What’s In Store: Nursery School

Nurseries are aptly named—as any gardener knows, plants can be as fussy as newborns, and keeping them thriving means lots of attentive, patient care. So while it’s easy enough to pick up some six-packs of blooms at a home-improvement chain or gardening superstore, you might not find the kind of first-rate service a nursery provides: beautiful, healthy plant varieties, educated opinions and garden advice worth heeding. When you want help babying your plants this spring, turn to one of the boutique nurseries close by that take pride in quality and selection, cater to special needs, and throw in some old-fashioned pampering for you and your plants.

At Farm Meadows Nursery (Limestone and Little Baltimore roads, Hockessin, Delaware), plants are treated like family. This tender loving care shows in an inventory bursting with good health. An intricate irrigation system of hoses feeds shrubbery and trees directly into their root bulbs, which decreases disease caused by water left on leaves. “When you find a tree at a large retailer, you don’t know when it came off the truck and you don’t know how sick it’s going to get when you bring it home,” says Naomi McCafferty, who owns and operates Farm Meadows with her husband, Mike. “You don’t have to worry about anything you get here failing when you get home, because we keep our stock in excellent condition at all times.”

The professional pampering extends to their customers. The award-winning landscapers at Farm Meadows will lend their expertise to help plan a garden, whether that means designing and executing a full installation or delivering and planting a single tree. The staff also goes to great lengths to fill a request. Last year, when a magazine wrote about purple elephant’s ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’), Farm Meadows was inundated by requests for the plant. “Until this article ran, everyone thought they could only get green elephant’s ear,” McCafferty says. “We had to re-order three times.”

Everything about Strogus Flower Shop & Greenhouses (1320 Farmington Ave., Pottstown) feels homespun and friendly, from the path that winds through the property’s nine greenhouses to the helpful staff. During the cold, gray days of January, you can find colorful, hand-forced bulbs, including some hard-to-find varieties like miniature daffodils. If there is an exotic variety you can’t find at Strogus, they will order it for you.

Since he began working at the nursery in 1968, Barry Strogus, who co-owns the nursery with his wife, Karen, and brother Wayne, has carried on his father’s tradition of hand-raising plants and treating them with the care they deserve. “We lay [plants] out on greenhouse shelves with the right light exposure and plenty of room to grow, so you get a happy, healthy plant,” he says.

Strogus does not add retardants or other additives that lengthen plants’ shelf life but prevent growth. “Barry’s pretty obsessed,” says Karen. “He won’t let anyone touch his babies until he thinks they’re ready.” Inside the greenhouses, rows of seedlings soak up the warmth and love Strogus Flower Shop & Greenhouses provides. Come springtime, there will be flats and flats of locally grown, healthy plants and flowers—and plenty of knowledgeable, plant-loving staff members to help you make your selections.

Tucked behind a gazebo, Laurel Hill Gardens (8125 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia) offers “just the necessities for the gardener’s garden,” says owner and certified horticulturist Joseph Ascenzi, PCH. Twenty-five years ago, he transformed the circa-1880 property into a bucolic enclave amid the restaurants and shops of Chestnut Hill’s main thoroughfare. In keeping with its urban location and city gardeners’ space considerations, Laurel Hill Gardens stocks rare varieties that interact with existing landscapes without dominating the space: dwarf Hinoki cypresses, dwarf nandina and coral-bark maples. For city dwellers who crave at least the appearance of privacy, there’s clumping bamboo that adds texture and height—and creates a screen from neighbors’ adjoining terraces.

With four certified horticulturists on staff, gardening is not taken lightly at Laurel Hill. “You can sense our passion and personality in everything we do,” says Ascenzi. “Because we’re small, we know our clients. We’re not going to come at you with 10 things you don’t need.”

For those who don’t want to make a separate trip for gardening accessories, there are a few homespun (and family-owned) nurseries that carry more than just plants. At Marrazzo’s Manor Lane Florist & Garden Center (1301 Yardley Road, Yardley), you will find everything you could possibly need for the garden and patio, including a full line of John Deere tractors and equipment. “Yes, we have plants,” says Anthony Marrazzo, one of the owners along with his brother Mike and father, Dan. “But we’ve also got a little bit of everything else.”

The star attraction at the nursery and garden center is a vast inventory of hardy hybrids, shrubs and trees grown on the 5-acre Morrisville site. “If it’s marigolds you want, we’ve got 25 different kinds,” says Marrazzo. “We have anywhere between 2,000 and 2,500 perennials.”

A stroll along the walkway winds through a vast selection of plants, trees, statuary, crockery, patio furniture, pond supplies and accessories, bird baths, shrubbery and more.

Marrazzo’s does landscaping, hardscaping, pond installation and lighting, will build a
pergola to order, and furnishes flower arrangements for any occasion. “And if you can’t find it here, we’ll order it for you,” says Marrazzo. “And you’ll get it the next day.”

Just north of the 202 interchange in New Hope is Charles H. Mueller Co. (7091 River Road, New Hope), the only display garden devoted solely to bulbs on the East Coast, according to owner Charles Fritz.

The gently sloping grounds, open to visitors April 1 through May 15, are ablaze with more than 400 varieties of tulips and daffodils—plus hundreds of other spring-blooming varieties, including many not ordinarily seen outside of their packaging. Among flower beds of every imaginable color are markers identifying each bloom.

The staff is on hand to answer questions about exposure, planting depth and anything else you need to know about bulbs. Although the garden only offers views of spring-blooming bulbs, hundreds of summer- and fall-blooming bulbs also are available. You can order on the spot, by phone or through the company’s website; orders are filled by mail and arrive in the fall, just in time for planting.

The greenhouses at Waterloo Gardens, Inc. (136 Lancaster Ave., Devon; and 200 North Whitford Road, Exton), are a wonderland dedicated to education. Large, informative signs label nursery sections and selections. Seminars and how-to workshops are held on a regular basis, and care sheets are provided for most purchases. The Exton location has a Kids Korner with hands-on instruction for young gardeners.

It makes sense, given that one of the missions of Waterloo Gardens is to demystify gardening. “We know firsthand the pains and joys of gardening, and we bring that experience with us,” says Larry Shehan, Waterloo’s nursery buyer.

Every year, spring is ushered in with the extravagant Spring Flower & Garden Expo. “It might be chilly and gray out, but inside it’s pure color,” says Shehan. “We want to rush you into spring, get you ready to bring your own garden into bloom.”

Shehan gestures at the gorgeous array of plants and accessories for home, garden, body and soul. “Everything in here serves our philosophy: Gardening is a gift.”