This Week's Podcast: A Rebroadcast:Plants on the Cutting Edge
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Kathy and Chris Tracey founded Avant Gardens in 1985 as a small garden installation business quite by accident. The owner of a small local bistro asked these plant lovers to grow herbs and greens to cook with and flowers for the table. But soon, their love for rare and unusual plants led to one greenhouse and another. They started a nursery but they weren’t completely naive. Kathy and Chris signed up for horticulture courses at the Arnold Arboretum, including one that still makes them smile: How to start your own Nursery. Words their instructor, Jack Alexander, shared are still emblazoned on their memories: “I hope no one here expects to get rich. If you can meet your expenses and take a week off in the winter, you’ll be considered successful.”
Kathy says those were the truest words she ever heard. But the Traceys’ love for plants won out. In 1997 they started a mail order nursery – mostly selling tender perennials, and that was a success. All these years later, they remain among the few specialty New England retail and mail order nurseries specializing in unusual plants: tender perennials, hardy woody and herbaceous plants and succulents (both hardy and tender) for containers.
For years they put out a paper catalog, but now it is only online. They keep their website and online catalog “up to the minute” with lots of good images, and launched an e-magazine/blog , Garden Foreplay in 2010.
Kathy now runs the nursery with the help of their son Peter and part time employees Trish Perry and Joanne Doherty. Chris, who works with a small crew, is busy with landscape installations and dry wall stone construction for which has become well known.
Avant Gardens is open to visitors from mid April through September. The mail order season extends into November. (Clockwise from top left: Kathy Tracey; Rodgersia ‘Chocolate Wings’; Chamaeacyparis obtusa var. nana ‘Lutea’; Magnolia ‘Sunsation’.)