By KAYLA J. MARSH
Nothing says spring like eager gardeners with watering cans, gloves, pruners and rakes heading out into the fresh air to transform their yards into a beautiful garden paradise full of flowers, trees and shrubs.
For many local nurseries and garden centers, this is a peak time of year for business.
“The biggest thing people come in for is just the knowledge we give them in knowing that the plants are going to have strong healthy roots to start off their new life at their new home,” said Chris DiGregorio, owner of Twin Pond Farm on Route 9 North in Howell.
“Just having it set up correctly and having the right plants in the right area makes a garden an eyepiece as opposed to being an eyesore.”
Twin Pond Farm has been family-owned and operated since 1923, and its garden center has everything customers might need including garden gloves, mulch and even pond supplies.
“We are a third-generation farm, and we make sure we develop our roots very well so that when people transplant our plants into their yards they have good success with them,” DiGregorio said. “We try to have a large, exotic variety of different plants and things you can’t get just anywhere.”
At RareFind Nursery on Patterson Road in Jackson, hardy plants are the mainstays of the business and the retail/mail-order nursery offers a variety such as rhododendrons, azaleas, native perennials, trees, shrubs, dogwoods, magnolias, conifers, Japanese maples and variegated, shade and deer-resistant plants.
“The plants that we sell are generally plants that are not as common as the everyday plant,” said General Manager Irving “Irv” J. Paulus.
“We ship to basically all states with a few exceptions … and a lot of our customers like our catalog and keep them as part of their plant library and call us prior to placing an order to ask, ‘I’m torn between this and this and here is where it is going to be sited and this is where I am so what do you think would be the better plant?’
“So, we give them a recommendation and suggest plants that are going to be hardy for their area and give them options so they can then make the best decision.”
At I&G Farms on Whitesville Road in Jackson, year-round repeat customers are plentiful, and advice is offered without reservation.
“I&G Farms has been in Jackson for over 42 years,” said owner Irene Johnston. “We’re a family-run operation between myself, my husband and my son, and we have a lot of informative staff who help in guiding people with their planting needs and recommendations, and any kinds of questions customers have are answered with intelligence and knowledge.”
From how much water a particular plant needs to where a particular plant should be situated in a garden, the local nursery and garden center owners said the season blooms with many questions.
“We always tell people to bring in pictures of the area you want to landscape and we can give you advice on what shrub will grow in that environment depending on how much sunlight it gets, how much room it has to grow, how invasive the roots will be,” DiGregorio said. “That is what we do here, give them the knowledge and education they need to be successful.”
Johnston said there is one piece of advice she always gives out to new customers and reminds returning customers.
“One recommendation that I give out to people is to prepare their beds before they plant any of their annual flowers,” she said. “Flowers are more of an alkaline plan, so if customers have been using mulch, they need to amend it with some really good soil and add pelletized lime because … the pH is acidic and the flowers will not grow.”
Johnston also said customers need to keep in mind the mature growth habit of products they buy.
“It might look really nice in the place they are putting it now, but maybe five years down the road, it will be seven to eight feet and that is not what they are looking for, so they really need to know the mature height of the material they are purchasing,” she said.
For more than 60 years, the commitment of the individuals at Brock Farms Home & Garden World in Freehold and Colts Neck has always been on the customer.
With more than 700 acres of shrubs, trees, perennials, roses, fruits, vegetables and other products to choose from, Freehold Manager Linda Arcoleo said it is about making sure customers get the best of the best.
“We don’t grow our own here, we travel and handpick and buy from all over … and find the best growers, and I think that is one thing that really make us unique because we take the time to go to the best people with the best quality products,” she said.
Garden center operators said recent weather patters have impacted business in positive and negative ways.
“We are a full service garden center and specialize in all types of plants from nursery-grown, landscape-size material to flowers, succulents and hanging baskets,” said Peter Amato, owner of Amato’s Garden Center Nursery in South Brunswick.
“The thing I stress is patience because with Mother Nature, although it is beautiful today, historically people should not put their annuals and tropicals out until Mother’s Day, and it just seems everyone wants to jump the gun and the whole industry is based on weather. That is the engine that drives the whole industry.”
Paulus said January’s Winter Storm Jonas caused RareFind Nursery to take a massive hit.
“This winter we had a major setback in that our propagation house collapsed in Winter Storm Jonas, and so now we’re in the process of putting another house up and that has hurt us,” he said.
