Shopping in and around Ellicottville

by Colleen O’Neill Nice

It feels heavenly to escape from my regular routine and sneak away for a few days to enjoy the long, hot days of summer. One of my favorite places to relax is in the small town of Ellicottville, about an hour’s drive from Buffalo. In winter, Ellicottville is a white wonderland of skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and snowshoeing. But to experience this picturesque getaway in the spring and summer, is a gardener’s delight.

So I brought my friend Elaine along – florist by trade, gardener at heart – to search out unfamiliar frontiers. Planning a new garden under a huge maple tree in her front yard, Elaine came along to unearth just a “few” new specimens. Few is the key word here folks – because the last time we went nursery hopping together, Elaine’s van was filled to the roof. We even held plants on our laps for the ride home!

So we began our summer soiree driving through the early morning fog in the hills and valleys about 20 miles southwest of Ellicottville to Sinn Valley Gardens. Owner Darlene Sinn’s enthusiasm for plants was evident as she gave us a tour of her sprawling property. Many of the perennials that Darlene sells in her nursery are growing as mature specimens in her charming, country gardens. Observing plants growing in the ground versus growing in gallon pots can certainly make the plant selection process for your own garden much easier.

For the helleborus aficionado, Darlene is always acquiring new varieties. She grows Tera Nova’s Winter Jewels Collection which includes the double pink picotees of ‘Peppermint Ice’. Large, light pink flowers are edged in magenta and surrounded by tepals with dark pink backsides. Helleborus ‘Sparkling Diamond’ bears a profusion of double snow-white blooms dancing above polished green foliage. If you prefer the anemone-flowering lenten rose, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Carousel Strain’ displays large flowers in shades of purple, rose, white and green. Each petal is picoteed around a deeply colored, ruffled center. Hellebores prefer dappled shade and a humus rich soil which can dry out slightly between watering. It is an evergreen, clumping perennial that makes an attractive ground cover and blooms from January through April.

Darlene also has an obsession with hostas and offers the latest and greatest varieties. Hosta ‘Earth Angel’ was chosen by the American Hosta Society as 2009 Hosta of the Year! It is one of the largest blue varieties with heart-shaped foliage over a foot long. The leaves are accentuated by a broad creamy, white border. It is vigorous and highly slug resistant. Four foot tall stalks emerge with shiny white flowers in summer. The enchanting H. ‘Deja Blue’ displays striking, four-color leaves. The blue-green center is outlined with jagged cream and yellow strokes with a chartreuse-green leaf margin. It grows to about 24” wide with pale lavender flowers in early to mid summer.

Add a burst of radiant color to your shade garden with H. ‘Fire Island’. The thick, glowing gold foliage and contrasting red stems are topped off with lavender blooms in mid summer. Growing just 10 inches tall and 18 inches wide, this drought tolerant hosta is slug resistant. Pair it up with H. ‘On Stage’, one of the largest yellow and green variegated hostas available. It prefers full shade where its pointed green leaves exhibit varying tints of yellow-gold. H. ‘On Stage’ matures to about 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide in moist, well drained soil.

At Sinn Valley Gardens, Darlene has been delighting customers for 18 years with her Mother’s Day hanging baskets, specialty annuals and hardy perennials. Plan a visit in May or June when she is open daily from 9 AM to 7 PM. From July through September visit Wednesday through Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM. You can also call for an appointment or visit by chance.

Heading to Olean, we stopped in at Stayer’s Greenhouse in Alleghany, New York. Vickey and Tom bought the nursery in 2008 and have really made it their own. The large greenhouses have a fresh look, unique plants and a new energy. They have expanded their tree and shrub selection, as well as added new products to their garden supply area. Complete pond and water garden goods are available including aquatic plants, fish and pumps.

Most amazing to me was the creativity displayed in their choice of annuals. Prolific morning glories overflowed their pots, while dramatic castor beans stood tall in large containers. Dwarf sunflowers ‘Pacino Gold’ and ‘Big Smile’ were waiting patiently for a new home, while Helianthus ‘Evening Sun’ was determined to reach 8’ tall in its gallon pot. An amazing selection of coleus filled several benches including huge pots of Coleus ‘Giant Exhibition Series’.

The Stayer’s are also creative with their vegetables. According to Tom, “specially bred seeds designed for container grown plants are used.”  Many of the vegetables can be grown vertically like cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, beans and tomatoes. A surprising amount of food can be grown on your deck, patio or windowsill. The bounty can be large, even if your space is small.

