If you like growing plants, looking at beautifully placed plants, eating plants you’ve grown, having someone else tend your plants, think it’s prudent to plant things deer don’t eat, or want to learn just about anything about plants, Vineyard Gardens is the place for you.
Husband-and-wife owners Chuck and Chris Wiley have run Vineyard Gardens together for more than 35 years. They opened the current garden center retail site, right across from up-Island Cronig’s on State Road, in 1996. The location has a charming vibe that includes meandering pathways, beautifully designed botanic signage guiding you to lots and lots of plants with everything you need to grow them, and plenty of parking.
Chris Wiley, who manages the nursery part of the business, is a horticultural maven, part mad scientist, part botanical artist, and someone who likes to spend her time digging in the dirt. Equally passionate and knowledgeable, Chuck Wiley runs the company’s landscaping pursuits. Son Alan, who majored in sustainable landscape horticulture, started off in the family business 20 years ago at the age of 9, and is now full-time. Daughter Cristina, currently studying architecture, and son Andrew, majoring in finance and philosophy, worked in the business growing up.
A seriously going concern, Vineyard Gardens employs 50 in-season employees and about 10 year-round, and takes advantage of the H-2B visa program during the summer months. Based on the business’ success at the State Road site, the Wileys expanded by adding a sort of botanical back office in 2002. This nearby production facility, adjacent to the West Tisbury dump, houses four large greenhouses where the plants get their start, the office, and plenty of room for big equipment.
A labor of love, Vineyard Gardens is more than a place to buy plants, shrubs, and trees, and arrange landscaping services, and part of the reason is the owners’ enthusiasm for their vocation. Both Wileys come from families who gardened. Their business came into being organically, at first based out of their home. While Chuck Wiley built the landscaping department, Chris Wiley started her professional activities by growing seeds on and under the family’s basement Ping-Pong table. That was the end of Ping-Pong. Eventually, along with 15 years selling fruits and vegetables at the West Tisbury Farmers Market, the Wileys fulfilled their dream of opening their own location.
The couple met in college, with Chris studying science and Chuck agriculture. Chris Wiley, who taught at the high school for five years, is an educator as well as a garden expert. It’s one of the things that makes Vineyard Gardens such a user friendly experience. She knows of what she speaks and she loves talking all things plant. The nursery offers seeds, seedlings, ready-to-go vegetables, flowers, bushes, and trees, plus equipment and tools needed to grow things.
Chris holds free lecture-demos on horticultural topics, taking place on Saturdays from 11 am to noon. While they may help with marketing, her desire to share the joys of gardening with people is the real reason behind these classes. You might get your hands dirty, but you’ll also get some great information proffered by a highly entertaining, passionate expert. In addition, Vineyard Gardens keeps pricing competitive, offering various regular discounts, including ongoing discounts to landscapers, seniors on Tuesdays, ladies’ day on Wednesdays for annuals and perennials, and just to be gender-equal, a gentleman’s day for bagged materials on Thursdays.
During a tour of both locations, Chris Wiley rattles off statistics, logistics, explanations of greenhouse plumbing, temperatures, and design, while lovingly lifting the tiniest of tiny seedlings in little pieces of soil. The info seems to race around her brain and out her mouth at the same time, but she no longer counts only on memory to display and track inventory. “Early on in my career, I worked with the late Polly Hill, who advised me to keep records on our production,” she says. “In the beginning, I just kept the information in my head, but since my chat with Polly, we keep detailed records on every single plant, including date started, where it was sourced — either seed, cuttings, or liners — which helps us compare the records from year to year.”
Chuck Wiley knows his stuff as well, and approaches his work artistically, saying, “Landscape designs should be intriguing, relaxing, and pleasing. Landscapes that frame the ocean or lie alongside ponds require special plantings and care. Our work experience in such delicate areas ensures the respectful enhancement of these treasured properties.”
The couple are proud of their entire staff, and it’s understandable why. They too clearly love the plants they are tending, eagerly show them off, and go out of their way as they take care of customers as well as plants. One valued seasonal staff member who works in the greenhouses is in his third year at the gardens, traveling from Mexico and engaged through a work visa. This year, four of his sons are working in the business as well, which supplements their parallel work as folk artisans.
A particular current passion of Chris Wiley’s is seed-to-table vegetable gardens. She wants you to eat your vegetables. More than that, she wants you to grow them. From seed, no less, and if this doesn’t strike your fancy, she just may convince you otherwise.
She continues, “I absolutely want to encourage people to grow their own vegetable gardens. It’s fun, and it’s a good, healthy thing to do. It’s easier than people think, and we can help when they say, ‘I don’t know how,’ ‘It’s too hard,’ ‘I don’t have the time.’ When people try it, they really enjoy it, saying things like, ‘I had fresh spinach yesterday.’ ‘I grow all of my own vegetables all summer long.’ I like to say, ‘It’s like child’s play — you plant, the sun shines, it rains, things grow.’”
Not ones to stand still, the Wileys are constantly evolving, as individuals and as a business. “We love to travel, and everywhere we go, we visit botanical gardens,” Chris says. “I’m looking at plants, discovering new plants, thinking about the plants. We’ve recently taken trips to Miami, Thailand, Columbia, and Cuba, and I use these trips to broaden our ideas on what we can provide for our customers. After all, our No. 1 job is to keep everyone happy.” With their expert knowledge and enthusiasm, Vineyard Gardens nursery and landscaping is a great place to keep on or get growing.