Gardening Corner: Anticipating spring

A visit with local nurseries


INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE at Virgil & Constance in Brandon. An all-around nursery, V&C carries annuals, perennials, veggie starts, natives . . . you name it. Co-owner Mary Shields and manager Alice Reisenweaver begin ordering plants in October for their May opening.

Last year I showcased our local nurseries. I’m circling back to ask about their new offerings, news, or whatever they’d like to update me about, and when they’ll be opening. This week we hear from Miller Hill in Sudbury and Virgil & Constance in Brandon.

Miller Hill Farm

If you haven’t had a chance, please do go to Miller Hill Farm this spring when their bonsai fruit trees are in bloom. They look like Vincent van Gogh’s take on Japanese wood cuts. 

Miller Hill Farm Nursery and Gardens will continue to sell their lovely Vermont-sourced trees and shrubs as well as a select line of pollinator-friendly perennials and annuals and a wide range of Vermont natives. Another key offering is their statuary and planter selection, and the shop will be brimming with antiques and fresh finds. The newest addition will be bonsai starter plants and supplies this coming season. They will also be offering a bonsai workshop – for workshop date watch programs on their website – and on Facebook Miller Hill Farm Nursery & Gardens.  In addition, Carl Phelps is giving a bonsai talk for the Middlebury Garden Club is March 12th at Ilsley Library in Middlebury. 

I asked Carl what bonsai is and why he loves it. 

Carl: “The history of the art of bonsai traces back over two thousand years to the Chinese practice of creating miniature landscapes called ‘penjing.’ Sometime around 1,000 years ago, some principals of penjing were adopted in Japan and became what we now know as ‘bonsai,’ which translates to ‘planted in pot.’ While penjing includes an entire landscape in miniature, bonsai centers on one aspect – the tree. In the art of bonsai, we strive to replicate the graceful lines of a mature tree in miniature form. 

TWO VIEWS OF Miller Hill Farm in Sudbury, where Carl Phelps and Nan Jenks-Jay create soothing vignettes with their plantings. Some of Phelps’s bonsai are visible in the lower photo. He will be offering a workshop of the art form at Ilsley Library in Middlebury on March 12. Photos provided

With much respect for the history of this art form and its connection to Zen Buddhism, I began my personal journey into creating these living symbols of the harmony and beauty of nature. After some false starts, I studied a bit more and around eight years ago began my first successful attempts at the process of starting, growing, and shaping miniature trees in planters. With the idea that art should be accessible to all, while far from a master, I now want to share what I have learned. In the past few years, some of our efforts have been on display here at Miller Hill Farm, Nursery & Gardens. This coming season, they will begin offering bonsai and their closely related plants, kusamono and shitakusa, as well as their necessary supplies.” 

Miller Hill opens on May 9 this year.  The farm is located on Route 73 in Sudbury, just up the hill past Willowbrook Road.

Virgil & Constance

Virgil & Constance Home & Garden are celebrating their sixth year of selling quality plants at their location on Route 7 south of Brandon. 

“We have been ordering since October for this upcoming season and we’re so excited. We are buying plants that are tried-and-true favorites and every year include more to offer new and variety to our selections. We are expecting our fabulous staff to return with Alice Reisenweaver, manager, at the helm, and a mix of experienced staff and new faces. We are still revamping our store so come in to see what has changed. The retail area continues to sell more gardening supplies and items that are garden focused.

We are seeing a real uptick in sales in a couple of areas. We are continuing to source many Vermont-grown perennials. We are being asked by customers to source more native plants as well, so that’s a growing part of our business. We’re delighted to do this, as we know that native plants grow well here, they thrive in our climate, feed our pollinators, and feed other local wildlife. We’ve just been to the Vermont Landscape and Nursery Association’s winter meeting and spoke with vendors and ordered more native plants so that you can add them to your gardens.

We continue to be amazed by our ever-growing customer base. Folks are coming from near and far. We like to think they are visiting our lovely little town, and drop in. We’re so glad they like what we have to sell. We’re also amazed by the number of people visiting friends and relatives who drop by for gifts for housewarmings, celebrations of life, and hostess gifts. People enjoy marking the birth of a baby, a graduation, an important birthday, a wedding, or a memorial with plants, shrubs, and trees. Recently we sold two gorgeous birch-tree clumps for a family celebration of life. Family members put messages of remembrance on the branches. It was so lovely to be a part of that.” It reminded Mary Shields, co-owner of Virgil and Constance, of the subject in Robert Frost’s poem “Birches” and what a familiar part these trees play in our Vermont woods and landscape.

“To satisfy your summer sweet tooth, we will continue to scoop delicious Vermont-made Wilcox hard ice cream. We look forward to supplying annuals, perennials, shrubs, bushes, trees, veggie starts, herbs, house plants and supplies for your gardening needs. We live by our motto: ‘Go out and play in the dirt!’”

Virgil & Constance opens May 14, 2024. 

Please, everyone support our wonderful local nurseries. We’re so lucky to have them. 

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