Colonial Gardens combines horticulture and agriculture into a unique experience

Agritourism opportunities in the suburbs aren’t always plentiful, but Colonial Gardens is expanding and providing Jackson County with various opportunities to connect with nature.

The business began 50 years ago as Colonial Nursery, and it got its start by selling trees and shrubs. Over the last half-century, the business has expanded and now includes a farm-share program, a 5,000-tree “You Pick” orchard, an event space, a café, classes, an expanded greenhouse, a new modernized garden center and more.

Simply put, Colonial Gardens is working to offer all things related to horticulture and agriculture with an increasing focus on health and wellness.

“I know we are one of the only organizations in the country pulling together horticulture and agriculture in this way,” says Kelly Chamberlain, general manager.

Many of the current offerings have been added during the last several years. In 2016, Tory Schwope purchased the business and began an extensive remodeling and expansion effort that culminated when they re-opened and re-branded in April 2018 as Colonial Gardens.

“We’ve lost our connection to the outdoors, healthy food and agriculture,” Chamberlain says. “We wanted to build a destination for families and communities to experience these things and come together to connect with agriculture and horticulture.” 

As part of this expansion, fresh food has become a key focus. They grow food in the greenhouse year-round and now offer a farm-share program, allowing customers to receive between seven to nine varieties of produce each week for 15 weeks along with recipes providing insight on how to prepare the fruits and vegetables.

“People can sign up for their share of the harvest,” Chamberlain says.

They sell other locally sourced products including honey, elderberry juice and ice cream and are bringing some chickens onto the property to ensure they have fresh eggs as well.

Additionally, they are developing 20 acres that will become a “You Pick” operation, which will include apple, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and more. These trees and bushes will be ready for picking in the late summer or early fall of 2020. Between this and a new “You Cut” flower field, opportunities for fun experiences with the whole family will be available.

Chamberlain says they take pride on their nutrient-rich soil, which makes a significant difference in what is grown. She said they are careful to not overapply chemicals as doing so ends up depleting the soil of important nutrients. Given this, they are intentional about what they put into the soil and work to have the right balance of bacteria and fungus.

A wide variety of topics from composting to lawn care are covered each week in their public classes, and they also hold several festivals each year with themes related to sweet corn, watermelon and fall farm fest.

Recent “Wine in the Gardens” events have brought out customers to hear local music in their courtyard, and the Bean Counter Café serves meals made with local and sustainable ingredients, many of which are gown on site.

The company’s expansion plan calls for the full development of 100 acres, and the goal is to use this land to help others connect with nature.

“We would love to have it fully developed in the next seven to 10 years,” Chamberlain says.

In the future, the hope is that the acreage will also include more shopping, an amphitheater, a larger market, office buildings, and possibly more wellness offerings such as yoga and acupuncture. Other wellness efforts could include hiring dieticians to help provide insight for healthy eating and living.

True to their roots, they still have a strong garden center and nursery component with 4,000 acres of tree and shrub production land across the country.

The focus on agritourism is allowing Colonial Gardens to generate revenue and grow the business in ways that are not altogether possible or sustainable with the traditional garden center model. The seasons for the garden center and agritourism are opposite each other, allowing for sufficient and convenient timing for both aspects of the business.

“It is our hope that people will learn about the benefits that plants and healthy food have on our mind and bodies as well as the positive impact it can make in our environment,” Chamberlain says.