Changing landscape

Garden experts adapt to changes in weather, consumer trends

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Atwood Greenhouses in Cranston was bustling on a recent Thursday as patrons enjoyed a bright, beautiful spring day.

The sun illuminated the spectrum of colors lining the aisles, one of owner and operator Mike Macera’s favorite sights.

“I love doing this,” he said. “I love just seeing everything. I love coming here early in the morning. I get here at 5 o’clock in the morning, watching everything, walking up and down the aisles, making sure everything looks good…when a customer walks in, they want to see color.”

The recent bout of unseasonably cold, rainy weather created a slew of issues for Macera to handle. It has been a constant battle trying to keep plants fresh, and particularly to ensure they are receiving adequate sunlight.

“Weather conditions are bad,” he said. “It’s a lot of cleaning, a lot of mold. You have to keep cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, because you're not going to get stuff fresh,” he said.

Jon Confreda of Confreda Farms in Cranston said as much, too, as customers moved through the aisles of his garden center last week.

“The whole early season of pansies and violas and a lot of that early color stuff, people didn't even think about, because it wasn’t nice out,” he said.

The tides seem to be turning, though. Last Thursday saw temperatures in the mid-60s with few clouds in the sky, and with Memorial Day weekend on the horizon, Confreda hopes to see more people willing to plant.

Macera said that business was still solid on Mother’s Day weekend, despite low temperatures and seemingly perpetual cloudiness. He added, however, that it looks like traditional spring weather is in the past.

“It just seems like our springs just aren’t there anymore,” he said. “Our summers are elongated until the fall, so it’s a different atmosphere now.”

As far as top-sellers, Confreda said buyers are attracted more to exotic plants such as mandevillas and hibiscus as well as succulents. Macera said tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are classics when building vegetable gardens, too.

Both Confreda and Macera said hanging baskets are very popular as well. Confreda said those who don’t have time to tend a full flower garden can add significant color with just a couple of baskets.

“That’s always been one of our specialties, because you can buy it [and] the things are huge,” Confreda said. “You can barely even hold one on your own, and you can put it up and it looks good … it’s got color instantly and the color will last all summer long.”

“The decorative hanging baskets are most popular,” Macera said. “They’re pretty, they’re gorgeous, they’re well worth it. They’re already there. It’s full. It’s done for you.”

Both said low-maintenance plants have become more prevalent, and the reasoning is simple – they are easy to keep up and many people don’t have the time to plant full gardens.

“People want instant,” Macera said. “They don’t want to plant in the ground any more. So the flats, they’re pretty much nonexistent anymore. I’m growing less and less flats every year. So I’ll grow maybe 50,000 of the quart-sized pots, because people want instant.”

Confreda said as members of a younger demographic enter the market and purchase homes, maintaining an entire garden tends to be at the back of their minds. They are still spending, but the trends have shifted toward more indoor plants.

“They don’t really do gardens anymore, but they still want plants,” Confreda said. “So they want easier things, I guess you could say. People aren’t doing gardens anymore, and if they do, [it’s] shrubbery… So all the new people moving in here, they want more of low maintenance. They can kind of just buy it, plug it in and it looks good, and it doesn’t really take a lot of work.”

So are millennials killing gardens? Not so fast, Macera said. The younger generations are still walking the aisles and making purchases, even if their preferences have changed.

He offered some tips for anyone looking to start their own garden, a tempting proposition on a sunny day with so much vibrant color to be seen.

“Start slow and make sure you water them,” Macera said with a laugh. “Easy stuff, geraniums, stuff that you don’t really have to tend to too much…Start slow, but I think [younger people] should all start doing gardens, because it’s great. There’s nothing like picking a fresh fruit off your vine.”

Confreda Farms is located on 2150 Scituate Ave. and can be reached at 827-5000. Atwood Greenhouses can be found at 716 Atwood Ave. and can be reached at 944-8720.

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