A growing busines: New Haven company sees 25 years of gardening trends

NEW HAVEN — In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president of its United States to begin his first term in office. Microsoft released their newest technology, Windows 3.1. “Aladdin” and “Wayne’s World” packed movie theaters, while Pearl Jam and Nirvana rocked the boom box.
Meanwhile, in rural New Haven, Vermont, Peter Norris committed to a business project that seemed small at the time, but has grown and flourished ever since and continues to feel at least as relevant today as the day he started (which is a tough claim for Pearl Jam or Windows 3.1).
Greenhaven Garden & Nursery is now celebrating its 25th season at the New Haven site on Route 7 and Norris says the business has grown to match that big idea he had at the beginning. Starting with just a small shed and some shrubs and annuals, Norris (and the few family members and friends who were helping him) started out modestly. But word about his knowledge of landscaping as well as the service customers could count on at Greenhaven quickly helped the business expand.
“Each year, we added at least something more,” recalled Daenen Norris, who married Peter in 1993 and has been a business partner and integral member of the business ever since. The couple raised their three daughters on the site and, along with what they call a “rock solid staff,” have been able to turn their little dream into a successful business.
Today, Greenhaven’s eight acres houses eight greenhouses, two irrigation ponds, lots filled with gravel and other landscaping material and row after row of perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees, vegetables, herbs and other edibles. Greenhaven also boasts a garden store stocked with all the supplies you may need to tend to these plants.
In addition to the retail aspect of their business, Peter Norris and a team of about a dozen Greenhaven staff also work with landscape architecture firms on large-scale residential and commercial landscaping projects around the state. Some of their recent projects include the skate park in Burlington and the Alchemist Brewery in Stowe, but they have also done work with Middlebury College and other local businesses as well as residential projects around Addison County.
The Norrises also own an off-site solar farm that can generate enough energy to meet all their power needs (and more) for the gardens and nursery, something that certainly wouldn’t have been feasible 25 years ago.
Indeed, the technological world has changed dramatically in the last quarter-century, revolutionizing the way companies like Greenhaven can do business.
“When we first got started, we just had a cash box,” Daenen recalled. “We eventually moved to a cash register, then added the credit card processing machine. Now we have a Square and I can ring someone out on my phone.
“But in the world of too-much technology and an app for almost everything, gardening is a reprieve from the fast-paced digital world,” Daenen continued.
And that’s a good thing for Greenhaven, she added.
In fact, the staff at Greenhaven has watched as trends have shifted back toward the natural world and responded to the calls for a renewed interest in the natural landscape.
“People are more interested in native plant varieties than they used to be and curious about edibles and how to integrate them into their naturalized gardens,” Daenen says. “Vermont’s localvore movement is having a major effect on the plants people want to grow and ways they want to design their landscapes.”
She says it is an environmental and a political message of self-reliance and consciousness about what is good for the landscape and what isn’t. Access to technology and information in the modern world has enabled people to become a lot more educated about the kinds of gardening and landscaping practices that are good for the land and those that are not.
“We know a lot more about invasive species and pesticides and growth stimulators than we used to,” she says, and that knowledge has shaped the choices that consumers make about the plants they grow, chemicals they use and alternatives they seek.
Greenhaven staff has responded aptly by creating things like hanging basket mixes designed specifically to keep certain pests away from their neighboring plants. That way gardeners have an alternative to pesticides, but still can enjoy a tomato or lettuce green that doesn’t already have a munch out of it.
The nursery is also investing more heavily in heirloom varieties of vegetables as well as flowers and other plants. Heirloom varieties help keep the biodiversity of a crop strong and disease-resistant, as well as introduce a fun and interesting variety to the garden or salad bowl.
But according to Norris, perhaps the most distinct characteristic of gardeners today is their lack of patience and desire for instant satisfaction.
“Where we used to sell tiny seedlings that people would be able to watch grow over many years, now people want bigger plants, shrubs and trees that are going to instantly look like what they were envisioning or saw in a picture,” she says. People’s tendency to move around more may also affect their desire for instant gratification — they don’t know when they’re going to leave, so don’t want to risk missing out on the good part of the plant’s life.
So to that end, Peter Norris has invested in a giant tree spade that can relocate a tree that has a trunk up to 10 inches in diameter (which, for the record, is HUGE — such a tree would easily reach over 20 feet tall). Their grounds are filled with large perennials already a size that would naturalize quickly into a hole in the garden. Their greenhouses are filled with vegetable plants that will grow to be two feet tall before someone takes them home.
For Greenhaven, people wanting larger plants that have a greater chance of surviving, or fruiting, or producing a flower, isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps that will keep them going — and growing — for another quarter century.
   Greenhaven’s staff got a jump-start this year with the unseasonably warm winter and early spring. With Easter and Mother’s Day also earlier than usual this year it’s meant the greenhouse and garden team has been hard at work getting all the plants organized and ready for when the sunny weather arrives and the masses decide it’s time to get plants in the ground. Independent photos/Trent Campbell

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