New nursery has ‘Homegrown’ state of mind
PAWTUCKET – The name is “Homegrown,” but owner Russell Stafford has big plans for his new nursery located at 1 Alfred Stone Drive.
He hopes to turn the site, one formerly known to city folks as “the one at the bend across from the front gates to Riverside Cemetery,” into a “go-to” haven for those with a green thumb.
Stafford, 66, a Providence resident, is a self-described “natural-born plant nerd,” and he opened the store on April 23. He says he’s astonished at the number of people around the Blackstone Valley who have gravitated to this spot to purchase his rare perennials and other assorted items.
“There’s been such a buzz around the area; I noticed on an Instagram I posted about opening that there were quite a few comments and a lot of likes about this place,” Stafford said while sitting inside his neat, rustic and wooden office. In the interim, while answering questions, he would shift his focus to the curious customers outside peeking at his fare.
“I thought, ‘People are primed for something like this here again,’” he added. “The word has really gotten around the Oak Hill neighborhood and beyond. I’m thrilled.”
Stafford – who sells between 200-250 different types of perennials, with some quite rare – mentioned he’s always been aware of this former greenhouse, even after he located his first “Homegrown” nursery in Providence by the
Gano Street ballfields.
“I actually signed the lease two weeks before the pandemic hit,” Stafford said. “We started there in early March of 2020, but we couldn’t open the doors until May. Business was OK, but I think because a lot of the Pawtucket people were still staying at home and not venturing out, they didn’t get to know our place.
“Still, we built up a customer base, and people from the Fox Point neighborhood would stroll in and buy perennials and flowers,” he added. “I always knew this property was here; I actually had my eye on it as a possible location for my nursery. It was an ideal space for what I like to do.
“The space on Gano Street had a lot more indoor space, more than I needed, and not as much outdoor room, which I need because of my perennials. One of the drawbacks over at Gano Street also was thee traffic, with cars roaring by. This I liked because it had a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere.
“This place originally was a flower store for visitors to the Riverside Cemetery, those who wanted to put flowers on their loved ones’ graves. The Stiles family owned the old greenhouse here, and I believe, between 2003-08, East Side Eden was here, then a few other businesses tried to make a go of it here.
“It really is a great site.” Even Stafford, a former tech writer who decided in the mid1980s he had enough of that business, still can’t believe his good fortune when his lease for his nursery on Gano Street became due on April 1.
“I had to decide back in January if I was going to renew, and I was set to,” he said. “Then one day someone told me this was coming up for lease, and I was, like, ‘Whoa! I have to check it out!’”
The rest is history. He began moving his perennials and equipment in his own car in late March, and he estimates making about 70 three-mile round trips from the Gano Street locale to Oak Hill.
“It got a little old, doing all that driving,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why didn’t you rent a U-Haul?’”
He says his specialty is local native plants, and that “one of my favorites is the American Ipecac, which was a purgative, or something used for medicinal purposes by the early settlers. It helps you purge any possible poisons you may have ingested, but it’s really just big, bushy, beautiful, ferny foliage. It gets starry-shaped with little white flowers in the early summer.
“Its leaves turn bright colors in the fall,” he added. “We also have many varieties of goldenrod, which by the way does not cause hay fever, and beardtongues or penstemon. We have 10 species of goldenrod and another 10 of the beardtongues. We also grow a lot of native Rhode Island plants here from seeds; I do a lot of my own growing.
“A lot of nurseries now sell plants from seeds they get from mega-growers, but I have a huge variety of rare plants that are extremely hard to find. Some may have been grown going back 200-300400 years.”
He said he just planted two flats of 60 gas plants from his own seeds, and he calls such a plant “a big, bushy perennial when it’s fully grown.” He also sells at least 10 different types of primrose, including cherry blossom from Japan, but also has some varieties from France.
Stafford, however, doesn’t only dabble in perennials and annuals, but also herbs and vegetables, among them heirloom tomatoes, green peppers, kale, green beans, beets, etc. He also sells a wide variety of relatively uncommon vegetables.
“In keeping with the name ‘Homegrown,’ we’re very local-focused,” he says. “Many of the items here in our cottage are made by local craftspeople.”
Besides selling the standard terracotta pots, potting soil, insecticides, compost, peat moss and the like, he also has on display affordable gardening hats, ceramics and pewter ware, the latter two items made by former and current Rhode Island School of Design students. He even sells birdfeeders for those who want to dress up their garden.
The old greenhouse, one that he said had rotted away with the weather, has been torn down, but his plan is to erect a little propagation greenhouse, one that stands 10 feet by 13 feet, to raise annuals.
“That way people who are visiting Riverside Cemetery can stop in and buy flowers for their loved ones before they go to their gravesites,” he said. “I just want to do something that makes Pawtucket a better place to live, a place that makes people feel happy.”
For more information, visit www.homegrownpvd.com or call (401) 400-3706.