For years, I’ve bought perennials from a charming little stand next to a handsome federal house on Route 153 outside Salem, NY.
That’s on the road between my country house and the wonderful nurseries of Dorset and Manchester, Vermont, nurseries I visit a few times every summer to treat myself. Still, you cannot make an entire garden out of $40 tree peonies and $16 perennials bought from fancy nurseries. At least I can’t. So it was really nice to stop at this stand once in a while and stuff a couple of dollars into a coffee can for the healthy stalwarts sold here at $2 apiece.
This year, the perennial stand suddenly professionalized. There was a greenhouse now. There was a shop building. There were tables of perennials available. There was a sweet arching golden sign that said, “Laura’s Garden.”
And yes, the prices rose–to $2.50 for a good-sized field-grown perennial.
That seemed more than fair. In fact, it seemed like a godsend. After five years of gardening in super-sandy soil in Saratoga Springs, I’ve come to the realization that many things just don’t grow very fast in my yard, and everything looks much better if I stuff the place with tough front-of-the-border plants. All summer long, I filled up the jump seat of my wagon with trays of campanula carpatica ‘White Clips’ and alchemilla mollis from Laura’s Garden. Meanwhile, over the hill in very rich and very stiff Dorset, the same campanula was $8 a pop.
“People sometimes try to give me more money for my plants,” she laughed. “I have to explain that no, I really am making a profit. It’s just that my overhead is low.”
Her husband Pete does all the construction. She puts in the 60 hours a week required to run the place herself. Nothing’s trucked in expensively from anywhere. They own the land.
Nice, low-carbon alternative to that other place for frugal gardeners, Home Depot, no?
Laura’s business began with her giving away divisions from her own garden. Somebody suggested that she sell the excess. So she ran the stand for years while working for country-products catalog Vermont Country Store, before deciding to make the nursery her day job.
Now she’s expanding. Next year, she’ll be selling dried flowers in the shop. She’s heating the greenhouse this winter for vegetable seedlings.
Laura tells me she knows what her customer base can afford and is glad that so many of them seem so happy to be shopping with her.
“Gardening shouldn’t be so stressful,” she smiles. “If something doesn’t work out, it shouldn’t wreck the family budget.”
She didn’t just explain her business. She put her finger one of the things I love most about rural Washington County, NY. Live and let live and let’s enjoy ourselves and not make everything so entirely commercial, shall we?
Meanwhile, in a dark city downstate, the Dow tanked.