May 17, 2017

Trade Secrets Shines, Even in the Rain

New England's most desirable ticket in the spring is Trade Secrets, a two day event and fundraiser that attracts hundreds of people looking to find rare and unusual plants, garden antiquities and artwork.

It doesn't matter - rain or shine, hot or cold, snow or mud - or all of that together, the East Coast's premier gardening event Trade Secrets draws the true plant geeks out from their home gardens to mingle with a veritable who's who of the plant, gardening, interior design and art world. Here, it all comes together for two days every mid-May and for a very good cause - to support the Women's Support Services in northwestern CT (and parts of southwestern Massachusetts and part of New York State. A critical cause which includes support help for single women, gay couples and domestic violence victims.

These planters were gorgeous.

The event draws everyone from Martha Stewart and Kevin Sharkey to garden writers like Tobah Martin with whom I hanged out with for most of the rainy, cold morning. Did I mention muddy? It's funny, but one can quickly identify who has attended Trade Secrets before - if they have, they come prepared - raincoats, umbrellas, and muck boots because one will need to park in a muddy field. If one donates more ($150.00) you can get in a few hours earlier, which is completely worth the cost (and the donation) for good plants go fast (Martha grabbed all of the podophyllun again before I could grab them!).

Vendors compete with each other as they decorate their tents.

This year I made it a point to get up at 5 am and drive from home early, but I got distracted and didn't leave until 6:30 which resulted in me getting my first speeding ticket on the Mass Pike in 15 years ($150). It's still worth it though, for not only is this a great event for buying plants and antiques for the garden, but for some of us, it's like a homecoming weekend - most every garden writer, garden editor, interior designer, top nursery owner and blogger is here, and for a few hours on the opening day on Saturday, one can see most of them - first for breakfast under the tent, and then during the big rush to shop before the gates open to the public at 10:00. 

Hard-to-find annuals from Bunker Farm which is located in Dummerston, VT. It's the 'Annies Annual's of the East! I am planning on driving up there next week to do more shopping.

It gets pretty serious, and cell phones are turned off, carts are grabbed and this crew of the elite and soon-to-be-elite in the gardening world begins -not unlike one of those 'grab-all-that-you-can-in-ten-minute- shopping sprees one used to see on old TV shows. If you can grab it, you can own it. Not easy in this crowd. but a bit easier for me, as even though I would have loved a $3000 vintage French copper tub, it ain't gonna end up in my truck. I limited myself to a few trays of rare and unusual annuals from my new favorite nursery The Bunker Farm, located in Vermont. They raise all sorts of hard-to-find annuals, as well as sell organic cuts of meat, maple syrup and other goods.

Bunny Williams (left) developed this event 17 years ago just by selling plants from her greenhouse, today it's held at Lion Rock Farm, a stunning farm with beautiful views of the Litchfield hills of northwestern CT. 

Like any outdoor event in the spring of New England, the weather can be unpredictable. Last year temperatures soared into the 90's, while this year temps were in the low 50's and it rained very hard for most of Saturday. Few cared however, as most are sturdy gardeners and were well clad with Wellies and muck boots.

Lion Rock Farm is the site for Trade Secrets, a lovely farm with beautiful grounds and barns.

The rain would come and go, but nothing stopped people from buying.

This iron dog, or Wolf  was on my wishlist - you know, that wish list that comes with a lottery ticket.

Every year I notice trends, two years ago it was expressed with iron foxes and English hunt props, last year it seemed to be rusty, iron horse heads. This year, it was the Fantail pigeon. I saw concrete ones, porcelain ones and cast iron pigeons. I think this one was terra cotta .

My first stop is always to potter Guy Wolff's tent. I parked close so that I could hand carry back pieces to my car. I bought another rhubarb forcer, a large flat pan like the one in the middle here, and a few 60 lb. pots in various historical periods, most he said were inspired by Ohio pottery in 1850. 

Campo Di Fiori also had pots and decorative items, as well as some very nice begonias. They are located near me in Sheffield MA and were also on the drive home, but I had filled my car. Just another excuse to drive to the Berkshires, I suppose! They are practically next door to where I buy my clay at Sheffield Pottery (and Guy does too!).

Check out this iron Great Dane! 

These golden squirrels spoke to me for some reason. I asked where the red and gold columns came from expecting some fantastic story about an Italian Merry Go Round, but they were just from inside of a factory and were painted that color.

Ashfield Tools always stop me when I see their tent. Hand forged steel by Ned James, a tinsmith and blacksmith in Ashfield Massachusetts and the birch and ash handles come from Maine. These are long-lasting and well made tools from another era.

Berkshire Orchids had perhaps the warmest spot, in the barn. Their selection was impressive with lots of interesting species and crosses not usually seen in local nurseries.

My first stop is always Guy Wolff, where I perform a quick run around to see if there is something that I should have him hold for me before it is snatched up, and then I run over to Broken Arrow Nursery, where I try to grab as many treasures as I can, sometimes getting Chris Koppel to show me something really rare -  Broken Arrow is our areas premiere nursery for unusual and well grown specimens of plants that are always hard-to-find elsewhere.

These matching urns were to die for. Do they have optional lids?
A nice copper horse weathervane, and Guy Wolff Pottery in the back.

Guy is a friend of the camera!

The rush continued, even as the public started to arrive a few hours later. This year, the rain kept the crowds down to a more reasonable level compared to last year, but that just meant that there were more, and better goods available throughout the day.

Beyond the scenes at Trade Secrets, one is given a number, and when you buy something, runners bring your items to this field, behind the barn. When you leave, you drive around the barn and the runners place your purchases into your vehicle.


  1. john in cranston9:52 PM

    May Apples... Martha does not hit this sale. I picked a few this year and last, to faster start a proper patch. Actually, I got a few last year at the early spring sale and a few last year at the late spring sale.

    1. john in cranston6:42 AM

      Sorry- that's RI Wild Plant Society's Native Plant Sale.
      June 3rd

      Martha does not hog the May apples....

    2. So what Podophyllums were available? Anything similar to P. pleianthum or Spotty Dotty?

  2. Tovah (Marin)?

    I like the idea of runners. We have a similar event in the DC area on the same day as Trade Secrets, a big plant sale held in a municipal park (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/press/html/psa143-17.htm). There is a plant pick-up site, but it is near the entrance, so it takes some time to get in and out. Is there runner site in a separate location?

    Another nice thing about the DC event is that there are plant Societies (azalea, hosta, camellias, etc) that sell plants. Is trade secrets strictly commercial vendors?

  3. Would love to attend in these kind of events. I can definitely show some of my harvests (https://www.gardenloka.com) and trade secrets with other guests.


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