Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Nursery Visit Back East -- Avant Gardens

When we first started planning our May trip to Massachusetts to visit our son Iain and his girlfriend Diana we didn't know that they had started making plans to buy a house. By the time our trip actually rolled around, they had bought and passed papers and taken possession of their new house in North Providence, Rhode Island. Like the Seattle area, and I would guess a lot of other large cities, homes within the city or within easy commuting distance have been priced beyond reason. Although they both work in Massachusetts, they had to look in the Providence area to find something they could afford. Fortunately they both have jobs that allow them to do a lot of telecommuting.

One day while we were there we all hopped into cars and drove to North Providence to check out the new house. Although they officially own it, they haven't moved in yet. They're making changes, painting, etc., before they actually make the big move. Iain and his dad drove straight to the house with tools and supplies to change all the doorknobs. But Diana, her sister Julia, who is staying with them for the summer, and I stopped along the way at a nursery called Avant Gardens in Dartmouth, MA, which is in an area of Massachusetts that is a short drive from their new home.

I remember hearing about Avant Gardens when I lived in Massachusetts, but I never visited. It was at least an hour's drive, 65 miles away, which to me at the time seemed like a long drive. Now I think nothing of driving up to the Kitsap Peninsula here in Washington, sometimes two or three times a year, to see Heronswood (77 miles, an hour and a half) or even further to check out the offerings at Far Reaches Farm (100 miles, 2 hours).

So I decided to take the opportunity to visit this nursery that I had heard so much about from other gardeners when I lived in Massachusetts, to satisfy my curiosity, to compare it to what I've become accustomed to, and to show Diana a cool resource that she might be able to call on for her new garden. She had asked me for advice.

In business for 25 years, selling via both retail and mail order, Avant Gardens is owned by Katherine and Chris Tracey. Katherine has a particular passion for succulents that you would normally find growing in California, not zone 6, "snows-all-winter-long" New England. You can read more about  both Katherine and Chris here. Katherine also writes a blog for the nursery website called Garden Foreplay. And Margaret Roach, of A Way To Garden, interviewed Katherine about making succulent wreaths, which you can read here.

Anyway, enough blathering from me. Here's a look at the nursery.

Note the succulent container

We started with a look around the garden. The nursery is actually attached to the house where Katherine and Chris live, and their home garden is the nursery's display garden.

Variegated lilac

I just had to take a picture of the lichen-bedecked rocks

A nice combo, the red Enkianthus flowers with the red Japanese maple behind

There's a lovely Wisteria-covered pergola

Love this combo too, which would work right here in Washington -- a gold Brunnera and Epimedium

And a Primula

Gold Hosta with black viola

I didn't recognize this shrub, do you? It reminds me of Wisteria, but it's so small and lime-green

It has pea-like seedpods

Love this Solomon's Seal, with that dark mid-rib

I would have loved to take home some of these terra cotta pots, but I hadn't brought anything appropriate with me to use as a carry-on

A light misty rain had started to fall, and Julia pulled out an umbrella -- but not this PNWer -- you call this rain?

They have a great selection of Heucheras

Hardy Sedums

Lots and lots of plants
We wandered up and down, while I pointed out to Diana all the cool plants I thought would look great in her new garden.

Diana very much wants a Japanese maple

I took a peak inside a greenhouse with a disappointing sign.

But then we found the succulent house! I don't remember ever seeing anything like this at a nursery when I lived in Massachusetts.

We asked a woman scurrying to and fro for some advice, and lo and behold! It turned out to be Katherine herself. She was very helpful and kindly acceded to my request for a photo of her with Diana.
Katherine Tracey, one of the co-owners of Avant Gardens, with Iain's girlfriend Diana

Click here to see much better photos than mine of the nursery garden at Avant Gardens.

It was great fun to visit, even though I couldn't take any plants or containers home with me. In a way I wish I had visited when we lived in Massachusetts, but I'm also glad I never had to leave any of their fabulous plants behind when we moved. I've seen our old house on Google Street View and the garden has changed massively, which makes me sad. I hope the current owners enjoy mowing all that grass.


  1. Looks like a great nursery--a bit surprising to see desert succulents in MA, but they are in a way a type of alpine plant (without the cold)...little jewels. I always enjoy seeing the dramatically different climates of the world up close--so green.

    Congrats to your son and Diana on their new home!

    Re: MA rain vs. PNW rain: I have to say the torrential rain during the Austin Fling was a shocker. Even people from the PNW were somewhat amazed (and soaked to the skin). One poor lady was in the Wildflower Center restroom trying to dry her underpants with one of those air blowing hand driers.

  2. This nursery looks like a great resource and source for plants for your new homeowners. I really liked their emphasis on succulents and the succulent container designs.

  3. What a nice nursery, and their display garden is so green (and red, and gold...) You found some gorgeous vignettes. And how nice that your son's girlfriend also likes gardens!

  4. I've heard of this nursery and so doubly enjoyed this tour! Many of our SoCal garden centers don't have selections of succulents that good, although the situation has admittedly improved dramatically in the past several years and there are more and more specializing in succulents, particularly in the San Diego area.

  5. Avant Nursery is on plant lust, I can't remember if I found them, or they found plant lust — but I do remember Tracy being wonderful to work with. Thanks for the look at the nursery!

  6. Alison, what a great tour! There's a lot of gorgeous succulents there, I think it would be hard to pick just a few. I'm always amazed at the combinations people think of, very ingenious.

  7. I am familiar with this nursery but I have not ordered from them. Looks like a fun visit!

  8. I have ordered a number of plants from Avant Gardens; in fact, just planted a recent shipment from them over the weekend. They always have some unusual items. Alas I lost a few with our bad winter but I will keep trying. Their home/nursery garden is really inspiring. I am guessing they get a lot of design business from shoppers. Thanks for this view of what it really looks like.

  9. Wow! I've heard of this place and your tour was great. Lots of fabulous plants and containers. I'm seeing a return visit with empty baggage... To see Iain and Diana of course. Wouldn't it be amazing to live in a home surrounded by a gorgeous garden next to a nursery. Since we work in our gardens all the time anyway, what fun to also make a living tending plants and never having to leave home. On the other hand, you'd never leave work either.

  10. Congratulations to your son and his girlfriend on the new house! Looks like a very fun plant nursery.

  11. A great looking nursery, that felt like a PNW nursery to me. I don't really know any others in the U.S., and this one felt very familiar and unexpectedly so. It's very cool that you and Diana can do this together.


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