Garden of Generosity

Trade Secrets, the mid-May plant sale, in Connecticut.

The early buying queue snakes beyond the barn, but nobody minds. Instead, shoppers are meeting, greeting, and charting the fastest course to the lady’s slipper orchids or the Edith Wharton-esque bench in a nearby booth at Connecticut’s legendary mid-May plant sale—Trade Secrets. 

Trade Secrets, the mid-May plant sale, in Connecticut.

It all started with a surplus. World-renowned interior designer and garden expert Bunny Williams and her gardener, Naomi Blumenthal, were juggling overflowing flats of primrose seedlings one day when Bunny joked, “Let’s have a sale.” Naomi took the suggestion further and proposed the idea that the venture could benefit an important cause: Women’s Support Services—an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence. Those prolific plants launched the first Trade Secrets event twenty-four years ago.

Trade Secrets, the mid-May plant sale, in Connecticut.

Ever since, on the third Saturday in May, Lion Rock Farm in Sharon, Connecticut, welcomes nearly 1,500 eager shoppers to a field brimming with botanicals and flowers, garden accessories, and advice bestowed by hand-picked vendors from points near and far. Bunny hosted the first two-day initiative at her home and invited thirty-five merchants to set up shop. The concept grew by such leaps and bounds that nearby Lion Rock Farm graciously agreed to accommodate the sixty sellers who travel here annually with their wares. Last year, Trade Secrets raised $230,000 for the charity. For the discerning crowds, growers display their prime stock of rare perennials, alpines, annuals, tropicals, shrubs, vegetables, and herbs so alluringly that they are quickly chosen. To complement the beautiful greenery, antiques dealers, botanical artists, metal artisans, potters, and craftspeople supply everything from scarecrows to statuary.

Trade Secrets, the mid-May plant sale, in Connecticut.

Whether buyers are in search of wicker or wallflowers, the event offers the conveniences of one-stop shopping. Camaraderie is also key. Two hundred enthusiastic volunteers transport purchases from tents to the pickup station. A local caterer serves up food—providing a respite from the hunt to hobnob. By three o’clock on Saturday afternoon, the grounds are depleted of most of their treasures, while departing gardeners wedge the remaining flats of morning glories into their cars.

Text Tovah Martin 
Photography Kate Sears 

To learn more about Trade Secrets and Bunny Williams, see “Garden of Generosity” found on page 39 of the March/April 2015 issue of Victoria. 


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