Buckle up & visit greenhouses just east of Buffalo
By Colleen O'Neill Nice
Over the years, I’ve traveled to over 75 nurseries in and around Buffalo and Rochester, sharing my adventures with upstate readers. On this, my seventh trip, my enthusiastic gardening friend Cathy joined me for the day. Starting with two nurseries in Clarence, our journey continued through Akron and Batavia, with a break for a satisfying lunch. Then we traveled to Alden and Elma, ending our day in East Aurora. Although this route is very manageable as a day trip, consider slowing it down by dividing the nurseries into two days. Plan a mini vacation with an overnight stay at the Asa Ransom House, a charming, romantic bed and breakfast centrally located. Learning from past excursions – 15 nurseries in 2005 and then 16 nurseries in 2006 –pacing oneself is important. After all, you surely would not want to hastily overlook a rare specimen by trying to cover too much ground. For those who just can’t take time out for a road trip, keep reading. You can certainly enjoy an armchair visit to the nurseries through my descriptions and photographs.
Starting out bright and early at Weeks Nursery & Greenhouses, temptations inundate the “annual” plantaholic. A wagon or two or three – parked just left of the front entrance – is a downright necessity. Owner Tom Pfentner has been in the ‘growing’ business for 40 years. He worked for Mr. Weeks from the age of fourteen, later managing the business, then purchasing it in 1994. Several greenhouses are stocked full of annuals anxiously awaiting the perfect partners for dazzling mixed arrangements. I planted several Torenia ‘Summer Wave Blue’ in a double tiered planter on my shady, north facing porch. Purplish-lavender blooms cascaded continuously from spring until frost on succulent green foliage. Surprisingly, the new torenias are much more floriferous than varieties I grew in the past. Flats of old fashioned annuals basked in pure sunlight outside the greenhouses. Perfect for bedding, the numerous varieties include ageratum, alyssum, celosia, cleome, cosmos, dianthus, dusty miller, lobelia, marigolds, petunias, salvias, snapdragons, vinca, zinnias and more.
Tom dedicates a huge greenhouse to a colorful collection of pelargoniums. These old fashioned geraniums have been a gardener’s favorite for over a hundred years and are still one of the most popular plants today. They love hot weather, tolerate drought and are deer resistant. Tom adds a twist to the traditional plant with three foot tall bush geraniums, in eight different colors. “Spectacular on a sunny porch or patio,” says Tom, “these unique giants produce 30 to 40 flowers per plant.” Colorful hanging baskets and mixed pots complement herbs, vegetables, tropicals and perennials throughout the greenhouses.
Our next stop, Lavocat’s Family Greenhouse & Nursery, has been beautifying homes and gardens for over 30 years. Don and Teri Lavocat manage the business with help from their three children Kellie, Donald Jr. and Christopher. Eleven greenhouses are stocked with over 800 varieties of annuals, perennials and shrubs. Customers drive from near and far for flats of lisianthus in shades of blue, lime, lilac, white, rose, pink and picotee. Take home ready-to-go pots of sunflowers, kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, morning glories or rhubarb.
Enrich your shrub collection with Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’ or ‘Vanilla Strawberry.’ Both bloom every year on new wood. Add height to your mixed containers with the imposing Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’, an elegant annual grass which grows four to six feet tall in full to part sun. Exotic looking, it tolerates moisture and is an ideal plant near ponds. Low maintenance, sun-loving Cuphea llavea ‘Totally Tempted’ attracts hummingbirds with brilliant red tubular flowers highlighted with purple throats. Blooming from spring until frost, ‘Totally Tempted’ never needs deadheading. Grow vertical with the intriguing tropical vine Passiflora caerulea ‘Bahama Blue’ commonly called the passion flower. Fast growing, it loves sunny, moist conditions and attracts butterflies. Lavocats provides a playground for kids and a “Plants for Plastic” program which pays 20¢ a pound in plant credit for your unused plastic pots and trays.
Huge, eye-catching hanging baskets dangled overhead at the pristine, state-of-the-art greenhouse at Bedford’s. The baskets sizzled with unexpected color combinations as well as unique plant compositions. Endless blooms seemed to float in mid-air, cascading down – totally concealing their pots. These stunning hanging baskets beautify Main Street in Akron, as well as many homes and businesses in the area. According to owners Maryjo and Steve Bedford, “We actually grow over 18,000 hanging baskets in our energy and water efficient 50,000 square foot greenhouse.”
