Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

A Visit to Ballantyne Gardens

by cathym on September 9, 2019

story by Valerie Shaw; photo courtesy Ballantyne Gardens

When you think of gardening, using your ears is one of the last approaches that might come to mind, but at Ballantyne Gardens in Liverpool, what you hear is just as important as all the other senses. There’s the sweet hum of happy, busy bees, bumbling from flower to flower with big, plump, pollen-pants. There’s the splashing of a beautiful pond and several water plant pools; and the swish of tall, strong perennials perfect for this climate. There’s even a contented cluck-cluck-cluck of vigilant hens, scouting along beneath flowerpots to eliminate pests. 

Bald-face hornet collects nectar from a doublefile viburnum 

My family and I discovered Ballantyne Gardens recently while on my customary birthday plant hunt. Although the nursery is not vast, we spent nearly an hour there, and left feeling we had enjoyed an adventure. From the moment you pull into the small parking lot, your eyes feast. The aesthetic of the gardens are inspiring, intriguing, and thick with the joy of life. Multiple little buildings are nestled along the winding rows of beautiful plants, and there are secrets to discover all over the place. These gardens do what many gardens aspire to: They delight. 

Unique signage

If you are looking for native plants strong enough to weather our summer humidity and frigid winters and create the kind of yard that people slow down for, here is where you can find them. Thanks to organic practices and an understanding of working with our weather, Tim and Lisa Ballantyne offer plants that will not only thrive here in upstate New York, but also encourage pollinators to flock to your gardens. If you need information, the folks there take the time to talk. I enjoyed Tim’s excitement as he pointed out a stand of milkweed growing by the rain spouts. He made sure we could show our children the cute, plump Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Both Tim and Lisa are Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, actively engaged in learning the newest growing methods and gardening trends. With degrees in horticulture and landscaping, this gardening team has plenty of skill and knowledge and are on point for organic gardening. 

Pond plants

Started in 1997, Ballantyne Gardens has grown and flourished. With a “customers come first” attitude and a gentle, organic approach, Ballantyne is a nursery that local folks love. Even in the cooler months, the nursery is busy. There are houseplants of all kinds, statues, garden decor, seeds, and tools, in addition to a wonderfully whimsical—and plentiful—selection of fairy garden items. The Ballantynes work closely with the Liverpool library, offering classes like wreath making, terrarium building, and herb gardens. They also give presentations to local groups and have hosted bus trips to various amazing gardening adventures, including the New York Botanical Gardens, the Philadelphia Flower show, and other New England destinations. You can follow Ballantyne Gardens on Facebook or check out their blog on their website. 

Flower tower

What I enjoy most about Ballantyne was the overall loveliness. It is the kind of place that curious gardeners can get lost in, be inspired by, and discover treasure. I went home that day with some native plants for my pollinator friends; a vigorous, highly coveted rose plant for my birthday; and some warm, fuzzy memories of very friendly folks and their delightful gardens. 

Hens

You can visit Ballantyne Gardens at their website, ballantynegardens.com or, better yet, hop in your car, and take a drive on over. They’re located at 4825 Hopkins Road in Liverpool. 

Valerie Shaw is a long time garden-center aficionado. Valerie lives in West Monroe, NY, with her husband, two kids, Harvey the wondermutt, and a platoon of compost-making goats and poultry.

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