Strolling through the shrubs, I noticed one of my favorite lilacs, Syringa pubescens patula ‘Miss Kim’. Its compact habit, light purple flowers and strong fragrance are a winning combination. For a winter hardy boxwood, try Buxus sempervirens ‘Welleri’. It has a height and spread of 3’ and can withstand cold temperatures better than the species.

Looking for a wonderful specimen tree? How about the very ornamental Chinese flowering dogwood (Cornus kousa var. ‘Chinensis’) with blue-green foliage and long lasting, creamy white flowers in spring. The foliage changes to reddish purple and the blossoms form red raspberry shaped fruit which persists into late fall. More resistant to disease than other dogwood varieties, ‘Chinensis’ is also extra hardy allowing it to grow in areas where other dogwoods are marginal. For a profusion of bright purplish clusters of blooms in early spring, plant Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. This redbud has purple heart-shaped leaves that glow when they are backlit by the sun. In autumn, the foliage changes to hues of red, purple, orange and yellow. The graceful, smooth grey branching habit is exquisite in winter. This is truly a tree for all seasons.

Visit Stayer’s Greenhouse Monday through Saturday from 9 AM  to 7 PM and Sunday’s from 9 AM to 5 PM. Energize your garden with creative ideas and amazing plants.

Just up the road is Bockmier’s Farm Market, a combination of fresh produce and unusual plants. Starting out as corn growers many years ago, Jim and Sheila decided to expand their repertoire with hardy shrubs in 1988. Since then, the nursery has grown to include unusual trees, vines, perennials and annuals.

Evergreens are the perfect four season companion and dwarf varieties inspire groupings of textures and colors in the smallest areas. The charming dwarf Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana ‘Nana’) needs to be placed in a position of prominence so garden visitors can caress its soft, weeping, silvery-blue needles. With excellent drainage in full sun, ‘Nana’ will mature to 4’ tall and 5’ wide.  Pinus strobus ‘Blue Shag’ is a dwarf eastern white pine with short blue-green needles which are soft to the touch. It is easy to grow and low maintenance, typically growing about 4’ tall. Picea pungens f. glauca ‘Sester Dwarf’ is a pyramidal spruce with bright blue needles. It is a wonderful accent plant reaching just 8’ tall and 5’ wide in full sun.

Add a burst of blue magic to your garden in June with Wisteria macrostachys ‘Kentucky’. It’s bluish-purple long racemes typically bloom in two to three years, unlike the American wisteria which takes as long as 7 to 10 years. This vigorous vine is hardy to zone 3 and grows 30’ tall.

With nine varieties of cherry tomatoes, homemade jams and jellies and a “Frequent Perennial Buyers” card with no expiration date, what more could a gardener need?  Visiting Bockmier’s also sparked a mini course in ornamental plants 101. Both Sheila and Dorinda, being very knowledgeable plantswomen, freely share information with you about any of their specimens. I walked away thinking – wow – they really put considerable research into the types of plants they choose to grow and sell.

Our next stop was in Olean at Miller’s Farm Market where seasonal vegetables, herbs and fruits were plentiful. I could not resist the seedless watermelon and the donut peaches. If you have never tasted a donut peach, you are in for a real treat. It has a sweet tenderness with just a hint of almond flavoring. Donut peaches are flattened with a depression in the center, just like a donut, but considerably less calories.

For the home canners, get your tomatoes, apples and peaches by the bushel or half bushel. In August, Mr. Miller drives to Pennsylvania in search of the sweetest, juiciest peaches for his market. Did you know that Pennsylvania is one of the largest domestic producers of this summertime fruit? In addition, the United States produces one-fourth of the world’s market crop with peaches grown in more than 30 states. So enjoy the many varieties of homegrown peaches available locally.

Miller’s also grows annuals in seven greenhouses in Olean including fuschia, wax begonias, New Guinea impatiens, petunias and vegetables. Plants are sold in flats, hanging baskets and in single pots. Bulk and bagged mulch, topsoil and composted cow manure can also be purchased along with gift items, soy candles and gourmet foods. Miller’s is open year round with hours of operation dependent on the season. Call ahead.

Just down the road is Burton’s Farm Market where neat rows of hardy mums sat sunning themselves. Their buds were squeezed tightly, as they waited patiently for cooler temperatures so they could explode into bloom. In spring, Burton’s has oodles of annuals available in flats and hanging baskets. A profusion of colors and varieties of geraniums, celosia, marigolds, petunias, begonias and more will compliment any planting scheme. Take a peek at the perennials and herbs. Owner, Harry Burton, was quick to run through a list of vegetable plants including heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, sweet & hot peppers, cantaloupe, cucumbers, sweet corn and broccoli –  to name only a few. Harry’s seasonal produce is extensive and includes fruits and vegetables locally grown in New York State. Hours are dependant on the season, usually from 9 AM to 8 PM. Call ahead.