An oversized picket fence displays hanging bags of impatiens and wax begonias. Both the green leaf begonias and impatiens prefer shade, while the dark leaf begonias tolerate sun or shade. Maryjo has a trick to keeping the hanging bags well watered and shares it with everyone who purchases one. The bags add a burst of color to fences, walls, doors, porches, mailboxes and even trees. The Bedford’s “famous patio tomatoes” – a 68-day, compact, indeterminate is resistant to verticillium wilt, nematodes and fusarium wilt. The large, sweet, flavorful, 3-4” red fruits are produced consistently until frost, flaunting over 100 tomatoes per plant. “For an even higher yield”, Maryjo suggests, “transplanting to a larger pot or planting directly in your garden.” In addition to growing vegetable plants and herbs, they also sell seeds and bareroot vegetables.
New for 2012 are “Confetti Gardens” which feature three different harmonizing annuals in one pot. Great for instant color in window boxes and patio planters. “We’ve also added several brand new coleus” says Maryjo, “including ‘Aurora Black Cherry’ (a blend of peach, lime and brown with bright green edges), ‘Dark Star’(deep purple with scalloped edges) and ‘Wasabi’ (chartreuse).” Look for unique colors of Wave petunias, the ‘Potunia’ (petunia with a bubble-like, round habit) and ‘Peppy’ (star/striped upright petunia). Maryjo grows twelve colors of verbena including the ‘Lanai Series’ which is low maintenance, heat tolerant and disease resistant. Its trailing growth habit makes it a perfect ‘spiller’ in containers. Just outside the greenhouse is a large selection of perennials arranged alphabetically on tables with descriptive signage for effortless shopping.
Pudgie’s Lawn and Garden Center in Batavia was our next stop. Displayed amongst the annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees are gardening necessities like tomato cages, trellises, potting benches and rain barrels. Choose from numerous vegetable seedlings including over 12 varieties of peppers and 15 varieties of tomatoes. Pudgies grows several interesting cultivars of sedum like ‘Autumn Fire’ with intense brick red flowers and a tight growth habit. A British selection, S. telephium ‘Munstead Dark Red’ produces branching flower heads of crimson-rose on red tinged succulent, green foliage. S. telephium ‘African Sunset’ is an upright, spreading sedum. It glows with scarlet stems supporting glossy, dark purple leaves and intense red flowers. Long arching stems of glaucous, grey-green foliage support clusters of yellow flowers on S. telephium ruprechtii ‘Hab Gray’. Blooming in late summer, sedums are hardy, low maintenance, sun-loving, drought tolerant and butterfly magnets. Avoid fall floppiness and staking by pruning them back by half in June. New for 2012, Pudgies offers the ‘Pennsylvania Pride’ premier brand of shrubs and trees. With a three year homeowners guarantee, these superior grown trees include old fashioned favorites, natives, flowering, and new varieties that are disease and pest resistant.
On our way back through Clarence, we stopped for lunch at The Hollow Bistro & Brew on Main Street. Back in the early 1800’s, this historic building housed the first school in Clarence. Since then, it has experienced several transformations – a hardware store, bakery, deli and ice cream parlor. Then in 2010, it was renovated into an attractive, inviting eatery and pub. Proprietor Katie Yu offers a menu peppered with Asian inspired salad, calamari, stew and even a steamed fish on Fridays. The famous “Hollow Burger” is to die for. Served on a pretzel roll, char grilled angus beef, bacon, crumbled bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato, and red onion are topped off with a fried egg. Mouthwatering! The lunch menu features flatbread pizzas, soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas and daily specials including a “risotto of the day”. Visit their web site for a complete lunch and dinner menu.
At Ulbrich’s Water Garden Gallery, customers can stroll through a variety of natural outdoor settings featuring working ponds, waterfalls and fountains. Pools of fish and aquatic plants fill the greenhouses. Many tropical plants like colocasia, cannas and the red stemmed thalia thrive along the water’s edge. They have large colorful foliage and can reach six feet tall in full sun. Ferns also grow well in aquatic conditions including Woodwardia virginica (Virginia chain fern), Osmunda regalis (royal fern) and O. cinnamomea (cinnamon fern). All prefer morning sun and can be grown as marginals or potted up and then submerged.
