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Driving along Broadway in the town of Southport, New York, you would surely notice the beautifully landscaped 1895 Victorian farmhouse, painted soft gold with burgundy and cream accenting the architectural features. But you probably wouldn’t notice that behind the house is an extensive perennial nursery, Chamberlain Acres, worth a stop just to browse and enjoy the lovely woodland setting. Some visitors have referred to the nursery as “the secret garden.”
The house is the Chamberlain family homestead, built by one-time tobacco farmer Charles N. Chamberlain and his son Charles F. Chamberlain, grandfather of the current resident, Charles H. “Charlie” Todd. The farm once occupied a large section of South Broadway, and surrounding streets still have family names: Chamberlain Street; Stacia Drive, named for Charlie’s aunt; and Pauline Drive, named for his grandmother.
Charlie grew up in the home and worked in the family’s ice cream parlor and grocery store across the street while attending Southside High School. After completing his education, Charlie left the area for a successful career with a title company, but he returned in 2003 to help his mother renovate the old home.
New exterior paint was the first improvement. The house was previously painted a solid mustard shade. The new color scheme is repeated in the interior, with burgundy swags over sheer panels at the windows of the two parlors and burgundy walls in the dining room. Butterscotch carpeting unifies the spaces. Period furniture and family pieces “from the attic” are complemented with vintage art and artifacts, including heirloom china pieces.
Charlie preserved many original features of the interior: oak and chestnut woodwork, an open chestnut staircase, stained glass windows, a decorative fireplace—and forty-one doors! “This is the house of doors,” says Charlie. “We kids loved playing hide-and-seek here because all the rooms are connected.
“This house is still the family homestead,” he adds, “And this is where everyone congregates for holidays and celebrations.”
Glenn Miller, Charlie’s partner, added expert landscaping around the home and created an attractive patio area. Glenn began gardening at his grandmother’s knee in Nichols, New York, and never stopped practicing horticulture. So when Charlie and Glenn began brainstorming about how to utilize the three and a half acres of pasture remaining from the original farm, the idea of the nursery naturally evolved. Chamberlain Acres officially opened in 2007.
With thousands of potted perennials (their specialty), shrubs, trees, display gardens, and two greenhouses (a third is under way), the enterprise has grown steadily—this despite a setback last summer when a tornado lasting ten minutes sheared off forty-eight mature trees on the property while Glenn and Charlie watched helplessly from the pool, where they were taking a quick dip at the time. The storm came up so suddenly that branches started flying around them before they could climb out of the pool.
“The majority of our plants are ‘finished’ and over-wintered outside so that they can be planted as early as soil can be worked. You don’t have to wait for the ‘frost free’ date,” says Glenn. “And if you can’t find what you want here, we’ll try to get it for you.”
Some of Chamberlain Acres’ perennials and spring bedding plants are arrayed in the woodland setting.
The nursery also features bedding annuals and hanging baskets in the spring, mums and pumpkins in the fall.
Glenn notes: “Fall is a great time to plant. The root growth the plants develop will give them a good head start in the spring.”
In the winter, the nursery has a nice selection of poinsettias and wreaths for the holidays.
The Chamberlain Acres Web site is a good resource for customers, with information on items ranging from care of clematis to deer problems to tips for wintering plants (www.chamberlainacres.com).
Watch for upcoming trips on the Web site. Extremely popular with friends and customers are the annual bus trips to the Philadelphia Flower Show which Chamberlain Acres sponsors. Charlie and Glenn also have guided bus tours to Longwood Gardens and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
With the goal of providing the best possible customer service, Chamberlain Acres is also providing workshops for its clientele. This March, the team offered a class on how to plant your own hanging basket, with participants leaving their botanical works-of-art to mature in the greenhouse before claiming them in May.
Chamberlain Acres doesn’t attempt to compete with the big box stores. “We aim to be a nursery that can sell you plants for all seasons, all the time,” says Glenn. “We have a knowledgeable staff to assist and advise on all aspects of gardening.”