While some questions and advice remain the same year after year, the local owners said clientele and the business in general have changed over time.
“We see the same people over and over and it is appreciative customers, and what we’re suggesting works and they’re happy, but I have also seen the other side of the coin where you’re stopping at a supermarket and you want to get things over with and it is a one-stop shop,” Amato said. “It is a very diverse marketplace, and it is hard to figure out exactly what people are looking for, so all we can do is plow ahead and just pay attention to details and make sure our plants are what is to be expected.
“I think we’ve lost a generation and I think as our older customers have moved on and retired, the demographics have definitely changed and the buying habits have changed.”
He said the selection of flowers people can choose from has expanded and has been one of the biggest changes he’s seen.
“The selection today, the variation of how things are presented … it is no more meat and potatoes and the people are moving toward different performing [plants] and … we’re competing head-on with big box stores and the Internet, but from what we have seen and what keeps us viable as a garden center is the uniqueness and the attention to detail and the recommendation of what works and what doesn’t work and not just predicated on simple price.”
At Maple Leaf Gardens in Holmdel, customers can stroll through a nursery filled with conifers, deciduous, ornamental and exotic trees, as well as a greenhouse stocked with a variety of annuals, perennials and tropicals.
“A lot of younger families are getting involved in planting more than they did years ago, and I think people are gradually starting to garden more organic and more vegetables,” owner Danielle Poliseno said.
“People come here, they see their favorites and see new things and are curious and are always asking where to put the plants and do they need shade or sunlight and what would look best in a certain area, and we help them with that and offer advice.
“Everybody’s garden is different, and people are wise and know what they want and what they like and don’t like.”
Arcoleo said she has also noticed a change in what the clientele is looking for.
“Things have changed,” she said. “The older generation … really knows what they want and the newer generation, they love the beauty of the flowers and the colors and want something simple and want something they can plant instantly, and we cater to both ends of the spectrum.
“Vegetable gardens are also becoming very big and it reaches across the older and the younger generations and is a great family tradition. Ever since I was a kid I have always been in awe of vegetable gardens, and it just amazes how well everything grows. It is just incredible.”
DiGregorio said as the business changes, it is important to look at what the public wants and try to cater as much as possible to growing needs.
“The industry is always changing and its ongoing, so we try to change with the times because that’s what the customers need, for us to change with them, so we always try to adjust the business to accommodate our customers,” he said.
Johnston said one thing she has noticed over the years with produce is that people are becoming more conscious of the vegetables that they are buying.
“We do have a lot of younger folks coming in that are very interested in growing their own vegetable garden,” she said. “The main thing when they do something like that is that they have the correct soil. You don’t have the correct soil, nothing will grow. The plant is what the soil is.”
DiGregorio agreed, stating that Twin Pond Farm carries more of a variety of vegetable plants now then they did before.
“We definitely have a younger generation starting to come up, and some of the old trades are kind of fading away and more exotic things like perennials and shrubbery and all kinds of new things are coming in… and it is just the way the times have changed,” he said.
“The newer generations are more into different things than the older generations and while I do think the younger generation definitely likes to garden, it’s a different type of gardening.
“Even the vegetables are kind of coming back around – more and more people are into doing vegetables gardens. It kind of goes in cycles, and I do think the younger generation is definitely more involved and growing their own things in their yard.”
Arcoleo said no matter what a client decides to do with their garden and planting, they cannot go wrong.
“Everybody has different questions, but I always say, there is no right or wrong when it comes to planting,” she said.
“As long as you know if a plant needs sun or shade, the garden is bound to be beautiful.
“All plants get along, so pick out what you like, look at the height and how it grows and work outwards from there. You cannot go wrong.”
Local garden centers include the following:
Amato’s Garden Center Nursery
Corner of Route 130 and Deans Rhode Hall Road, South Brunswick
Monday to Saturday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Brock Farms Home & Garden World
4189 Route 9 North, Freehold
375 Route 34, Colts Neck
Gasko’s Family Farm and Greenhouses
112 Federal Road, Monroe
Monday to Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
150 Whitesville Road, Jackson
Monday to Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Landex Evergreen Nursery
12 Howell Road, Freehold
Monday to Sunday 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Maple Leaf Gardens
161 Highway 34 North, Holmdel
957 Patterson Road, Jackson
Twin Pond Farm
1459 Route 9 North, Howell
Monday to Saturday 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.