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306 Main Street, Lancaster, NH 03584
Lancaster Floral Design & Garden Center, Lancaster, NH
Todd Brown likens the evolution of his family’s Lancaster Floral Design & Garden Center to a rogue pinball ricocheting from one thing to another. Sometimes you can plan for the direction you want to follow, sometimes you’re not sure what’s going to happen next. But Todd and his wife, Gale, along with their daughter and son-in-law, Lucy and Preston Colby, are proud of the business they’ve built and eager to follow its meandering path.
“To keep a business going year-round, you have to find different avenues,” says Lucy, a former school teacher who eschewed that career to join the family business. And they’ve explored myriad avenues over the years, leading to the varied aspects of the business.
Lancaster Floral Design & Garden Center now comprises a full-service floral shop as well as selling annuals, perennial shrubs and flowers, vegetable seedlings, and seeds, a variety of compost materials, kiln dried firewood, and an array of items from their shop that ranges from pet food and livestock feed to birdseed and fresh eggs and veggies. This year, after the closure of the local Agway store down the road, they added that brand to the offerings as well.
It all started in the 1990s, when the Brown family – including their three school-aged children –moved north from Long Island, where Todd had spent a couple of decades running a landscape gardening business. He spent a few years commuting to Long Island during the week and spending weekends in Lancaster, but that proved an unsustainable lifestyle. So Todd set up a composting business, gradually customizing his product to the soil type in the region, which is a bit different than the soil in Long Island.
In 2003, Todd and Gale purchased the floral shop located up the road, then the property where their business sits now – on Main Street, between downtown and the county fairgrounds. They moved and renovated the old barn on the parcel, which is now attractively occupied by the main store and floral design workshop. Todd started the nursery around 2004, and he’s been experimenting with the right mix of business ventures ever since.
Perennials grown in the pot-in-pot nursery out back adorn the front of the property along the road. (With this system, plants are grown in the pot in which they’ll eventually be sold. These are placed in socket pots, which remain in the ground. The pot-in-pot method allows for efficient irrigation and harvesting.) Adjacent to the shop is a small greenhouse where customers may peruse a variety of annuals and vegetable seedlings – many started from seed by Todd, others sourced from Claussen’s Greenhouse in Colchester, Vermont. Behind the shop, three high tunnel greenhouses are filled with growing fruits and vegetables from sweet corn to melons, with more crops planted in between the high tunnels – garlic and green beans, tomatillos and cucumbers. Pumpkins, more corn, and winter squash grow in a leased field adjacent to the property. Beyond is the shrub nursery, and out back a fenced area contains about 70 laying hens.
The eggs and veggies are sold from the shop, as well as to area restaurants either directly or through the North Country Farmer’s Co-op. Lucy is particularly fond of the cantaloupe. “The cantaloupe was a huge hit last year. It was the best melon I have ever had.”
Rounding out the seven-acre property (and three additional leased acres) is a raised concrete pad where the compost is made and stored. Composting was the first component of the business, and it remains an integral one. Todd and Preston have tweaked their recipe over the years and developed something so good that local gardeners rave about it, and area farms – including Ski Hearth Farm in Sugar Hill, Meadowstone Farm in Bethlehem, and Roots & Fruits in Dalton – use it to grow their crops.
The magic mixture comprises hen manure from Maine, woodchips from Asplundh, and locally sourced manure and livestock bedding material. Each year’s batch of compost is mixed the prior summer, then turned regularly and monitored for the proper temperature – both requirements of its organic certification. Beyond straight compost, Lancaster Floral Design & Garden Center sells a loam-compost mix, compost mulch, a variety of other mulching products, and other landscaping products like gravel, crushed stone, and ledge pack.
Since 2009 they’ve also been selling kiln-dried and New Hampshire-certified heat-treated firewood. The firewood was Preston’s brainchild, an idea to help bridge the slower winter months. Todd quickly jumped on board the firewood wagon, and they purchased a processor that cuts and splits the wood before it is run through the kiln, where it is dried to 20% moisture content (or less). The purpose of heat-treating is two-fold, Todd says: to create a cleaner-burning more efficient firewood and to kill any bugs in the wood, which is essential to efforts, for instance, to stop the spread of the destructive emerald ash borer.
It’s all a part of rolling with the changing times and searching for that mix that will keep the business successful and the family happy. Ten seasonal part-time employees, who Lucy says are “the best group of people,” also help keep the business rolling.
“I’m really happy. I love working with my dad,” says Lucy. “If we weren’t a team, we couldn’t make it. We just keep learning as we go.”
Lancaster Floral Design and Garden Center
Todd and Gale Brown, Lucy and Preston Colby
306 Main Street
Lancaster, NH 03584
From the store – Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Produce and eggs to area restaurants through North Country Farmers Co-op
Firewood to campgrounds
Meghan McCarthy McPhaul is an author and former newspaper reporter. She pens a regular column for the Littleton Record, as well as web copy and press releases for various businesses and her writing has also appeared in several regional and national publications, including Powder, Northern Woodlands, Forest Notes, and the Journal of the New England Ski Museum.
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