Before leaving the house, I went over my mental checklist one last time. Camera, memory cards, tripod, cat treats and change for the soda machine. Yes, that would be everything. I grabbed my wallet, mobile phone and the keys and I am at last ready to head to my favorite local family owned garden nursery.
My formal indoctrination into the fine, mystical world of gardening began in the market town of Watford, England. Due to lack of land, there are not a lot of big box stores scattered about and this results in a more local, old-fashioned way of shopping. This intimate experience is accentuated when heading to the local nurseries for your gardening needs. I will never forget the first time I visited Aylett Nursery. The experience began in the parking lot. The moment I stepped out of the car, my eyes were drawn to the various demonstration gardens and immediately all the senses were engaged before I even set foot in the nursery, I was already planning what to buy thanks to the type written plaques strategically placed near every plant just to help me out. Once inside the nursery it was difficult to determine what to do first. There was a glorious gift shop, covered areas where I could peruse plants without getting wet (it rains a lot in England) and perhaps the best bit - - a cozy little tea shop. The smell of pastries and fresh tea was so enticing, it became a tradition to eat first, shop later.
Over the years, I visited Aylett dozens of times. I got to know the staff and the layout of the nursery perfectly. I had a favorite bench, favorite table in the tea shop and even a favorite time of year to visit. Christmas was magical for they created a winter wonderland complete with trees, ornaments, decorations and of course winter plants. This was not shopping; this was a grand adventure into the life and spirit of gardening. The fact this nursery specialized in the largest selection of dahlias anywhere (example of which pictured right) was an added bonus.
I missed Aylett terribly when I moved back to the United States. I was certain I would never find anything to match the charm and warmth of a retailer that at the end of the day simply sells plants. Of course that is not all they sell; they offer the intimacy and the family aspect of purchasing accoutrements for the garden. Gardeners comprise one giant family the world over and most of us love nothing more than to commune, relate and share our love of the garden and the plants with others. A family owned nursery caters to this subconscious desire and one cannot help but feel blessed by their very existence.
Now that I was once again living in the United States, I began visiting big box stores for plants and all the peripherals needed for gardening by default. It simply was not the same. Anyone who has visited any one of these types of stores knows it is a challenge to find friendly knowledgeable staff. Because of this, I longed for an alternative. Thanks to a sinus infection, I found one. Men do not handle being ill very well and this is an understatement. My wife, in her attempt to cheer me up, told me that she thought there was a garden center near the doctor's office and we could leave early to have a look.
When we entered the parking lot, memories of Aylett came rushing back. Like Aylett, Rillito Nursery had a demonstration garden before you even walked inside. Once inside, the staff was friendly and able to answer any questions I had. They even took the time to show me around and offer plant suggestions. How wonderful! I had to get to my doctor's appointment but I was thrilled to make such a discovery. Rillito is so charming. There is a resident cat named Riley and the grounds have many nooks with carefully placed benches so you can rest and indulge the senses with the plants that surround you.
I very rarely visit a big box store these days. Instead, I gather up my camera gear, phone and some cat treats and head for what has become my new favorite, family owned nursery. I encourage all who read this article to seek out such treasures where you live. You will discover a completely new way to shop for plants. You will find a friendly staff and perhaps a plant or two that goes beyond the typical varieties you find year in and year out at a big box store. Get to know the folks that work in your local nusery for they are friendly and will provide a wonderful outlet for garden talk. Once you get home, you will be so pleased with the plants you purchase because someone took the time to help you, guide you and make you feel like a member of the best family in the world - - the family of gardeners.