The History of White Flower Farm

In the late 1930's, William Harris and his wife Jane Grant made a house out of a small barn in Litchfield, Connecticut, a small town nestled in the foothills of the Berkshires. They were both writers, he for Fortune Magazine and she for The New York Times, and imagined a "little place in the country" to which they could bring their work and where they could vacation. Before long, they discovered that trying to write in Litchfield was torture, because nature beckoned so seductively that they spent far more time with her than with their work. Indeed, it wasn't long before nature took over their lives in a way that neither of them could possibly have imagined.

With time, energy, and intelligence to burn, Harris and Grant (for so they chose to be called) plunged into gardening with the missionary zeal common to new converts and quickly exhausted the resources of their local advisors and suppliers. With the curiosity of journalists, and the resources of New York at their fingertips, they quickly realized that American gardening in the 40's was, with few exceptions, an intellectual backwater with little or no interest in new plants, original design ideas, or even modern cultural practices. It was, in short, a marketplace waiting for new leadership, which Harris and Grant were shortly to provide.

From this beginning in the private garden of an extremely demanding and discerning individual grew a business based on the principle that good plants and good service will, if presented clearly and accurately, always have an audience among knowledgeable gardeners. With very little paid promotion, the enthusiastic endorsement of early customers led to gradual but consistent growth in the business. This modest approach was consistent with the declared policy of the proprietor to maintain his standards of quality by always growing the plants to be offered for sale. The practical implication of this traditional practice, which requires skilled growers, large inventories, irrigated fields, extensive greenhouses, refrigerated storage, and agile scheduling, meant that rapid expansion was an economic impossibility regardless of the opportunity in the marketplace. So, White Flower Farm remained small while its competitors grew large, and found itself serving a devoted band of ardent horticulturists whose tastes and enthusiasms were anything but mainstream. They came to the company looking for the best of ornamental plants, both new and old, plus the information and advice necessary to succeed with them , and the quality and service they found kept them coming back, with their children and grandchildren to follow.



The culture and values that Harris and Grant provided are still very much in evidence at the nursery thanks to stable ownership and the committed efforts of a skilled and experienced staff. Jane Grant died in 1973 and Harris sold the nursery to its current owner, Eliot Wadsworth, in 1976. Harris himself passed away in 1981 by which time Wadsworth, under the protective coloration of the Pettingill signature, had settled in to live with his family at the nursery and to shape the future of the business from its healthy beginnings.

In the post-Harris era, White Flower Farm continues actively to collect and evaluate plants from around the world, discarding the fakes and weaklings and propagating commercial quantities of the very best for sale through three seasonal catalogues. We maintain extensive trial and display gardens at the nursery and welcome thousands of visitors every year, many of whom take home plants selected at The Store. The catalogues now include hundreds of color photographs, many taken by our staff in our own gardens, but we still insist on clear and accurate descriptions of each variety, both the good and bad points, and provide detailed cultural instructions based on our own long experience. While the operation of the nursery depends heavily on the use of computers for scheduling and tracking production and delivery, the heart of the business is still our commitment to growing the plants we sell, partly to assure top quality but mainly because that's the part of the business we like the best. Our staff, which now numbers almost 100, is filled with professional and amateur horticulturists who have come to us from around the world and who provide an astonishing body of knowledge and experience on which our customers regularly draw.

Looking toward the future, we see little reason to change. The world of plants is vast enough so that we will never run out of new projects, and the growing popularity of gardening in this country seems likely to provide enough new business to pay the bills. Ownership of the business is being passed down in the Wadsworth family, providing the kind of stability that is needed to plan for the long term. Our customers continue to challenge us in ways that we enjoy and we look forward to the opportunity to number you among them.