of very expensive land will allow it to continue selling plants, I applaud the change and will probably spend money eating at the restaurant on occasion. However, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever visit that car dealer to buy a car.

    • October 14, 2016 9:26 pm

      Kris, Having a favorite nursery turn into a parking lot or a car dealership would be heart-breaking. That’s a fate that this kind of specialty nursery on a rural back road is less likely to suffer. Thank goodness that Steve and Donna will continue to live in their house and tend their wonderful display gardens.

  5. October 9, 2016 5:52 pm

    open gardens usually sell some plants … perhaps there will be just a few more in your future!

    • October 14, 2016 9:28 pm

      Diana, That’s a nice prospect — that open garden days may provide an opportunity for the Palmers to divide and sell some plants from their display gardens.

  6. October 23, 2016 4:16 pm

    Hello Jean, that is bittersweet in that a favourite, nearby nursery is closing, which is very sad, but it’s because the owners retiring for a well-deserved rest, which you can feel happy for. While we visit several garden centres around us, I definitely need to try harder to find specialist nurseries that turn out to be gems, just as Plainview was.

    • October 30, 2016 8:33 pm

      Sunil, I am lucky to have quite a few small, family-owned specialty nurseries in my area. I’ve been introduced to several of these through a local garden club that I am a member of.

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  1. Front Garden Project, Year 2: The Fragrant Garden | Jean's Garden

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