A stroll through the greenhouses at Uncle John’s Plant Farm is always a nostalgic experience for the grandson of a farmer. It brings back the aura of warm summer days when the distinct aroma of freshly growing tomatoes was captured under glass.
But one needn’t be a farmer to enjoy the pleasures of nurturing homegrown crops and decorative plants. In fact, the interest in food gardening across America last year was at its highest level in more than a decade, according to the National Gardening Association. NGA research showed that 42 million households across the nation—35 percent of the total—grew food at home or in a community garden, representing a 17 percent increase compared to five years earlier.
“People are becoming more interested in what they eat and how it is grown,” says Marcia Hawkins, co-owner and daughter-in-law of the plant farm’s founder, Uncle John Hawkins. “Gardening is wonderful exercise and it gets you out into the fresh air. And, there is a lot of satisfaction in maintaining the loveliness of your home.”
After a long, cold winter that jump started a heightened anticipation of springtime, the plant experts and landscape designers at Uncle John’s are ready to equip Northeast Ohioans with all the plants, seeds, tools, and knowledge needed to get the most out of the gardening season.
“It’s never too early to start planning your garden and landscape,” Marcia says. “The nice thing is you don’t have to buy it all at once. You can plant a section and come in later to shop for the next section. It’s always a work in progress and we enjoy seeing people throughout the season.”
Uncle John’s, which includes 20 acres of gardens, greenhouses, and a retail Gift Barn, has become a must-visit home and garden center since John and his family purchased it in 1974. The 90-year-old greenhouses, which are among the last in Cuyahoga County, are nostalgic reminders of Northeast Ohio’s rich agricultural tradition. Uncle John’s grows annuals, perennials, herbs, houseplants, tropicals, and flowering trees and shrubs that are wholesale distributed throughout five states, and provides the plants for the retail store. Herbs that are used for cooking and home remedies are a staple at Uncle John’s.
“What differentiates us from many other garden retailers is our personal service and expertise,” Marcia insists. “We have people who have worked here for the full 41 years we’ve been open. And we have customers who have been coming here for just as long. Every spring it’s like a reunion of old friends.”
Uncle John’s quaint Gift Barn, which is often called Ohio’s best-kept secret, is a must-stop detour amidst the vast selection of flowers, plants, and herbs. The shop features unique home and garden accessories not found in most stores.
Marcia says she expects a new line of gardening gloves, Foxgloves, to be a popular seller this year.
“The gloves are thin but very protective against prickers and thorns, and they have little grippers on them so you can pick up anything you reach for,” she says. “But they are so cool and pretty that some people buy them for driving or dress-up gloves. They come in lovely colors and are available in wrist length and elbow length.”
Uncle John’s also is carrying a new brand of organic seeds from a family operated producer.
If you need help with your landscape plans, Uncle Johns has two talented designers with advanced degrees on staff—Zak Kinzy, who has worked at Uncle John’s since he was 14 years old, and Marcia’s daughter, Jessie, who specializes in hardscape designs, like patios and outdoor kitchens.
You can visit Uncle John’s website for a comprehensive catalog of plants, trees, and garden accessories. The website, however, doesn’t smell as springtime fresh as a real visit.