Used as a lush screen or backdrop, rushes add a vertical component to water gardens. Scirpus atrovirens (green bulrush), Juncus effusus ‘spiralis’ (corkscrew), Scirpus zebrinus (zebra), and Equisetum hyemale (horsetail) are hardy and prefer shallow water in full sun to part shade. Floaters like Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce) and Eichhoria crassipes (water hyacinth) float freely on the water’s surface limiting the amount of light entering the water, thus discouraging algae growth. Habenaria repens (water spider orchid), native to Florida, is considered a true aquatic since it grows happily in standing water as well as in moist soils surrounding water bodies. The greenish flowers emit a very intoxicating fragrance in the evening to attract night-flying moths. Create unexpected water gardens with floaters in birdbaths or simple watertight containers. Three foot tall Pontederia cordata (pickerelweed) with long heart shaped leaves and deep blue 6" flower spikes is an emergent aquatic. Preferring shallow, quiet water, its leaves and flowers float above the water while the stem grows beneath it. Its common name suggests that this plant and the well known fish 'pickerel', occupy the same habitat.
Ulbrich’s stocks vibrant, perky goldfish including comet, sarassa, shubunkin and fantail. For large ponds, Koi and Butterfly Koi, descendents of the common carp, are popular. Founded in 1969, Ulbrich’s has evolved from a 54 acre tree farm to a garden center stocked with annuals, perennials, houseplants, shrubs and trees. Its aquatic displays and supplies are one of the largest in WNY.
At H.G. Miller’s Farm & Greenhouse, my iPad was a necessity. I encountered annuals that I had never seen before – except in catalogs. Gomphrena globosa ‘Fireworks’ exploded with hot pink spherical blooms tipped with yellow. Preferring hot, dry conditions, its strong stems reach 3 to 4’ tall. A continuous bloomer requiring no deadheading, ‘Fireworks’ is well suited for cutting, vases and drying. Pair it with the heat and sun-loving, Russelia rotundifolia 'Desert Fire’. Flaring, tubular flowers of coral red with yellow throats dance above softly textured arching green stems from summer through fall. Attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, this Mexican native is perfect for xeriscapes and well draining soils. Add the charming Centradenia x inaequilateris ‘Cascades’ to hanging baskets or window boxes. It’s vivid magenta-pink flowers and ruby stems contrast with bright, coppery-bronze foliage. When used as a ground cover in sunny beds, it grows 18” tall and spreads beautifully. Trailing stems root easily, so this tender perennial can be overwintered as a houseplant to be enjoyed from year to year. The bold, mottled bronze-olive-rose foliage of Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Beyond Paradise’ makes a splash in containers. Slow growing, this tropical shrub loves heat and humidity, but also grows well in part shade. Just 12 to 18” tall, its upright habit resembles coleus, but requires no pinching. Chenille-looking wands of tiny reddish flowers arch amongst the decorative foliage.
The petite Brachyscome hybrid ‘Blue Zephyr’ and the Laurentia hybrida ‘Avant Garde’ series are annuals that beg to be included in a fairy garden. ‘Blue Zephyr’ displays lacey foliage covered in tiny purple daisy-like flowers that bloom spring and summer. ‘Avant Garde Blue’ and ‘Pink’ are vigorous growers with scented, star-shaped blooms in summer and fall. Include Rudbeckia hirta ‘Toto’ and Melampodium paludosum to the miniature mixture. Both have bright yellow daisy-like flowers. Perfect for fairy havens, they can be grouped in mixed containers or planted at the front of a border. Miller’s also has a large selection of Stepables®, perennials, herbs and hanging baskets of bougainvillea in hot pink, purple, orange, red and coral.
