The May long weekend is the traditional beginning of the garden season. Residents of this area are fortunate to shop for plant material locally and to buy directly from several local growers.
Family-owned growers/retailers include Steyn’s Garden Centre on Yonge Street south of Bradford, Bradford Greenhouses two locations (Bradford and Barrie), Ferragine Greenhouses on Simcoe Street, and Lakeview Gardens in Lefroy.
These growers have decades of family experience growing and selling close to home and sometimes further afield as wholesalers. Buying plants at any of these local markets is truly a community experience.
This reporter recently visited Lakeview Gardens in Lefroy and was graciously given some precious time in a very busy season by members of the Radcliffe family including the original owners Stephen and Gaynor and in particular their son Rob. There are now three generations of the family in the business.
Rob explained this is the busiest year since opening in 1979. He said, “This has been a really fast year. We have sold an awful lot faster than we have ever done.”
There is only family working to grow and sell the plants this year. They each have their particular tasks and responsibilities, but each also knows the other aspects well and can help out in different areas. Everything is done by hand. Rob said, “There is no automated feature in the greenhouse facility whatsoever. We transplant by hand, we fill flower baskets by hand, and we water by hand.”
The garden centre specializes in hanging baskets, potted flowers, herbs, and annuals and vegetables. They do not carry trees, shrubs, rose bushes, or vines primarily because they don’t have space. Perennials are brought in.
In the 28,000 square feet of greenhouse operation, they grow about 5,000 hanging baskets, 45,000 in pots, and 10,000 flats of vegetables and annuals, with 48 plants per flat. Because it’s been such an early busy season, Rob said, they would normally have a quarter more crop than they do now.
Lakeview Gardens began as a wholesale company. It continues to be a wholesaler but is moving toward growing its retail business. To that end, it has done improvements in the past five years including adding a greenhouse and a shade cover.
The family not only sells potted plants, they are a farm market selling their own produce. Once bedding plants are gone, the greenhouses are filled with a wide variety of vegetables for market.
Life begins in the oldest greenhouse on the property, built in the 1800s. Plants are moved elsewhere in the five-greenhouse facility as they reach different growth stages. Everything is grown in soil, which benefits the taste and size compared to hydroponics.
Rob added, “We are really big on biological control. We are introducing bugs onto our plants to take care of pests. Every hanging basket has got a little sachet in it so consumers don’t have to worry about white-flies, spider mites, or aphids.”
Pests can build resistance to chemicals. Every week, new bugs are introduced to the plants, and bees are released in the greenhouse to pollinate. “We have been doing this for many years, and it has actually increased production.”
Besides its own retail location, Lakeview Gardens will have a large 40-foot tent at the Innisfil Farmers’ Market starting June 3 until Thanksgiving. When malls reopen, it will also have a tent on Fridays at the Tanger Outlet in Cookstown.
Lakeview Gardens represents some other local growers at the market and their own location. Rob buys directly from the farmer, and all products are labelled as coming from where they originate.
Last year was the first year Lakeview Gardens sold poinsettias and decorative baskets with in-season vegetables until Christmas and will do so again. The garden centre is open now from Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m and is located at 1712 Killareny Beach Road in Lefroy. It maintains the family tradition of being closed on Sundays. This year, in particular, a day of rest is needed.
Steyn’s Garden Centre is also a three-generational family grower. They are wholesalers and sell directly to the public from early spring to July.
Steyn’s also sells soils, mulches, and aggregate, and has full landscaping services. They are located at 19890 Highway 11 (Yonge Street) in Bradford.
Ferragine Greenhouses began in the 1980s as a wholesale operation and expanded into retail in 1995. It is a family-run business, with a range of materials and services.
It is open from April-October at 572 Simcoe Rd. in Bradford.
Bradford Greenhouses Garden Gallery is one of the largest greenhouse growers in Ontario, begun by Francis Ferragine in 1961. It offers a range of plant materials, gardening supplies, outdoor furniture and more at its two retail locations. One in Barrie at 4346 Highway 90 in Springwater, and one in Bradford at 3817 County Rd. 4 in Bradford.