Liberty Gardens ramps-up production for summer

By Louise Swartzwalder -

Louise Swartzwalder | The Star Garden center manager Chelsea Freeman shows a ready-made salad bowl customers can buy at Liberty Gardens.

Louise Swartzwalder | The Star Garden center manager Chelsea Freeman shows a ready-made salad bowl customers can buy at Liberty Gardens.

The beautiful things you see now at a local business — flowering plants, vegetables bursting from their pots, amazingly colored fish — are what keeps the manager there hopping.

This time of year is “crazy busy,” says Chelsea Freeeman with a laugh.

She is the manager at Liberty Gardens, located south of Bellville.

This past weekend Liberty Gardens was open on Sunday. Sunday hours had been planned for May because so many people are eager to get their outdoor work started.

The day was a frazzled mess, Freeman said, because there was hail and snow. She had been up at 5 a.m. to care for plants, but all had to be moved in Saturday and Sunday because of the weather.

Even though a common idea is that the danger of frost is past about May 15, that is not so, said Freeman. She says they always say Memorial Day, to be on the safe side.

Routine work at Liberty Gardens means that there are “never enough hours in the day.” She not only runs the garden center, which includes a water garden popular with children, but believes in real customer service.

Freeman says she believes in working with customers and other local businesses.

There is ” enough business for everybody,” she says. If someone who is a competitor on some items runs out or has a problem, she believes in helping that business person.

She said Smith Hardware had a problem with candy onion sets because their “crop rotted.” She said she helped them to replenish their stock.

If businesses help one another, one business could “send people here. We’ll send people up” to their store, she said.

It’s “word of mouth a lot,” said Freeman.

Liberty Gardens grew from an effort of brothers Isaac and Seth Freeman, who began doing lawn care when they were nine and 13. She had worked with them on a mowing crew.

She later married Isaac. They now have two children, Lance and Parker. Lance just graduated from pre-school and Parker, who is a red head at three and a half years, will be starting pre-school.

For a while the children came to work with their mother.

Freeman said she “has a really good crew.” Two people are full time, then there are a “couple of kids who come in,” she said.

After the brothers’ lawn business grew, people started in telling them they should sell plants, Freeman said. They had a five-year goal, which was to have greenhouses in five years. Instead, they started selling plants the very next year, she said.

They now have a “big house” on their site at 5822 State Route 13. There is an area outside where trees are located, near the water garden. There is also a showroom area, where there are specialty items. The back part of that building is where potting is done to get vegetable plants started.

The greenhouse area is advanced from the days when those structures had to be all glass and wood frame. The big house is material strung over a frame. There is a fan inside, and heat to the area is supplied by wood. The big house also has gas heat, but that supplements the wood heat, Freeman said.

Going to wood heat means someone has to go feed the fires, about 9:30 or 10:30 at night.

It “stinks when you’re lying in bed” and remember you have to go stoke the fires, she said.

The heat will be supplied to the big house until temperature stabilizes at about 45 to 50 degrees, she said.

There are still seeds that are “trying to pop up,” she said, and they don’t like it to get much below 55 degrees.

Tomatoes have done fine in their germination, but there have been a few problems with peppers, she said.

Liberty Gardens uses seeds from Burpee and Johnny Seeds, out of Maine, but they don’t order many items, she said.

One of the most popular items at Liberty Gardens is hanging baskets, said Freeman. They had to double their order of nursery stock, she said, partially because of the popularity of hanging baskets over Mother’s Day.

Freeman said she wants the business to “thrive.” It’s a family business, she said.

At the center recently a customer was buying growing supplies plus a bag of fish. Liberty Gardens sells those, Shubunkins, for people to use in water gardens. The fish sell for $8.99 each, she said.

The landscaping part of the business is going well, and jobs are booked until July, she said.

Freeman likes to point out spectacular looking trees set on the lot to the side of the garden center area.

There is a dappled Japanese willow, salix integra Hakuro Nisshiki; a variegated maple; a Bloodgood Japanese maple; a Ninebark.

The Hakuro Nishiki, which has leaf color in white and pink, grows to about six to eight feet.

There was a time when Freeman became over-involved in the business — last year when she was doing office work. She said she hated it.

“I was trying to do too many things, not doing any well,” she said.

Now she concentrates on the garden center.

“I love our business again,” she said.

Freeman said she offers people a “sunshine savings card” that gets punched every time a person spends $20. When the amount they’ve spent gets to $200, the next purchase is 20 percent off.

The business has also been selling terrariums, and Freeman says it has been fun to talk with the people who have received them.

Freeman said she concentrates on the garden center look and helping customers. Her assistant manager is Hannah Yoder, her husband’s sister.

Louise Swartzwalder | The Star Garden center manager Chelsea Freeman shows a ready-made salad bowl customers can buy at Liberty Gardens. Swartzwalder | The Star Garden center manager Chelsea Freeman shows a ready-made salad bowl customers can buy at Liberty Gardens.

By Louise Swartzwalder

Reach Swartzwalder at 419-886-2291

Reach Swartzwalder at 419-886-2291