A Labor Of Love — Lost


It’s Labor Day weekend – a time tailor-made for beaches, barbecues, parades, and speeches.  But on this particular holiday, I’m staring at the remains of a small, neighborhood garden center on Long Island.

I’m not sure exactly what happened here.  Did the owner retire, unable to sell the business?  Did some sort of illness interfere?  Was the small nursery unable to compete against the box stores that sprout like weeds?  Or perhaps, this nursery is just another victim of an economy that has failed to thrive?

It’s amazing how quickly the weeds and wildflowers have turned this once manicured plot into an overgrown prairie.  Slowly, however, it gives up its secrets.

The shelves where pots of perennials were once displayed.

Tables once held flats of impatiens, petunias, and a rainbow of assorted annuals.

Pots, nearly hidden by the towering weeds, are now homes to those weeds.

Some pots, though, would rather hold onto the skeletons of their occupants.

The front bed is a hodgepodge of fleshy weeds and flowering vines and litter.

The manicured plantings, the ones selected with care, still manage to bloom.

The whispers of gardening questions and shared planting tips linger around the side yard, just beside the rack that held hanging baskets of geraniums and million bells petunias.

Today, though, those conversations are nearly drowned out by the the insect chirps and buzzes coming from the tall weeds — proof that nature continues to go about its business, despite the story told here.

This Labor Day, in between the parades and barbecues, remember to celebrate labor by purchasing something from a local business.

Enjoy the holiday, everyone.

34 thoughts on “A Labor Of Love — Lost

  1. What a sad sight, and all too familiar these days. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes an IGC go under, but as I now have some insight into the business, I can honestly say that it’s difficult to stay profitable, even in a good economy. I appreciate your call to support local businesses. Happy Labor Day.

    • Mario, I cannot even imagine what it takes to keep a business alive in this economy. I always think of these small businesses, whether it’s a small garden center or not, as a child that never grows up. It very often demands your full attention at all times. Hope you’re doing well and that the garden center where you’re working is weathering the economic and meteorologic conditions. Be well!

  2. I felt the energy of this one, I had to close my nursery
    I had prices better than the box stores, healthy plants, organic perennials that were native to the areas, and was vigilant for over 3 years, 24/7 for with live goods there are no holidays off….
    but I still couldn’t compete with the box stores and many of my growers were forced out of business too..
    sad, but I am now putting my passion back together, I live where I will work I create faerie habitats and their homes, and am in love with life LOLs…
    it was a hard lesson, but I learned it well…
    I would have taken cuttings from the thriving ones there…(just a cutting, always leave for some to continue….)
    (or a few seeds,)
    Good post…
    Thank you ..for caring….
    Take Care…
    )0(
    ladybluerose

  3. I know the owners of my favorite local nursery have been struggling a bit during the recession, trying to be creative about new niches they can fill (e.g., growing veggies and selling them both at the nursery and at the local farmers market). The couple who run this place next to their home are about my age and I wonder what will happen to the business when they decide to retire or just can’t keep up with the work anymore.

    • As I read your comment, I’m thinking of the current generation, which has been raised on box stores and Internet shopping. I hope that a more personal, quality-based way of life is not slowly disappearing. Maybe more should be done to encourage younger entrepreneurs to take the plunge to learn how to run and enhance our local businesses.

  4. My husband has been a labor union chairman for more than 20 years…perhaps not a popular thing to admit today, but it’s simply true! So our celebration of ‘Labor Day’ has many personal meanings and ramifications, but we will definitely respond to the idea of supporting the small business. We try to anyway, but tomorrow is a good way to be most intentional! I would love to one day hear that someone bought that wonderful nursery property and restored it! I always hope for such things! Debra

    • Hi Debra — I certainly understand how your husband can sometime feel that he’s under fire these days. I’d rather not mix politics with a gardening blog, but I don’t believe unions had anything to do with our financial mess. Enjoy the holiday!

  5. As the nursery business goes, so does plant diversity, at least in the trade. Large growers buy up smaller ones and the choices to consumers become more limited. (Sounds like our food sources, no?)

    I applaud your call to buy local and support small, independently owned businesses. Your efforts to grow plants from cuttings and seeds are also a call to us all: The more hands-on and aware of each other we become, the greater our chances of trading person-to-person and building resillience into our communities.

    • Hi Cheryl. One of the reasons I grow from seed is that it gives me more variety. I don’t feel that I have to settle for what’s available in the stores. That being said, I would love a way for smaller businesses to teach the larger chain retailers a thing — like the personal touches. Anonymity doesn’t feel so good.

  6. I work at a medium size retail nursery east of Seattle. We are always wondering about the future. The truth is we have thousands of cars that drive by every day and most have never stopped. They aren’t gardeners? They are set in their ways (Costco, home depot)? Too many Microsoft employees that want to do everything online? Who knows? We do have some wonderful regular customers… Thank you for supporting your local Independent Garden Centers! Let’s keep those gardens growing!

    • Hi Elaine. That drive-by must feel disheartening at times, but I do hope you can hang in there. And it’s also more than just gardening centers. It’s the local plumber and laundry, the family-owned grocer and butcher. Here on Long Island, there are a few communities that have an actual downtown area — but these are few and far between. Much of Long Island is malls and national retailers — and when they appear, the smaller businesses disappear. All of this is ironic, since there is non-stop conversation about the need to create user- and pedestrian-friendly downtown in all of Long Island’s communities. But downtowns need to have more than crafty gift stores. We need the businesses that are going out of business. Enjoy the holiday!

  7. Hi Kevin it’s sad when your local business shuts down especially when it’s a nursery, we have a lot of small business’s closing down over here as well and the nursery industry hasn’t been at it’s best for a long time. I think people are tending to spend their money elsewhere and on other things.

