For this week’s #ShopFranklin Spotlight, I interviewed Chris Depoto of Hillside Nurseries!
Hillside Nurseries is a family business in the truest sense. Started in 1939 by Chris’ grandfather Domenic, Hillside is now in the hands of a close-knit team of Depotos. Most Franklin residents know Hillside for its garden center, managed by Chris, but there’s also a florist’s shop handled by Chris’ mother Sandra and a landscape design and construction division headed up by Chris’ brother Marc. Chris’ dad Richard oversees the whole business. What brings the three divisions together is the Depotos’ mission; “we basically specialize in customer service and educating customers,” says Chris. Since flowers and plants are often impulse buys, Chris and his team work hard to make sure their customers truly understand the conditions that will make each plant thrive.
For newbie gardeners, Chris advises that a plant’s ultimate size and its needs for sun exposure are the most important things to consider when making a selection. “The last thing you want to do is go and spend money on a plant and it’s going to over grow the area, and the last thing you want to do is for that plant to fail because it wasn’t put in the right sun exposure,” Chris says. When in doubt, Chris encourages gardeners to bring in photos of their yard, since sun exposure can vary with the seasons depending on whether or not trees have fully leafed out. Geography is another important consideration, since a marginally hardy plant may survive in a spot that’s protected from harsh weather but fail in a more exposed location. And of course, Franklin’s deer population has to be taken into account. If a customer wants to landscape the inside of a fenced-off pool area, Chris explains, it’s much easier to get away with planting something that the deer find especially tasty.
Hillside’s decades of experience with the local conditions means that they know exactly what will thrive here; according to Chris, even though he sources plants all over the country, “we typically bring in the stuff that we know that works.” In some cases, that means explaining to a customer who’s just moved into the area that his or her favorite plant won’t do well here, and suggesting a substitute. “That’s where our experience has helped us over the years,” Chris says. “A tag can tell you a certain amount of things, the Internet can tell you stuff but the Internet doesn’t have a filter either… what might work in South Carolina won’t necessarily work in Massachusetts.”
In addition to helping customers find the best plants, designing and installing patios and landscapes, and providing beautiful floral arrangements, Hillside is also on the front lines of the fight against pests. “We try to push organics but sometimes it’s unavoidable,” Chris says. Right now, the most common problem for most gardeners is the winter moth caterpillar (otherwise known as the inchworm), but the Hillside team also monitors for more dangerous pests such as the Asian longhorned beetle. Fortunately, the ALB has yet to be spotted in this area, but Hillside is keeping a close eye out. “We talk with the state and we do get a lot of memos from the state to be on the lookout for stuff,” says Chris.
From Chris’ perspective, one of Franklin’s unique characteristics is that it has a number of businesses with the same kind of longevity that Hillside has enjoyed. “We wouldn’t be in business so long without the support of the Franklin community… it’s a testament to the town, the people of the town and their loyalty.” Although Franklin’s aggressive growth over the years has brought in many newcomers, Chris and his family are finding that the recent movement toward supporting small and local businesses has been helpful. Chris explains that while the “old-school Franklin people” have always been loyal, Hillside’s “off the beaten path” location means that newcomers to town don’t always know about it. The #ShopFranklin movement has given Hillside and other local businesses a boost because it’s “kind of like a referral service,” and helps give new customers peace of mind by providing a forum for recommendations and suggestions.
As a long-time part of the community, the Hillside team always stays involved in what’s happening in town. Chris’ mom, Sandra, says that this summer, Hillside will be offering children’s programs as they’ve done in past years, and whenever there’s an opportunity for a community fundraiser or donation, “we never refuse… if you are being supported by the local people you need to give back.” That community connection is what sets Hillside apart from its many competitors; “it seems like everyone’s selling plants now. I mean, why is the drugstore selling Easter lilies?” Chris laughs. “That’s the only way we can survive is on service… if there’s a time where we drop our customer service we’ll be closing up doors.”
Hillside Nurseries is located at 823 Washington Street in Franklin. Find them online here, and check out their landscape design and construction portfolio at Houzz.com. For more photos, please visit Focus Designs and Photos’ #ShopFranklin Photo Spotlight on Hillside Nurseries.