If you're starting to dream up grand plans for your little oasis of outdoors, be it a wooded backyard or a patio container garden, then it must be time to do the annual garden-center crawl.
But while your first impulse might be to head to the nearest big-box home-improvement store to satisfy your gardening needs this season, remember that good things often come in smaller boxes.
Those smaller, independent garden centers and nurseries that have survived the spread of bigger stores have done so by offering high-quality plants, specialty items, and expertise that chains often can't match.
So, whether you're looking for aquatic plants for your fish pool, heirloom tomato seeds for your patio container garden, organic cooking herbs, or some just some helpful tips, you're bound to discover it at one of the specialty gardening centers and nurseries listed below.
Green Fields Nursery and Landscaping Co.
Green Fields Nursery began as a small grower of unique plants in 1923, with August Dubbert sharing his cuttings and plant knowledge with his Mt. Washington neighbors and friends. In the early 1940s, Dubbert purchased land from the city at the corner of Falls Road and Northern Parkway, establishing Green Fields Nursery as a retail florist and plant nursery. Although the business changed hands in 1986, and has since been run by Jim and Kathleen McElroy, the quality of customer service remains just as individualized as when Dubbert started it.
"Our customers are incredibly loyal and have grown with us, so we know them and can give personal service," says general manager Peter Bieneman, who has been with the business for almost a quarter of a century and has a master's degree in landscape architecture.
The nursery, which uses local growers for its annual and perennial plant offerings, carries specimen trees, native plants, and a wide assortment of evergreens, including unusual azalea and rhododendron varieties. A few unique favorites include fragrant winter flowering paper shrub, desert-like agave, and deer-resistant plum yew. "There has also been a great interest in native plants such as Ilex verticillata [winterberry] and Hydrangea quercifolia [oakleaf hydrangea]," Bieneman says. "Customers also gravitate toward color, and plants with unique foliage, like heuchera, have become epic in their sales."
Green Fields also carries gardening materials, including pottery, soil, fertilizer, and gifts for gardeners.
5424 Falls Rd., 410-323-3444
Herring Run Native Plant Nursery
It's hard to go wrong at Herring Run Nursery. Choose from among the nearly 250 native-plant species and you'll not only be beautifying your garden but also improving local biodiversity, as well as supporting efforts to restore our local waterways through the nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore, which works to restore clean water to the Gwynns Falls, Herring Run, Jones Falls, and Baltimore's harbor.
"Native plants provide habitat and food to native birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects," says program and nursery manager Darin Crew, a certified professional horticulturalist. "In contrast to invasive plants such as Japanese honeysuckle or English ivy, they improve local biodiversity."
Customer favorites include perennials such as milkweed, phlox, beebalm, black-eyed Susan, and goldenrod, which benefit butterflies and pollinators. Smaller understory trees, like eastern redbud and serviceberry, and shrubs, such as winterberry holly, blueberry, American beautyberry, native hydrangeas, and species of native viburnums, are also popular. Customers also enjoy some of the more unusual species like New Jersey tea and dense St. John's wort. In addition to many native edible plants like blueberries, persimmon, and paw paws, the nursery carries some non-native fruit plants that Crew says are easy to grow, including raspberries, blackberries, figs, and kiwis.
Mt. Pleasant Golf Course, 6001 Hillen Rd., 410-254-1577
Poor Boy's Garden Center
Friends Terry Gerahty and Mike Tyson started Poor Boys in 1985 in Dundalk, after the two had worked at a produce stand on Joppa Road. Two years later, they opened another Poor Boys in Parkville.
The Parkville store offers a wide variety of annuals, perennials, groundcovers, hanging baskets, shrubs, and trees. But it's the vegetable and herb selection that draws customers from far and wide, according to nursery manager Michele Betley. During peak season, the Parkville Poor Boy's sells more than 30 varieties of tomatoes and an equal number of pepper varieties. They also sell more than 100 types of herbs, including some harder to find herbs, such as scented geraniums like citronella and stevia (a sugar substitute). "Wherever we can, we try to embrace local growers," says the nursery's landscape designer, Lysa Wieman, listing Hillcrest Farm, Perennial Farm, and Valley View Farms among the growers they buy from.
The aquatics section is also a favorite among customers, offering everything from fish, tadpoles, and snails to pumps, filters, and organic solutions for keeping your pond clean and healthy. In addition to an extensive garden supply selection, the store also has a large selection of 'green' products for the environmentally friendly gardener.
7721 Old Harford Rd., Parkville, 410-668-7599
Sun Nurseries, started by Erik Rosenbaum in 1973 and continued by his daughter, Annette Fentress, is as expansive as its namesake. The sprawling 20-acre site hosts a huge plant-display area, garden supply store, and sample garden.
Its seemingly limitless selection of plants includes ornamental, shade and fruit trees, shrubs, conifers, broadleaf evergreens, hollies, rhododendrons, azaleas, Japanese maples, roses, grasses, fruiting plants, and native plants. They also carry some hard-to-find plants, such as paw paws, many types of non-invasive bamboo, and dwarf conifers, to name a few. Favorites include woody plants like nandina, Knockout roses, cherry laurels, and green giant arborvitae for screening, as well as annuals and perennials, including pansies, geraniums, herbs, liriope, and grasses. The nursery grows most of its plants and trees on its 94-acre tract in Carroll County. They purchase most of their annuals from local growers, though they do produce some of the hanging baskets they offer.
"We are growers first," Fentress says. "That gives us a vast amount of knowledge about how any plant grows, which ones do well in this area, what the plant likes, and any possible pitfalls. Also, because our plants are locally grown, they are acclimated to our area and will perform better."
14790 Bushy Park Rd., Woodbine
Willow Oak Flower and Herb Farm
Even if you don't live an Anne Arundel County, Willow Oak Flower and Herb Farm can make a great day trip on a spring day. Maria Price started the nursery 33 years ago on her grandparents' 40-acre farm. The grounds, which are protected by the Maryland Environmental Trust and the Severn River Land Trust, are open to the public, and Price encourages people to walk around to get ideas for their yards. Walk along the pristine woodland trail, stroll through the dozen themed gardens, and picnic by the pond.
The nursery focuses on local pesticide- and herbicide-free plants, offering a wide selection of healthy native plants, annuals, shrubs, herbs, heirloom vegetables, and fruit trees. This year's special additions include miniature citrus trees and fragrant old-fashioned roses. "We try to offer plants that do well for us in the gardens," says Price. The nursery is especially renowned for its cooking and medicinal herbs, and Price, who has a master's degree in pharmacognosy (the study of medical uses of plants) can tell you exactly how to use them.
8109 Telegraph Rd., Severn, 410-551-2237