Lancaster Gardens: change is in bloom
Lancaster Gardens has been a fixture in Central Massachusetts since the early 1970s. Originally, it was a retirement project of Carroll and Bernice Ordung who sold seasonal plants. Eventually it was taken over by two of their sons, Bob and Rick who developed the business into what it is today.
Those who have grown up in the area probably recognize the sweet iconic sign in cursive hanging above the entrance of Lancaster Gardens. Also unique to the shop are the wagons that shoppers use to cart around their chosen plants, and the wall of ribbons ready to embellish traditional potted gifts such as pointesettas, geraniums and Easter lilies.
While those quintessential Lancaster Gardens bits are still present, several recent facelifts have noticeably changed the vibe in a significant way. Who is behind this thoughtful magic? Bernice and Carroll’s granddaughter Liz, a modest soft spoken secret master of plants, space and movement. We got to sit under the resident banana tree with Liz and hear about her journey getting involved in the family business. We chatted all things houseplants and got to peek into the annual and perennial greenhouse as Lancaster Gardens gets prepared for the season ahead.
SOTB: What was it like growing up with Lancaster Gardens being such a big part of your family life?
Liz: This is a place we would come to play when we were little. We would build forts in the dirt piles and crawl around the “jungle” as we called it, under the benches that hold plants. Then as we got older, we started working here after school.
SOTB: Did you always want to be involved in the business when you got older? What brought you back here?
Liz: Ah well, the great depression (laughing). Seriously, I graduated college in 2008 from Wentworth.
SOTB: That was a tough time to be starting off. What did you study?
Liz: Architecture. It was not the best time to be graduating. So I had to start working, I bartendened and then eventually met my husband, had a baby and was able to stay home with her. When my daughter went to school, I needed something to do. At the same time, I saw that there was an opportunity to help here. I became inspired and it kind of snowballed from there.
SOTB: Was there a moment when you realized that you weren’t just “doing something” any more, that you were really doing something, something quite great?
Liz: Yes, there was that moment. It was one winter that I just realised that I wanted to take this seriously. It wasn’t a vocalized plan it really just started happening.
SOTB: It is delicate, I imagine to change things up a bit.
Liz: One thing I realize is that a lot of things have to be slow and steady, until it is proven to work.
SOTB: Have you received any feedback?
Liz: Oh yeah! People are talking a lot about it; they come in and are excited.
SOTB: Do you think your architecture background has helped?
Liz: Yes and no because I want to do so much more, and I see so much potential. I am a bit of a dork; I did circulation studies of the space. I wanted to see where people were going and to understand the giant area of congestion, which I have a plan for and know how to fix, but I need some time. Architecture is a lot of creativity and design, and this helps me as a creative outlet, whether it is merchandising or arranging.
SOTB: Tell us about arranging and design. Blooms by Lancaster Gardens, was that something you started?
Liz: Yes, that was my first attempt to bring something new in as well as create a spot that was for me. It has been steady. We do weddings and events. Having a cooler has been talked about, keeping fresh cut flowers on hand for the person walking in who wants a bouquet. Part of that concerns me because in ways I see a lot of waste in that industry so I want to keep it just per order and per event at this point.
SOTB: In a way you have the opportunity to shift or redesign what a flower bouquet is. Cut flowers are amazing but they are also temporary. It is special to have something longer lasting, like a houseplant.
Liz: I agree, people have really gotten into that idea. We have the cactus gardens that are pre-potted or you can pick out any houseplant, and we can pot it up for you.
SOTB: Was the sitting area your call?
Liz: Yes, I needed a consultation spot for Blooms by Lancastser Gardens clients. Some people come here and stop by and sit. I especially encourage people to bring a book and chill out, especially in the winter when it is so cold outside.
SOTB: So let’s check out some plants
Liz: Let’s do it...
Touring the massive area of houseplants, Liz gracefully caresses plants as she identifies them at ease, emitting a calm reverence for their presence. As she points out special features, it’s easy to start gushing over wildly cool plants that would go unnoticed to the untrained eye. Nodding in agreement at every bit of excitement, her zenish composure is a fitting demeanor for this lush peaceful kingdom nestled on the side of Lower Bolton Road. Tables overflow with countless options: ferns, bromeliads, sansevierias, philodendron and others. Looking up, rows of geraniums, whose clippings will be propagated, are lined on planks above the walkways. Hanging plants dangle from above, like beautiful windchimes. The air is pumping with goodness, and it is an absolute treat for the soul to visit.
SOTB: Succulents succulents succulents, there are tables of them!
Liz: Look over there, those are trays of all the baby ones that we have propagated.
