Widgets Magazine

Lou Caracciolo of Shade Trees Nursery on Plants, Horses and North Fork Farming

Q:  How did you come to the North Fork? A: My father started a nursery on Herricks Lane in the 1960s, he was a contractor and started growing trees for his own use. I got into the business after college, and bought the 30 acre nursery from him shortly thereafter. We now grow on 130 acres in Jamesport and Mattituck. My wife, Lisa and I moved to Mattituck in 2000.

Lisa Caracciolo 008

Q: This place is huge; plants are everywhere. You’ve got a retail business—I just walked through that beautiful new store—but surely you’re too big for just retail.

A: Yes, we’re wholesale too. On the wholesale end we grow about 450 varieties of plants. We supply a lot of garden centers, landscaper and re-wholesalers on Long Island and throughout the Northeast. I think what has always kept us busy on the wholesale end is our diversity. We’re plants people, we like to grow a lot of things.

IMG_7188

Our business model has always been top quality and variety, so our customers find it easy to place their whole order with us.

Q: Sounds like you were wholesale first; when did you start retailing?

We opened the garden center when we brought the Main Road property back in 1997. People would pull in seeing our 30 acres of plants and want to buy some. So we thought, why not sell to the public?

We used to be strictly a field nursery, everything grown in the field and balled and burlapped. About 10 years ago we started growing container plants and now produce over 15,000 container trees and several thousand container shrubs.

IMG_7180

Q: 450 varieties; 30 acres of plants. While that sounds huge, it’s also hard to get a grip on. Can you give a more specific example or two?

A: Sure. We probably grow 15 types of cherry trees, 10 types of hollies, probably a dozen types of roses and 20 or so types of hydrangeas, so the line items add up quickly.

IMG_7181

Q: Wow. Do you have a favorite plant?

A: Not particularly…I have many that I like. As a nurseryman you can’t get attached to your plants. I like growing everything well. We like to have a really high quality finished product. As a grower, you have to know what you do well, and what you don’t do well.

Q: How does the North Fork affect what you grow?

A: The climate and soils of the North Fork are conducive to good field growing conditions, the water moderates our temperatures.

The challenges on the North Fork are the winds, the deer population, and the salt spray. The spray can dry some plants out, especially if there’s a storm, like Sandy.

We moved out here so we could raise our children out here, we wanted them to have that farm experience. We have 40 acres at our home which we grow plants on and also have beeshive and animals.

We like what we see is happening on the North Fork right now. We like the evolution of the farms and garden centers, the whole farm-to-table, back on the farm thing. It really creates some opportunities for us and the farming community as a whole.

Q: Your retail garden center is brand new; is it just a new building, or are the changes deeper than that?

A: The garden center has been completely transformed. We put up a new garden shop, and we’ve added many new products.

IMG_7173

We have garden tools, bird feeders, picnic baskets, free trade items, jewelry, an our own line of food and body products produced from things grown on the farm.  We also have an equestrian supply shop to support local horse farms.

IMG_7176

Q: What do the “fair trade” products you sell represent?

A: Fair trade is a movement to promote better wage, work conditions and trading conditions for developing countries. For example, we sell garden ornaments made in Haiti from recycled oil drums.

Q: You mentioned a line of products you produce on your farm. What kind of items?

A: We have our bee line of products: Honey, plain or infused, lip balms and honey butters and soaps. We raise our own vegetables, so we sell jams from them. For example we have hot pepper jelly. My son brews beer as a hobby, small batch, so we have beer jellies and soaps. He’s working on a shampoo and conditioner with that. We’re really trying to think outside the box.

We have chickens, so we sell fresh eggs.

IMG_7185

We also sell fresh donuts. We’re trying to make the garden center more of an experience, give people more reason to come, hang out, and enjoy the environment.

More businesses are trying to do that on the North Fork. We are seeing an evolution in North Fork agriculture. You’re seeing people coming into agriculture who never were farmers, and I think that’s great. If someone is willing to come out here and invest in agriculture, I welcome them.

Q: Anything else we should know about Shade Tree Nursery & Garden Center?

A: Yes. We’re more than wholesale and retail plant sellers. We do landscape and design, we have a great staff, very service driven and knowledgeable. As growers in the area, we know what does well here and what doesn’t.  Beyond that, we’re not just a plant place; we’re a horse place too.

Q: Horses?

A: My wife Lisa started a horse product business, North Fork Saddlery, five years ago.

 

From founding until this year, she had the shop in Mattituck on Love Lane. When we were considering expanding the garden center we thought it was a great opportunity for us to meld the two businesses together, so now its home is here.

Q: I’m pretty horse-ignorant, so I don’t really know what to expect in a saddlery. What products might I find?

A: Everything, really.

IMG_7178

 

All English and Western riding apparel, horse health care products, everything you would need to support an equestrian farm.

Q: You mentioned at the beginning that your father started this business, and that you have kids. Is the next generation involved in the nursery, garden center or saddlery?

A: Well, my daughter has worked with Lisa at the saddlery, she’s been riding since she was six, but both of my kids are in college now so they work with us only when on break.

I really hope to pass the business down eventually, but I don’t know what my kids really have planned. I want them to venture out first. It’s a big world out there. But I have a sneaking feeling that one day they’ll wind up back on the farm someday.