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Local Heroes in the Plant Business
by Yvonne Cunnington
by Yvonne Cunnington

I am a garden writer and photographer living near Hamilton, Ont. My articles have appeared in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life magazines. My book for beginner gardeners, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless (Key Porter Books) was published in 2003.

My husband and I tend a large country garden, which has been featured on TV’s Gardeners Journal and in Gardening Life magazine. We have had numerous bus tours visit our garden.

Visit her website at

May 13, 2002

ycahosta2high.jpg (128658 bytes)Plant sellers run the gamut from small mom-and-pop nurseries to huge stores with vast numbers of plants, along with more tools, gadgets, fertilizers and chemicals than most gardeners will ever need. And these days, of course, plants are also sold in big box and discount stores, where they're at the mercy of poorly paid clerks who haven't a clue that regular watering is a good thing or even how to it. (If you've ever watched them wave a watering wand over their wilting charges, I'm sure you have cringed too.) 

I'm wary of temporary garden centers that sprout up like crabgrass each spring, and the big mass-market chains leave me cold, but I love visiting small nurseries run by devoted plant people. Most of these are a labour of love for their owners: some had their beginnings in a gardening hobby that went spinning out of control, while others are the realization of a life-long dream of running an independent business. 

Here are my favorites. Each of these nurseries has a website that will give you opening hours and directions and most of them have great gardening and growing information, so even if you can't get to the nurseries, their sites are worth a look. A couple of the nurseries highlighted also sell seeds or plants on-line, so you can buy from them no matter where you live. If you look around your region, you're bound to find similar treasure troves for plant lovers presided over by owners who know their plants and give excellent advice to their customers. 

Sweet Grass Gardens, R.R.6 Hagersville, Ont. N0A 1H0. Tel: (519) 445-4828. For more information on hours and directions, visit

This native plant nursery run by the affable Ken Parker is on the Six Nations Reserve just a 20-minute drive from where I live. I tend to go plant shopping on days when it's not nice to garden, so I've been at Sweet Grass in downpours and on summer afternoons so hot that anybody sensible would by sitting in the shade or huddled in the air-conditioned indoors. But no matter what the weather Ken is always helpful, and if he'd prefer me to stop by in better circumstances, he never lets on.

Ken is tremendously knowledgeable about the right native plant whatever the planting dilemma, and in the demonstration gardens around the nursery there's lots of inspiration on using native perennials in a variety of tough growing conditions such as heavy clay, sand or wet, boggy soil. Ken's terrific website lists the plants he sells and his native plant design and consulting services. 

The Potting Shed, 81 Talbot Street East (Highway #3), Cayuga, Ont. N0A 1E0; Tel and Fax: (905) 772-7255. For more information on opening times and directions, visit 

Jack Kent is a daylily enthusiast and hybridizer, whose home-based nursery in Cayuga I make a point of visiting every July when his many beds of display daylilies and even the plants in pots for sale are in full, luscious bloom. The nursery is also well worth a trip in spring for the other plants he specializes in - hostas, irises, peonies and ornamental grasses. 

Jack has been in business for eight years and in his case the nursery did start as a hobby that turned into a business. Go to his web site for terrific daylily photos to whet your appetite. This season, too, his catalogue is on-line. (And if you're planning a day trip, The Potting Shed is just a short drive from Sweet Grass Gardens.)

Wildflower Farm, R.R.3 Schomberg, Ont. L0G 1T0. Tel: (905) 859-0286 or toll free at 1 866 GRO WILD. For information on opening hours and directions, visit

When Miriam Goldberger and Paul Jenkins, partners in marriage and business, started Wildflower Farm near Schomberg, north of Toronto, almost 15 years ago, they catered to cutting and dried flower customers. That left little time and energy for high maintenance perennial beds, so Miriam began to research easy-care plants that could largely fend for themselves in their farm's heavy clay - in the process she discovered the beauty of native perennials. 

Visitors began to admire the plants, prompting the couple to propagate native species in their greenhouse and learn more about using them in lower maintenance, naturalistic gardens and prairie-style meadows. You can visit them on-line to buy seeds for perennials and grasses, get growing tips and find out about their design and landscape services, but a trip to the farm to buy plants and cut your own flowers is well worth it. 

Mason Hogue Gardens, 3520 Durham Road #1, R.R. 4 Uxbridge, Ont. L9P 1R4. Tel: 905 649-3532. For more information on mail order, free seminars in the garden, plants offered and opening hours, visit

Although it's a bit of hike for me to drive past Pickering, I try to get to Marjorie Mason Hogue's small but amazing nursery at least once a year. Marjorie is an enthusiastic gardener who worked for 19 years at a nursery in Pickering before opening up her own business (run with her son Jeff). The nursery is modelled on the English-style plant lovers' nursery with display gardens and carefully chosen plants for sale. 

Because the nursery is located on a couple acres of pure sand, Marjorie has become an expert on the techniques of water-efficient gardening. Despite her problem soil, Marjorie has created exciting display gardens - as Toronto garden writer Marjorie Harris puts it, "Mason-Hogue couldn't design badly if she tried." Marjorie is also the author of Amazing Annuals, an excellent guide to the many new annuals on the market and an expert on container gardening or "potscaping", a term she coined. The major focus at Mason Hogue Gardens is attractive and unusual annuals and perennials, and in the fall, there's a mail order offering of bulbs. The nursery also publishes a mail order catalogue to fill early spring orders (the deadline for ordering was April 1). 

Reilly's Country Gardens, 30 minutes west of downtown Ottawa, 3328 Diamondview Road, K0A 2H0, near Kinburn Ontario. Tel: (613) 832-2965. For more information on hours and directions, visit

I confess that I haven't shopped at Reilly's, although I've enjoyed the company of the Reilly family at several garden tours and perennial conferences. If I lived anywhere near Ottawa, I know I'd be a regular at their nursery. (So far, I've just been a regular visitor to their excellent information packed website.) 

Reilly's Country Gardens has been in business for almost 20 years as a home-based, family-run nursery specializing in hardy perennials. The nursery evolved from a hobby and a love of plants. One of the helpful features at Reilly's are well-labelled display gardens that allow customers to see how the mature plants look actually growing with other perennial companions, not just in pots on nursery benches. 

Speaking of hobbies spinning out of control: Yvonne Cunnington's own plant sale at her Ancaster, Ont., garden is May 25 and 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information visit Text and photos: © Yvonne Cunnington


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