    • Karen, you are so right when it comes to the economy and the amount of money people can spend on plants. When the choice is between food or roses, food wins. Hopefully, things will turn around — globally — very soon.

  8. I’ve seen nurseries like that one here, too. I’ve read that owning a small independent garden center is difficult and hugely expensive. I do shop at Lowe’s sometimes, but usually go to the local garden centers first.

    • The box stores are certainly convenient — but the smaller independent businesses are much more personal. There’s nothing like getting lost in a conversation with an employee or owner who knows his or her stock (and customers).

  9. I always hate seeing this happen to local businesses. It is so sad. Many of the local nurseries here are now offering less in plant materials and are geared up more for landscaping and hardscape services. I do not know how they can compete with all of the big box stores even if they keep the prices down. Everyone wants to shop now where they can get everything all at once when shopping. I like your call to buying local and try to do this all the time even if the prices are a little higher. I know our local businesses need our support.

    • Hi Lona. It is a very sad sign of the times, and I have to wonder if the box stores are progress. It’s nice to find everything under one roof, but nicer to enjoy the personal touch. Sadly, the smaller nurseries must adapt and adjust to stay alive.

  10. Heartfelt sentiments! There is an abandoned nursery near my house, and I can’t pass it without feeling saddened by its ghost-town atmosphere.

  11. This was such a wonderful post. I could imagine what the place was like before the humans left and nature took over. And it was such a great idea to have the photos in sepia…perfect to illustrate the past with the forsaken present.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and the sepia tone. When I tried to take some photos without sepia, the scene actually looked more sad. The weeds looked dried, the greens more subdued. Ironically, sepia seemed to add more life.

  12. I too liked the colour tone of the photos, great job showing what once was. With all the racks still standing I wonder if there’s a chance someone might still come along and put the place back together.

    • I have a feeling that scenario won’t happen. Behind the nursery are some homes — so I think a builder will most likely buy the nursery and add a few more homes. Sad.

  13. Loved your photos Kevin, so appropriate to have them in sepia 🙂 It is always sad when local businesses go down, but it can happen for all sorts of reasons. The fact that shoppers have new demands today, like being able to shop online should not necessary put a local nursery out of business.
    I used to shop at a nursery an hour’s drive from where I live here in London, but due to my many health problems I haven’t been able to go there for years. I was so happy when they started selling online and I again could purchase from them – same excellent service, same excellent quality, same prices and the plants are delivered to my door the day after they are shipped from the nursery, for a very small fee. The delivery man even carries the boxes out to my garden for me. I love internet shopping, I could not manage without it, and my nursery now deliver to the whole country in addition to having their local shoppers stop by so they must have expanded their customer base considerably.

    • Helene, well said. It’s so important for smaller businesses to continue to reach out and change with the times in order to meet the various needs of consumers. Not always an easy thing to do — but necessary. I’m glad your nursery was able to meet your needs — and even more happy that you let nothing stand in your way. 🙂

  14. Funny you should mention thriving downtowns. That’s exactly why I moved to my present location… for all the small stores and for the people who buy from them who are now my neighbors.

    • Hi Diane. I love the idea of thriving downtowns. Sadly, the economy and the anonymity of suburban life has erased that in many areas. I’m glad you found a place to call home.

  15. A local nursery a few blocks from my house closed down 6 or 7 years ago. I bought my Tolliver’s Blue Weeping Juniper there for $100.00 only to have it be uprooted twice by strong winds in my backyard. It didn’t survive the second uprooting. About a year ago, a small neighborhood post office closed down which was even closer to me than the nursery. I begged them not to close it but my wails didn’t do any good. The only small business I know of is mine and I’m doing all I can to support it! : – ) As for the nursery area, it was flattened and you would never know a nursery existed there. I wonder what the story is behind the nursery in your photos.

    • Hello Marcella. I’m not sure what the story is, but the result will most likely be a developer purchasing the lot and building some houses or a strip mall. It’s so sad to witness what’s happening on our Main Streets. I hope you hang in there.

  16. I have to say those pics sent a chill through me!!! My wife and I purchased a garden centre in Ireland 7 years ago from an elderly retiring couple, we were both in our v early thirty’s. I grew up in the gardening/horticulture world so knew exactly what I was getting in to, 24/7 11 months of the year( we close for Jan to take a breath).We have expanded the business allot since taking over putting every spare penny back in.The past few years have definitely been a struggle for the industry, margins are getting tighter and sales slipping (although this year ye are up a bit). Here(in Ireland) the weather and the economy have been crap for the past 4/5 years but the multiples (box stores) and petrol stations (gas stations 🙂 ) have done more harm than economy and weather put together. I really saddens me to see people flow out of these places with trollies laden down with over priced inferior stock when there are some wonderful garden centres around struggling to make ends meet. I wish i had the answer, how do you get through to these people that in most cases they are getting ripped off!!

    Currently we are extending our shop facilities to make room for a cold room so that we can sell cut flowers( my wife is a v good florist) and we have two e-commerce sites under construction,(holy sh*t, there is allot of work involved in these) one for the cut flowers and one for the garden centre so if we go down it will not be with a whimper!

    • Hello Ray. You asked the million dollar question: how to get through to people? I’m not sure what the answer is, especially since I’m not a business person. I think you would have to look at the box stores and figure out what they are not providing their customers and then go from there. Customer service? Plant knowledge? Inspiration? Thinking outside of the box, so to speak. I recently read an article in a local paper about a garden center in a dilapidated neighborhood — but the center is thriving. It has become a community meeting place with poetry readings and concerts — and visitors can shop and get ideas. I hope this helps — and any other readers feel free to continue the discussion.

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