May 18, 2014


A pair of  antique rusty equine busts are just an example of the quality of antiques and treasures to be found at Trade Secrets, a 2 day rare plant and antiques event in north western CT.

 It's so indulgent, I admit it, but I can't help myself when it comes to attending such an event as Trade Secrets, a two-day show located in the garden and meadows of a private farm in undeniably posh, yet dare I say 'rural' northwestern Connecticut near the Massachusetts and New York state borders in the rolling foothills of the Berkshires. It's clearly the event which many feel is the place to-be-seen, where one can find a $300 topiary, a sculpted granite fox for that perfect "fox hunt' motif that you've been lusting for, or a classic tin barn sink complete with hand pump and hand-crafted porcelain knobs. A lovely day for socializing, meeting other plant people and for meeting many of you!  Check out the great images from this very special annual event.

Hoe great are these? The tables in the Snug Harbor tent housed many treasures, including these incredibly beautiful Lemon Cedar topiaries. This is an idea which I will steal. Shhhh...it's 'trade secrets'.

For us plant geeks, the event have grown into more like a pilgrimage to Mecca than anything else.  Amongst concerns that the event could eventually turn into the more 'Mecca-ish Brimfield Antiques show( in nearby Brimfield, MA, which so happens to be held this same weekend), this event seems to remain consciously edited and well curated, quite obviously thanks to a smart crew and passionate team consisting of hundreds of volunteers who together, make this well-crafted event, possible year after year.

Mid May is one of the most beautiful times of year to be in western CT. Just as the maples, ash, oaks and other woodland plants are emerging, the air is sweet, migratory song birds are returning, and farm fields are being tilled and planted.

I think that it's safe to say Broken Arrow Nursery in western CT it the closes thing we have in the United States to a Hillier's. Each plant is important in some way, either newly introduced, a fine performer, or simply, rare.

What began in the back yard of designer Bunny Williams ten years ago, as a fundraiser for Women's Support Services (WSS) in Litchfield County, CT has evolved into not only this highly successful event, it's grown into a local tradition around these parts of the North East. It's the closest thing to a  gardening-geek social event this side of Chelsea Flower Show, and anyone who's anyone in the gardening world seems to come here.  

I really believe that what make this event so great is the not the individual components, as they can be found most anywhere, but it is the collective experience of the entire thing - a gorgeous, Connecticut working farm, a lovely drive through the Berkshire mountains on what just happens to always be a spectacular weekend in May, just as the lime green buds of the Sugar Maples begin to emerge, and the first Orioles and Wood Thrushes migrate through - it's just the ideal recipe.

This is a part of Connecticut where barns look like toys from a Fisher Price playset. Bring on the moo cows.

I've never really seen a Victorian fish tank in person, only in engravings, so this was on my wish list, but way out of my price range at $800.  Still, it's a treasure that I home someone will buy and treat well ( may I suggest rare ferns perhaps? Or high elevation orchids from Borneo).

OK-  It's doesn't hurt that Martha Stewart writes statements such as "The Trade Secrets Rare Plant and Antiques Show in Sharon, CT is one of the few events that goes onto my calendar a year in advance",  as this brings the fancy folk who reside near here - there were enough Range Rovers and Lily Pulitzer slacks as the event to outfit an entire party at the Hamptons, and I really believe that many people where thrilled that it rained 3 inches right up to the opening gate for this event, just so they could wear their English mud boots and riding pants. 

Not unlike Selfridges, this even attracts all the classes in our culture. I mean, you could see Ralph Lauren as well as Ralph's gardener shopping ( not this year, but just saying that you could - as an example).  You could see Bunny's gardener loading up on ground cover and lady slippers, and Bunny herself looking at some 5 gallon nursery tubs of yellow English Oaks. I stood next to her while purchasing some plants from nurseryman Ed Bowen, and we chatted about some interesting salvia, but I never introduced myself nor gawked - after all, one doesn't do that sort of thing at these events. 

If you do happen to find yourself next to Martha fighting over who will buy six 'Spotty Dotty'  Podophyllum ( as I did last year), you don't say "Oh, Martha, I just love your latest issue", you say something like "So...., have you ever tried raising these from seed? You know, last month while I was talking with podophyllum breeder Darrell Probst? We were talking about a virus that was spreading around....". My point? People here really care, and one doesn't come here to rub elbows, as it takes some effort. It may seem likea snooty event, but there is mud, rust and hay spread on the ground.  ( I mean, breakfast is served on paper plates under an event  tent behind the glass pool house - come on).