Just minutes down the road, Berner Farms maintains a produce market, nursery and petting zoo. Rows and rows of trees, shrubs and perennials bask in the sun, while multiple greenhouses are ablaze with annuals. Impressive standard-form evergreens, well proportioned and robust, are available in several species. Globe-shaped and bushy, Picea omorika (Serbian spruce) with shiny, dark green needles, is one of the most adaptable spruces. Deer resistant, it grows well in sun or part shade and prefers rich, moist, well drained soil. Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea’ (golden dwarf Hinoki Cypress) is a compact slow grower, perfect as a standard. Swirling golden-yellow, fan-like foliage glows in sunlight, imparting an asian energy. The dense, bright green foliage of Thuja occidentalis ‘Tom Thumb’ requires minimal pruning. It is one of the best semi-dwarf arborvitae for cold climates and has excellent disease resistance, vigor and hardiness. The attractive blue needles of Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’, add a colorful contrast to the greens and purples of the landscape. This dense, icy blue standard form is slow growing, deer resistant and waterwise. Impressive billowing oakleaf hydrangeas, stunning ‘Autumn Colors’ black-eyed susans and tropical caladium offer just a hint of the diversity of plants at Berner’s.
Intermingled with uncommon garden art, benches, birdbaths and obelisks at Johnson’s Nursery, are amazing plants. A huge, sculptured juniper horse watches over ginkgo and sweet gum standards, while the spherical white blooms of the Cephalanthus occidentalis (common buttonbush) buzzed with bees. The fragrance of the spiky white flowers of Eucomis autumnalis (pineapple lily) saturated the air. This South African native has tropical-looking, fleshy foliage that can pep up a pot or beautify a border. As a cut flower, stems will stay fresh for weeks, with frequent water refreshment.
Coneflowers, perfect for sunny, well drained soil, exploded with colorful, long lasting blooms. The red-orange shades of ‘Tiki Torch’, ‘Tomato Soup’ and ‘Hot Pappaya’ spiced up the creamy white double pompoms of ‘Milkshake’. Adding a splash of butter yellow, the profuse-blooming, Echinacea ‘Sunrise’ or the lightly scented, compact E. ‘Pink Double Delight’ can energize any garden space. Be sure to plant coneflowers early in the season, so they can become established well ahead of winter weather. A gem for the shaded garden, Arisaema ringens (Japanese cobra lily) boasts glossy, thick, green leaves that remain intact all summer. Resembling a cobra’s head when in flower, a thick purple and white striped spathe curls down arching over a dark purple spadix. Although easy to grow and eventually forming large clumps in well drained soil, it detests excessive winter moisture. Johnson’s maintains an impressive collection of unique trees, shrubs and perennials for shade. They also hand-select unusual stones and rocks for every landscaping need.
The WNY area is horticulturally rich. Many growers combine their talents with years of experience to provide healthy, robust plants to our gardening community. Take advantage of their zonal knowledge and buy local. You will be rewarded with annuals that thrive in our summer climate and true perennials that return year after year. And try something new this year – sassy centradenia for your window boxes, colorful cuphea skipping through your annual beds or a wave of ‘Wasabi’ whooping it up in your shade border. Your garden is what you make it. So get out and see what our local nurseries have to offer.
Colleen O’Neill Nice is a passionate gardener in Clarence, New York and specializes in fern propagation.
Printed in the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal, May-June 2012
Weeks Nursery & Greenhouses
5955 Shimerville Road
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Travel time: about 16 minutes to Lavocats
Lavocats Family Greenhouse & Nursery, Inc.
8441 County Road
East Amherst, New York 14051
Travel time: about 21 minutes to Bedford’s
*Note: This is a new address since this article was written
6820 Cedar Street
Akron, New York 14001
Travel time: about 25 minutes to Pudgie’s
Pudgie’s Lawn & Garden Center
3646 W. Main Street
Batavia, New York 14020
Travel time: about 24 minutes to The Hollow Bistro and Brew
The Hollow Bistro and Brew
10641 Main Street Clarence, New York 14031 http://www.thehollowclarence.com716-759-7351
Travel time: about 21 minutes to Ulbrich’s Tree Farm
Asa Ransom House
10529 Main Street
Clarence, New York 14031
Ulbrich’s Tree Farm & Water Garden Center
Alden, New York 14004
Travel time: about 7 minutes to H.G. Miller’s
H.G. Miller’s Farm & Greenhouse
8150 Clinton Street
Elma, New York 14059
Travel time: about 1 minute to Berner Farms
Berner Farms/Farm Market & Greenhouse
11210 Clinton Street
Elma, New York 14059
Travel time: about 14 minutes to Johnson’s Nursery
11753 East Main Street
East Aurora, New York 14052