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Rain, rain go away is mood at garden centers, landscape stores

By Rod Lee

If Bob Dylan is to be believed, “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Similarly, garden-center proprietors and landscape-material merchants in South County who are just starting to see business start to pick up this spring can do without a meteorologist telling them how much rain the Commonwealth has received so far in 2019.

Officially, Massachusetts is on track to surpass 2018 as the state’s rainiest year ever, thanks to a wet March and April that gave rise from various advice givers to such tongue-in-cheek suggestions on ways to cope as “how to build an ark” and “songs to brighten your soggy mood.”

Massachusetts’ total rainfall for 2018 was 61 inches, including three feet in the second half of the year. The first four months of 2019 produced their share of precipitation to match that pace; two long-duration storms alone in March resulted in record rainfall, flooding, evacuations and property damage.

On May 7, on one of the first full-sun and mid-70s temperatures days of the year—warmly embraced—staff at Robbins Garden Center in Oxford, Charlton Landscape & Nursery in Charlton, Larry’s Landscape Supplies in Charlton and Bell’s Lawn & Garden Center in Auburn were straight out trying to accommodate a surge of requests from commercial and residential customers looking to buy vegetables, annual and perennial flowers, plants, shrubs, trees, mulch and stone.

A tour of those four businesses on that first Tuesday of the month generated the same message from spokespersons for each establishment: activity related to the planting, growing and landscaping season is occurring several weeks later than usual.

Ken Germain places flowers from a truck onto a cart at Robbins Garden Center in Oxford.

At Robbins Garden Center, all hands were literally on deck in unloading a truckload of flowers and hurriedly putting them out for display in a yard that suddenly bloomed with a rich selection of colorful possibilities. “Normally we’d have squash and all tender things out already,” Pat Robbins said. “We are just now getting full-up with inventory and another load is coming in today.”

Even winter was a challenge for Robbins Garden Center this time around, Ms. Robbins said. A relative lack of snow and cold weather lessened the need for pellets and snow removal.

“It’s been crazy!” Shanda Rascoe said at Charlton Landscape, as she juggled answering telephone calls and helping clientele pick out items for Mother’s Day.

“Loam, topsoil, everything is just coming in,” she said, “and we’re going to get hammered again”—referring to a forecast that called for more rain last Friday.

Larry McKissick of Larry’s Landscape Supplies uses a front loader to move mulch around in anticipation of pent-up demand for product.

“We can’t even make loam, that’s the worst part of it,” Larry McKissick of Larry’s said. “No one in the area has loam.” Residential customers make up about 60% of Larry’s businesses but, deterred by the seemingly ever-present rain, they have been hesitant in placing orders.

“We spread mulch as well,” he said. “We spread anything we sell.” This includes stone.

“Not sure I can get it you this afternoon,” Mr. McKissick said, in fielding one request for a delivery before jumping into his pickup truck and heading to “my other location.”

Aibhlin Hannigan (back to the camera) waits on a customer at Bell’s Lawn & Garden Center in Auburn.

At Bell’s, Owner Matt Belhumeur struck a positive note amid gloom that was finally beginning to lift, saying, “all the stuff in the greenhouse ins growing, landscapers have been going for three-four weeks now.”

Deep blue-colored hydrangeas sat nearby, practically begging for a taker.

It’s too early for tomatoes, however, Mr. Belhumeur cautioned. “They’ll get burned.”

If the sun shines, that is.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.