Last night it rained. No, it poured - like 3 inches of rain, and when I left my house at 6:00 am to make the drive to Litchfield County CT, I had to drive through torrential downpours, until I reached the state border, when suddenly the skies cleared, presenting us with a cloudless, perfect May day in the Berkshires.

In the end, folks come here for the beauty, the fun and the social aspect. It's not only lovely, but content rich. I come because the event assembles all that is good in the gardening world, at least here in the North East. The finest nurseries bring their finest and newest selections. Antiques dealers bring entire sets of vintage lawn furniture, and rare gardening tools which otherwise would never move, and rare plant growers bring their most treasured treats - because they know the people who know and care about such things, will be here.

These were sold, but oh so nice.

I met so many gardening friends and peers ( from plantswoman Margaret Roach to horticulturist Tony Bielaczyc, to the authors Andrew Keyes and Rochelle Greayer. Tovah Martin grabbed my art to drag me over to a table where there were some fabulous new begonias, and Guy Wolff helped me pick out some of his newest designs for pots which he says were inspired by nineteenth century fragments.

I have a thing, for Guy Wolff pottery, as many of you know. I left with 8 pots. Squee!!! ( yes, I just typed Squee).

It doesnt' get more awesome than this, right?

Selfie madness - Andrew Keyes, the gorgeous Rochelle Greayer and moi.

Click below to see some of people at Trade Secrets this year:

More plant treasures from Snug Harbor Farm in Maine.

I was thrilled to have bumped into Tony Bielaczyc ( ex. Gardening editor at Martha Stewart) and his partner Kevin.

I yak it up with well know artist and iconic ceramic artist, Francis Palmer at the Snug Harbor Farm  booth, where they were featuring some of her pottery planted with topiary.
Guy Wolff's  studio is near by, but I am certain that he would drive 500 miles to be here too.Have  I ever mentioned what a nice guy he is? He not only took the time to hand wrap each and every pot for the folks in line, he takes the time to joke and chat it up. A real gentle soul.

Author Andrew Keyes, and Margaret Roach kindly for pic in between plant hunting.

I was so please to have met more of the folks from Broken Arrow. I think it's time that I pay them a visit again...(any excuse to drive to western, CT and buy rare plants!).
My advice for the organizers? Add to the experience for the VIP or private entry contributors. A cafe, exclusive food trucks, a farm to table lunch. Part of me does with that this event could turn the second half of the first day into a social event, maybe take some cues from SXSW with an herbal bar where we could all sit a chat over iced tea and herbal lemonade? Even have Guy Wolff play his Banjo ( or let  him rest, and join us).

I don't know, I mean there was a sad moment around noon, when we didn't know what to do, after each of us bought our plants, when we clearly all wanted to do something, maybe sit for lunch, or go somewhere, and there was no where to go.  Texts read like "I'm over at the David Burwick tent - I found so and so". I would pay a little extra for an early afternoon get together perhaps.

Or not, I mean, plants needed to be planted, and there was a long drive home. 


  1. Looks like it was fabulous yet again! I have to say not every year is the weather perfect! One year when it was still at Bunny Williams house it was sooooo cold and it snowed! I spent the day huddled under a blanket tending my booth!
    And did you actually get to buy some of those 'Spotty Dotty's'?? Who was selling them?? I might have found a source for Japanese form close to S D on the west coast///I'll let you know if they will sell them.

  2. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Looks like quite the spectacle. I've never been but have heard that a majority of plants get cleared out during the early buying period. How large is the that crowd? What did you end up purchasing this year? Always curious what people end up getting!

  3. I was there too. I saw you and wanted to say thanks for writing the blog, but you were busy talking to Snug Harbor farm. We left early at about 10 (to go to Brimfield, no less), but I agree that some presentations or something like that would add to the experience.

    I felt sorry for the farm's owner though. The rain and crowds wreaked havoc on the grass. I watched as more than one old lady buried her tires in the mud of the parking field.

    1. I missed so many people - it was crazy there, but great. I know, they were spreading hay on the wet grass to try and save it from being damaged. I almost became stuck in the mud in the parking field, but thank goodness I had a 4xD.


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