Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Garden path leads outside Perimeter

Batch of businesses bloom each spring

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The perfect drive on a spring day? Four world-class garden centres are strung out in a row down St. Mary's Road just outside the Perimeter Highway.

You won't be alone. After suffering through the coldest winter since 1898, Winnipeg gardeners are dying to snatch up seedlings and get at it.

Sage Gardens, St. Mary's, Lacoste and Ron Paul garden centres had their stylish doors flung wide open his weekend, and the parking lots were full. Each location has something different to offer, so it's a blast to hit 'em all in a two-hour stretch.

Sage Garden Greenhouses

3410 St. Mary's Rd.

AS you come through the door, it hits you right in the nose -- the pungent smell of herbs, flowers and organic earth.

People are unabashedly fondling the flowers and plants before my very eyes.

"Yes, we encourage people to scratch and sniff," Dave Hanson said with a laugh. He said rubbing the plants releases the oils, which linger on your fingers. "You can eat them and inhale them. And the rosemary is good for students."

Hanson said the aroma of the purple plant calms the body but keeps the mind alert. "The flowers have a zing, yet taste like honey."

I gobble some for the sake of science. Mmm. Love that lemon verbena plant -- smells like lemon candies. Then there's the root beer plant. Who knew?

Hanson, whose rich baritone can be heard weekly on his CBC gardening show, is used to answering questions and enjoys talking to customers. He hints heavily he also has a North American-wide TV show in the offing. Hanson co-owns the Sage Garden business with his wife Evelyn Yauk, who does an artistic job of stocking their fair-trade gift shop with books and pottery (no knockoffs), jewelry, dishes, toys and organic seeds. Their greenhouse areas are filled with plants at different stages of growing, brilliantly-coloured pots and garden decor.

St. Mary's Nursery and Garden Centre

2901 St. Mary's Rd.

THIS garden centre, owned by Ken Land and Carla Hrycyna, is open year-round.

Before one even gets near the spring plants, customers are poring over the gift shop, which features everything from garden and household decor to artisan clothing and jewelry. Then comes the series of big nurseries, with red, yellow, orange and hot pink potting plants and towering white Easter lilies for this weekend. And who knew there would be a huge pond and fountain out back?

Four shop cats parade around the building, winding in and out of the flower pots on the floor.

"We had one gentleman who walked around the store for several hours because one of the cats was in the basket and wouldn't get out because he loved his ride," said Hrycyna.

Hrycyna said 70 per cent of customers are women, and both the merchandise and the gardening areas show a lot of feminine touches. Girls of all ages love the fairy gardens, with miniature castles and figurines and tiny plants in a small plot.

St. Mary's goes the extra mile, with unusual gardens featuring wind-driven flying birds and creatures and a collection of yakking pelicans screaming for a home at the lake.

This garden centre is also about education. "We offer a lot of courses here," said Hrycyna.

Topics include container gardening, "Mom and me" gardening, and of course, fairy gardening.

Lacoste Garden Centre

2787 St. Mary's Rd.

DAVE Hiebert likes to be on the cutting edge of new trends. This season, he's brought in large black Capi planters from Italy made of plastic and fiberglass that look elegant but will withstand freezing temperatures. "We're already trying to get in more of these, because they have been selling so fast." And there's lots of whimsy in the garden decor, like the wild display of psychedelic rubber boots that greet you as you enter the front door.

This year, Hiebert is making the nursery more user-friendly for gardeners on the run, with a new, smaller building to the left of the parking lot. It is a microcosm of his 200,000 square-foot, six-nursery operation. This way, helpers who are making a pit stop for "the boss" can get annuals and gardening supplies right off the front parking lot and drive home fast.

Gardeners with more time to spare will want to stroll through the giant nurseries in the back to see the many displays of flowers and plants. These big centres are go-tos for commercial jobs as well as homes.

"We do a lot of custom growing for people," Hiebert said. "They put in an order in the fall, and by spring everything is ready to go."

Ron Paul Nursery

2641 St. Mary's Rd.

THIS is the wild and crazy spot, owned by Ray Dubois, that sells Christmas trees and takes people on sleigh rides in the winter, plus there's a big stuffed black bear or a giant moose for kids to pose with for photos.

In the summer showroom, those giant animals are now on sale at $495 a pop. They're tucked in with the metal patio sets in 10 different ice-cream colours.

Landscaping manager Owen Nagy takes me on a tour and explains one of the beauties of working in a large nursery is being in summer temperatures with the plants while it's still a whole other season outside. "Another advantage is you also get to see things growing, start to finish."

A nursery worker walks underneath a striking new petunia combo of black flowers, with others looking like the inside of tropical fruit. They're petunias called "papaya" and "black magic" she calls out on the way by. Heavenly colours and heady aromas -- garden centre magic indeed.

Maureen Scurfield's brown thumb is showing signs of turning green.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2014 A8

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