North by South
The Historic Nursery Region of Lake County is three to seven miles deep and about twenty miles long, extending from Mentor to Madison. Once covered by glacial lakes there are three sand/gravel ridges that define the ancient shorelines. North Ridge sits ten to twenty feet above the ‘lake plain’ that runs a couple miles north to the current shoreline of Lake Erie. North Ridge Road in Perry represents a small segment of Rt 20 that runs from Boston to Oregon, referred to as Mentor Avenue in the middle of the County and Euclid Avenue in Downtown Cleveland. Rich with natural springs and a line of black muck soil at its bottom, North Ridge Road was home to the oldest nursery in Lake County, Storrs and Harrison, founded just to our west in 1854. Bob Lyons, retired nursery icon, grew up a few doors to our east, growing Dicentra spectablis in the rich soils below the ridge. Except along the current shoreline, these are not ‘beach soils’. Instead they are mainly ‘sandy loams’ with good texture, ample organic matter, gentle topography and excellent drying characteristics once tiled.
Other nurseries along North Ridge Road, within a few miles of our own, include Losely Red Mill, Martins Nursery, Secors, Sunleaf Nursery, Roemers (now Madison Shore Growers) just to the north, former Hortons operations including the current-day Ridge Manor, and Girards to the east in Ashtabula County. Along Mentor Avenue to our west resided Donewell Nursery, Bosleys, Wayside Gardens and others.
Middle Ridge Road runs diagonally east/west from North Ridge in Perry. Not as noticeable as the other ridges, this one sits atop up to twenty feet of gravel and is home to Cottage Gardens, CM Brown, Means Nursery, Yoe Nursery, Bluestone Perennials, the former Turkenburg and Crawford Nurseries. Large fields along this ridge are operated by Loselys and the Petitti Group. When we lived in Madison this was my commute each day and I loved keeping an eye on the tidy nurseries and farms.
South Ridge Road (Rt 84) defines the southern extent of the ancient lakes. Klyn Nurseries and LCN call this home atop a commanding elevation. Good soils extend a short ways to the south in some areas but eventually give way to heavy clay and the 90-foot-cliffs carved by the 100-mile Grand River, one of the cleanest on Lake Erie.
Our own nursery was founded by a Polish Immigrant, Paul Werner, around 1920. He drowned years later, swimming in nearby Lake Erie after a hot day in the nursery. Immediately to our north are Briar Rose Nursery (formerly Moretti’s) and Beardslee Nursery. I grew up in ‘nursery school’ with other nursery brats. For years I thought it was perfectly normal that we should all labor for slave wages in family operations. Some of us escaped…I tried!…and some of us are still here. It’s great to go away, become educated (?), travel, have adventures. My Wife and I lived in a number of places (including several months in a 1966 Ford Econoline Van). But it’s also rewarding and fulfilling to have one place to call home…our Ithaca…where we know well the unique personalities, enterprises and ecologies that make it a special and remarkable place to live and grow old.
Thanks for taking this little tour with me along our ridges, roads and nursery history!