While I’m including garden centres in other Atlantic Provinces in my soon-to-be-ready reference list, it wouldn’t be fair for me to pick a top ten for Atlantic Canada, because I haven’t been to all of them—well, I haven’t been to most of them outside of NS, except for Cornhill (a top ten on any list) and Scotts in Fredericton. So this list is of my absolute favourites in my province, even if I only make it to them once or twice in a season. (I usually spend enough of my grocery money—whoops, make that disposable income, who needs to eat?—in one swoop to make up for not getting there more often. I’ve put them in alphabetical order so no one can think I like one more than another.
Baldwin’s Nurseries, Falmouth. Rob Baldwin is a growing concern, and a passionate advocate for using native grown plants in gardens and landscapes. This year Rob’s gotten into perennials for butterfly gardening, as he agrees that we need to do more to support the monarchs, tiger swallowtails and other species of butterflies that so add to a garden’s charm. But his shrubs and trees, many grown from seed or cutting by the propagation master himself, are also topnotch, including some that I’ve never seen anywhere else and have now been convinced to try in our yard. Rob will be at Saltscapes Expo with Jill Covill of Bunchberry Nurseries, so come see their booth.
Bayport Plant Farm, Bayport (near Lunenburg). Captain Dick Steele is Mr. Rhododendron to anyone who knows him. This retired naval captain has been breeding rhodos, azaleas and other ericaceous plants for over fifty years, but he also carries a choice selection of perennials, other shrubs and trees. Diana Steele, his daughter, operates the garden centre while Dick holds court over the propagating nursery. The 33-acre site is well worth visiting just to walk the trails and photograph the hundreds—thousands, really—of choice plants growing throughout the farm. But I defy any smart gardener to leave without purchasing plants, too. Just listening to Dick and Diana is an exercise in education, because they know so incredibly much about plants. I hope to someday know even a fifth of what they do.
Bunchberry Nurseries, Upper Clements. Jill Covill and I went to NSAC at the same time, but it was many years before our paths crossed again. Jill specializes in heaths, heathers, native plants, evergreen shrubs, and grasses, and if you live in NS, you simply MUST visit the garden centre in early August during the peak of heather bloom. I always say because of Jill I developed an obsession over heathers and heaths, and now that I know I can grow them….well, you know the rest. Jill’s former business partner is Jamie Ellison, who I blame for my obsession over perennial grasses, and who teaches the hort program at Kingstec.
Canning Daylily Gardens, Canning. I’ve known Wayne and Wayne for a long time, and value their friendship as well as their knowledge and enthusiasm when it comes to daylilies. If you live in Nova Scotia and are a daylily lover, you simply have to come visit the gardens during late July-early August, when peak bloom is happening. The Waynes have some really unusual and new daylily cultivars (some of which aren’t ready to be sold commercially yet) and over 300 cultivars for sale; something like 800 different types in the display garden makes for a rainbow of colour.
Cosby’s Garden Centre, Liverpool: I don’t get down to see Ivan Higgins nearly as often as I’d like to, but a trip to Cosby’s is always a delight. Not only is Ivan a marvelous plantsman, he’s an artist in concrete; his unique, whimsical sculptures are displayed throughout the property, making the garden centre a real destination to visit in Liverpool. Ivan of course lives in the edge of Nova Scotia’s banana belt, and can grow things that wouldn’t do well here, but he likes to push the zonal envelope too, for his own purposes.
Glad Gardens, Waterville: I’m always happy when Glad Gardens opens for another season, because the greenhouses are BURSTING with annuals, some of them so unusual that I had never heard of them before. This is also a farm market and has a nice selection of perennials too, and it’s always a delight to go see the owners; Dana does planter arrangements in hypertufa and driftwood that have to be seen to be appreciated.
Hillendale Perennials, Hilden/Truro Lloyd Mapplebeck teaches at the NS Agricultural College, and grows perennials and cut flowers as a secondary profession/obsession.
He’s a regular fixture at the Truro Farm market on Saturday mornings, but what I like best is to slather on a little citronella (during blackfly season) and go visit his nursery and garden. Lloyd has some choice perennials, and grows them to a significant size, so you get a well-established plant in a gallon pot for a very reasonable price. Lloyd also is a fan of native plants, and a knowledgeable, generous soul always willing to answer questions.
Ouestville Perennials, West Pubnico Alice d’Entremont’s nursery is the furthest away from my house in terms of travel time, located in the beautiful community of West Pubnico, so I don’t get to visit her nearly as often as I want. But when I do, I spend a few hours, because Alice is a wise, knowledgeable plant enthusiast and her display garden and nursery make me intensely happy to visit. Usually Mick and/or Angie, the two guard cats, escort us as we meander around. And I invariably leave with the car full of plants that I simply had to have. You’ll find many interesting and hard-to-find plants at Ouestville, so it’s a collector’s delight, but there’s something for every gardener. Trust me on this….
You know, you can get a LOT of plants into a small Toyota car???
Pleasant Valley Nurseries, Antigonish. I don’t get to Antigonish that often, and last year was the first time I got to explore Pleasant Valley, as well as a few other nurseries between Pictou County and Cape Breton. Only getting to visit a place once makes it hard to call it a favourite, but I decided to include Pleasant Valley because I was really impressed with my visit. There were a LOT of plants that I’d never seen elsewhere, including this amazing perennial potentilla, but what I really liked was that they divided their perennials up into nicely labeled areas according to shade, butterfly gardening, full sun, and other criteria. Staff were friendly (though VERY busy the day I visited) and the annuals in the nursery were healthy, vigourous and varied. All in all, it’s worthwhile driving up there again this year just to visit this centre; (but I’ll stay a while in Antigonish too, because it’s a lovely town.)
Spencer’s Garden Centre, Shelburne: I discovered Spencer’s eight years ago, when my longsuffering spouse was building his last fishing boat and we went into Shelburne looking for something. Since then, I make at least two annual pilgrimages to visit Spencer’s, more if I can; partly because I love Shelburne, but also because I really, really enjoy the garden centre that the Spencer family has been operating for a long time now. As with others I don’t get to visit often, I make up for it by finding all kinds of interesting plants; I KNOW I got a euphorbia there last year that has become one of my favourites, but it’s still suffering from Lost Label syndrome.
Woodlands and Meadows Perennial Nursery Clifton/Truro Jane Blackburn told me she never met a plant she didn’t like (even goutweed, so she’s a better person than me.) She’s a regular at the Truro Farm Market, but if you get a chance to visit her nursery, GO. It’s located at her home just outside of Truro, and the display gardens around her home are awesome; especially since her husband Andrew is a train memorabilia enthusiast, so they have unique garden art in the form of train cars (I mean this!), and other antiques and artifacts. Jane is especially skilled with plants for shade gardens, including many natives, but she carries a wide and delectable range of perennials, and her enthusiasm is contagious.
Notice a key to each of these reviews? Knowledgeable staff. Whether they are the actual owners of the business (in the case of smaller nurseries that are family businesses) or staff of larger facilities, these people know their stuff. They know the difference between a daylily and a dahlia, and they’ll help people with their gardening questions, whether a plant problem or when trying to decide what to plant in a new garden bed. Generous souls who take the time to deliver customer service. You don’t get that from the bigbox bullies.
Notice something else? My top ten is actually eleven. I tried, people, I really did. But I look through my journal, and realized that I wanted to be geographically diverse as well as share some of my favourites. I could have easily made this the top twenty…because I did leave out some that I visit and recommend to others. Maybe I’ll do a second report later.