Working up quite an appetite, we took our lunch break at the Chuck Wagon Restaurant. With the tag line “We love hungry people!”, how could we go wrong? Homemade soups, chili, pies and desserts complemented their extensive menu. We opted for the barbequed chicken sandwich and sweet potato fries, one of the daily lunch specials. After enjoying a delicious lunch, with fairly priced, generous portions and a friendly waitress, we headed to our last destination.

Pleasant Valley Nursery, serving customers for over 25 years, is known for their premium quality spring annuals and hanging baskets. They also grow a large selection of perennials and flowering trees and shrubs. Decorative pots, statuary, granite birdbaths and boulder benches complement the greenery.

According to owner, Dan Evans, “new plants for the 2010 season include two new colors of the annual Wave Petunia, “Blue Denim” and “Burgundy Star” plus nearly 20 new perennials in quart and gallon sizes.” Also look for the new pink flowering Annabelle, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincible Spirit’. This extremely hardy (zone 3-9) arborescens is the first pink with enormous, very reliable blooms for over four months. Gardeners in the coldest regions can enjoy flowers on this hydrangea even if the stems die back to the ground.

“In my opinion,” says Dan, “hydrangeas are really under used, especially the paniculata varieties that do so well even here in Zone 4 like H. paniculata ‘Limelight’, ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Little Lamb’. They are hard to beat for their month long color display in the late summer.”

Pleasant Valley is truly a four season nursery and begins the year with Easter and thousands of flowers in bud and bloom including lilies, callas, hydrangeas, mixed containers and more. Late spring and summer usher in a wonderland of colorful blooms and intriguing foliage. Autumn transforms the nursery with thousands of huge potted mums in over 20 colors grown on site. “People love to go to the mum field and choose their own,” says Dan, “with the entire month of September being prime time for mums.” Pumpkins, asters and cornstalks complete the harvest trimmings. For the holidays, the greenhouses feature several sizes of poinsettias in designer colors, cyclamen and fresh mixed wreathes. Specializing in Frazier firs, all Christmas trees are locally grown.

Hours vary with the season, so call ahead. Easter hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 6 PM and Sundays from 11 AM to 5 PM. Spring hours (starting in late April) include Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 8 PM and Sundays from 9 AM to 6 PM. Generally, during the summer, fall and Christmas season, shop Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 6 PM; Saturdays from 9 AM to 4 PM; and closed on Sundays. 

Take some time out to enjoy a few lazy days of summer by visiting some noteworthy nurseries in the southern tier. Plan a romantic mid-week adventure with your spouse or a “girl’s only” weekend, making Ellicottville your home base. You are apt to discover a gold mine of plants, along with some extremely savvy growers. After all, this is zone 4, home to great skiing and extra hardy gardening!

Starting in Ellicottville, New York

Travel time: about 29 minutes to Sinn’s


Sinn Valley Gardens

6278 Rt. 353

Cattaraugus, New York 14719

Phone: 716-938-6731

Travel time: about 36 minutes to Stayer’s Greenhouse


Stayer’s Greenhouse, LLC

4340 NY Route 417

Allegany, New York 14706


Travel time: about 2 minutes to Bockmier’s


Bockmier’s Farm Market

3809 Old State Road

Allegany, NY 14706


Travel time: about 9 minutes to Miller’s


Miller’s Farm Market, LLC

1685 East State Rd

Olean, NY 14760


Travel time: about 1 minute to Burton’s


Burton’s Farm Market

1630 E State Rd

Olean, NY 14760

(716) 372-2812

Travel time: about 9 minutes to Chuck Wagon Restaurant


Chuck Wagon Restaurant

2457 N Union St

Olean, NY 14760

(716) 372-0464

Travel time: about 3 minutes to Pleasant Valley


Pleasant Valley Greenhouses

2871 Route 16N

Olean, NY 14760


Printed in the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal, March-April 2011

Bright flowers

& foliage fill a

hanging basket

at Stayer’s

At Stayer’s Greenhouse,

sunflowers are

potted up & waiting

for a new home

Large pots of coleus & castor beans make colorful additions to a porch or patio

Beautiful gardens

display many plants

that Darlene Sinn

sells in her nursery