With 75 degree temps and patches of warm sunshine on Friday afternoon deigning to kick off Memorial Day weekend, garden centers around the area readied themselves with a dazzling array of perennials and hanging plants, but the major focus was on vegetable seedlings.
“This is a big vegetable weekend– tomatoes, peppers, eggplant — all that stuff,” said Susie Kelly, of Old Lyme Landscape in Old Lyme, where rows and rows of vegetable plants were on display, ready for customers to plant in their gardens.
“The farmer’s almanac always says the last full moon in May you can have a frost four days before or four days after, so we’re good to go now,” she said.
Susie, whose father Jack Kelly has owned the business for more than 30 years, also works with her sister and mother to run the garden center.
“Memorial Day is traditionally our busiest holiday weekend of the year for everything and that continues after this cold, wet horrible spring we had, so it’s been exceptionally busy this week and this whole weekend, so it’s very good for business,” she said. “We’re doing well and selling lots and people are excited to plant.”
The scene was similar over at Scott’s Yankee Farmer in East Lyme, where Abbi Sheehan said the crowds were picking up late Friday afternoon.
“We’re hoping it’ll be busy, we just got a lot of produce in today and we’re hoping to start picking some strawberries in the next couple of weeks and we have lots of flowers still,” she said, standing near a greenhouse bursting with plants, with even more varieties arrayed outside.
“We have vegetable plants, all kinds of squash, tomatoes, peppers. This is really our ‘get going’ weekend,” said Sheehan.
With its huge connecting greenhouses and sprawling outdoor spaces stuffed with plants, Ballek’s Garden Center in East Haddam on Friday was bustling with customers on Friday as well.
“This weekend is traditionally when people come to get all their vegetable plants because they have time off on Monday and it’s past the full moon so it’s past the last frost date, so this is when everybody comes for vegetables,” said Diane Ballek. “So, we’ve filled the whole area with vegetables.”
Ballek’s mother-in-law, Anita Ballek, who at 89 is the oldest of the Ballek farmers, sat near the cash registers thumbing through a binder of seed orders while answering the constantly-ringing phone and chatting with customers.
“I’m ordering seeds right now for next year because people ask us for one thing or another that we don’t have and there are so many things to have,” Anita said. “It was so simple when we started and now there are a thousand varieties of tomatoes.”
Anita and her husband Robert Ballek started the farm in 1965, originally as a dairy farm, but changed to a full-time plant nursery in 1969.
“We sold the cows in 1969 and went full time into this. We added plants and vegetables and flowers and it took off from there and we couldn’t keep up with it, and we kept building another greenhouse and another greenhouse and another extension,” she said. “We’re the place that people come to who want the curious and the oddball. We don’t have half of the things people ask for but we try!”
Ballek said that everyone who comes in enjoys gardening and plants.
“Everyone enjoys it — we sell happiness all day,” she laughed. “It’s the healthiest addiction you can have.”