Main Street News

Behind the Billboard: The Salisbury Garden Center

By Published On: May 31st, 2024

I’m pretty okay with words. But for some reason, when it comes to plant names, my mental dictionary has a gaping hole. The best gardener lingo I can muster is “forsythia,” and I only remember that because I face a wall of it every time I look out my front window. There is a small, bushy plant with heart-shaped leaves near my chimney, and a crop of low, green, waxy plants next to them, and if you gave me a multiple choice test on their names, I might pass, barely. But recall them from memory? Not a chance.

So garden centers are a revelation and an education to me. All of these familiar-looking plants, helpfully tagged with common and Latin names that inspire such phrases as, “So that’s what pachysandra is!”

Brightening people’s lives

Anyone who tends (or in my case, pre-tends) to their landscape needs a local garden center that is accessible, helpful, and well-stocked. For me, that is the Salisbury Garden Center, nestled in the geological fold between the back side of Satre Hill (of ski jump fame) and the crest of Smith Hill (capped by The Salisbury School). Perhaps this microclimate provides just the right amount of sun and shade for a range of native plants, but in addition to its inventory, the gardens themselves advertise their expertise. 

Admittedly, my first awareness of the center came before I started patronizing nurseries. Shuttling between Falls Village and Salisbury with some regularity, I noted the weekly quips on its signage, and during COVID, its witticisms breathed life into a haunted world. Owner Eric Mendelsohn doesn’t assign any more significance to the sign than a simple way to brighten people’s lives, but his guerilla marketing struck the right note in buttoned-down Salisbury. People were spending more time in their yards, landscaping projects multiplied with the influx of ex-urbanites, and the garden center was perfectly located to meet the needs of the boom. 

Location, location, location is the mantra of real estate agents, and the location of the center just outside of the sleepy town center has provided some insulation from the big box retailers that typically undercut local nurseries. That is not to say that its inventory is limited or over-priced, however. Mendelsohn embraces a version of the customer-is-always-right philosophy: whatever locals want, he stocks. 

More importantly, whatever a customer needs, it can provide. Mendelsohn prefers the analogy of “a small-town pharmacy to describe the intimate service that a local garden center can provide in contrast to a Home Depot or Loew’s.” Local businesses know our climate and the kinds of landscaping that are most prominent in our area, and they can recommend plants that will thrive in the northwest corner of Connecticut. Moreover, their employees possess botanical knowledge that is useful. 

Case in point: some kind of red-leafed shoot keeps coming up all over my lawn from what was formerly a very large tree. Plant identification apps and web searches failed to uncover its name, so I snipped a shoot and brought it to Salisbury, where a helpful staff member was able to not only identify it as a crabapple tree, but even direct me to a product for treating unwanted “volunteers” like it. Problem solved, time saved. 

Keeping up with the Joneses and “re-wilding”

Having lived in half a dozen Connecticut towns, I can attest to the micro-trends in landscaping. Urban settings often feature smaller parcels with manicured lawns and topiaries or arborvitae, and suburban landscapes can be characterized by whatever the Joneses next door have. Our rural location trends more native, sometimes even to an unnecessary extent. Treatment for invasives is downright evangelical among some homeowners, and the preference for native plants is equally feverish, with some customers seeking not only native cultivars but ones that are genetically pure. Attempts to “re-wild” properties or parts of properties with native grasses and plantings have also shifted the inventory of the center, which now stocks products such as wildflower and meadow grass seed to meet those demands.  

Although it isn’t a landscaping business per se, Salisbury Garden Center also offers design, delivery, and installation services, and it serves everyone from small homeowners to estates and businesses. Not sure what you want? It offers design services as well that will create attractive settings that add value and enjoyment to your home. The next time you drive by its location on Route 44, don’t just laugh at the billboard, but see what is growing just beyond it. •

The Salisbury Garden Center is located at 167 Canaan Rd. in Salisbury, CT. Call (860) 435-2439 or visit online at