By Lisa Capobianco
When head grower Sebby Milano began working at Winterberry Gardens in 2003, he remembers how the garden center began with one greenhouse. Eleven years later, Winterberry has “grown” into a total of three state-of-the-art greenhouses, all equipped with annuals, perennials, and a variety of fresh produce.
“Our plants are very healthy, very clean,” said Milano, who enjoys watching the plants grow from start to finish. “We feel really good seeing healthy plants go out to market, and we take pride in making sure our plants are very healthy, clean and hopefully provide a summer full of enjoyment for our guests.”
From 15 different tomatoes to peppers, herbs and eggplants to lettuces, broccoli and kale, Winterberry provides consumers with a variety of different vegetables to choose from. Growers started planting the seeds around the third week of March, followed by two-week rotations.
“We grow a lot of hybrid vegetables…they’re much more productive, much more disease-resistant and more vibrant,” said Milano, adding that Winterberry sells thousands of vegetables each year. “Every two weeks we have new batches of tomatoes being seeded so there’s constant supply of new and fresh varieties.”
Located at 2070 West Street in Southington, Winterberry’s 16-acre Garden Center is full of display gardens and unique plants like petunias, geraniums and SunPatiens, all planted by certified growers. The garden center specializes in two brands of plants: Proven Winners and Winterberry-grown.
“The SunPatiens [are] one of our big sellers here, we do an awesome job with germaniums…petunias are a big seller with us,” said Milano, adding that the SunPatiens have the ability to stay in the sun for a long period of time.
“We always try to have unique things you won’t find anywhere else,” said Adriana Gentile, who keeps the front end of Winterberry running smoothly while designing different combinations of plants, putting displays of plants together and helping out with merchandising.
What started as a small landscaping design and build company turned into a multi-faceted business that has become well-known for its services in irrigation, lighting fencing and maintenance. Founded by two brothers, Scot and Al Leavitt, Winterberry Gardens has adopted sustainable growing practices over the years. One practice includes using state-of-the-art flood benches, which act as a captured fertilizer system, said Milano.
“Our benches flood from the bottom up, water the plants from the bottom, and then the water drains back down the same pipes it came in, and goes back into the fertilizing tanks, so no fertilizing water is ever going into the groundwater,” said Milano, adding that the flood benches are one of the biggest changes made in Winterberry’s sustainable practices. “It actually saves heavy pollutants from going into the ground water.”
Another practice adopted at the garden center includes the utilization of nematodes to destroy other insects that threaten the plants, said Milano.
“We don’t use sprays on our vegetables here or on our plants, we use a beneficial insect called a nematode,” said Milano. “They live in the soil, and…these little nematodes search out the eggs of fungus gnats, short flies, and different insects that grow in our soil.”
As a head grower, Milano has shared the garden center’s sustainable practices with all members of the community through events and seminars. He recently taught visitors the basics of growing a successful vegetable garden through a class called “Easy Vegetable Gardening.” Earlier this month, visitors also came out to learn the tradition of fairy gardening through a hands-on class. Throughout the summer months, Winterberry will host different programs and seminars for guests, such as the “Creative Container Gardening” event scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 14.
“We have a number of Girl Scout troops that come in here, we also have a large number of schools that will bring their schools in, and we spend time educating them on the benefits that the flowers give us in terms of providing oxygen,” said Milano, adding that students who visit also have the opportunity to grow their own plants to take home.
Milano said currently, Winterberry has teamed up with the Orchard Valley Garden Club to donate a percentage of its retail sales to the club’s scholarship program.
“We’re doing a project now with the Orchard Valley Garden Club…and during the next two weeks a percentage of our retails sales to them so they could support their scholarship programs,” said Milano. “It’s a way to give back to the community.”
For more information, visit http://www.winterberrygarden.com/.