SOTB: (loud gasp) Look at them! They are the cutest.
Liz: I know, aren’t they great?
SOTB: How do you navigate a novice houseplant owner looking for the right find?
Liz: Well it all depends on the light. Assuming they have all the good conditions and they want something easy to take care of, we talk about the look they prefer. Do you want something like a snake plant or do you want something more leafy? Dracaena are a nice option; they have a lot of really cool variegations. They give you bright and showy but aren’t too hard to take care of. A snake plant is a good option, since you can put it anywhere. I wouldn’t recommend ferns because they like humidity and really don’t like to dry out, which can be tricky.
SOTB: What do you think is the secret to keeping healthy houseplants?
Liz: Sing to them! (laughs). You really need to just pay attention to them; plants can communicate with you and let you know if they are happy or not. Keep an eye on it. Is it making new leaves? Is it happy where it is? Sometimes when plants get huge and out of control, people bring them in, and we foster them.
SOTB: There seems to be an interest among the younger generation into what would be labeled as alternative ways. Studying moon cycles or utilizing crystals for example. It almost feels like a re-emergence of the late 60s and 70s. Houseplants are an accessory of that genre. Are you noticing an increase in younger people coming in and being serious about plants?
Liz: Absolutely, you totally can. There have been a lot of young people who come in with roommates to pick out plants. Teenagers interested in plants also come in with their parents. I think social media helps with that. I follow the trends, which helps me determine what we are going to have here.
SOTB: So, what are the must-have hip plants?
Liz: Monsteras and snake plants are huge. People also come in looking for Aloe Vera, which is also a health food trend now, as people are into eating it. It is interesting because during the 1970s, people wanted more houseplants, and that is what grew this part of our business, so it does feel like a re-emergence.
SOTB: What is the oldest houseplant you have here.
Liz: Probably the banana tree, which was here when I was a kid. I actually had to move it when I brought in these chairs; you can still see the ring on the floor from the pot being in the same place for so many years. The other one is the euphorbia, the huge cactus. I think it is over forty years old.
SOTB: What was the biggest focus of the changes you recently made?
Liz: The main store front. I opened it up so that when someone enters they can see the houseplants right away. I really wanted to bring light in. Presentation and signage is so important. There is so much to do here. The three guys are so busy in the back that there’s never been a focus on the front area.
SOTB: Do the guys each have a particular focus?
Liz: They all do so much. My dad does all the cactus propagation. My uncle Rick does the seed planting. Then we have Mike who literally does everything. He is amazing.
SOTB: What is happening now in the greenhouse?
Liz: Everything! Pansies are first, and we are prepping for Easter, so we have our spring bulbs coming out. We have all the annuals coming out soon. Perennials are here, and herbs are planted. Come on back I’ll show you.
Walking into the back area through the workshop and into the greenhouse is a bit like stepping into an alternative universe, as if rain has parted ways and light shines through with inspirational music coming in from all corners. Massive rows of meticulous planters greet you with incredible penetrating shades of green. New guinea impatiens, geraniums, begonias are all lined up at attention. Hanging planters for the summer are potted. It is really hard not to get pumped for the season ahead. For some reason we speak in whispers, because it feels appropriate with all these babies around.
SOTB: When thinking about the outside garden, what should new gardeners know before they come in?
Liz: If you have an idea of what kind of light and soil you have, we can help you with the direction that you can go in.
SOTB: What are these? They are such a rich color black.
Liz: Those are black potato vine. I actually did a black garden last year with black potato vines, black petunias, coleus that was black with green on the edges.
SOTB: That is so neat.
Liz: I was inspired by the black petunias.
SOTB: What is your favorite part of the shop?
Liz: I love it inside (the houseplant greenhouse) because it is always lush and jungle-like. But when the annual house in the summer is full, there is nothing like it. There are flowers everywhere. They are all blooming, and the colors are amazing.
SOTB: It is really intoxicating.
Liz: It IS. It is the best.
Where: 35 Lower Bolton Road, Lancaster
When: Daily 9:30-5:30pm ALL YEAR ROUND!!
Follow ‘em: @bloomsbylg
Cool houseplant tip: Asparagus Fern: you can pinch off leaves and use them in your own bouquets!
IDEA: bring in little ones to plot fairy gardens, they have all the supplies!
FYI: If you buy a houseplant and pot, they will pot it for free. Yah, you heard it right!!
Interesting fact from Bob: The cultural shifts in the 1990s drastically changed sales in the flower industry. Many traditions have shifted, and fewer people buy Easter lilies, geraniums for graves, or poinsettias at the holidays. Be sure to spark a conversation with Bob, as he is a super-interesting man.