We grow and sell New England native plants
Nasami Farm's Garden Shop is closed for the season. See you in late April, 2022!
Set on 75 acres in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts, Nasami Farm grows New England native plants from seed that we harvest sustainably from healthy, well-established wild populations throughout the region. Our goal is ensuring genetic diversity to offset the clones sold by traditional nurseries and to build resilience into a landscape facing change. We feed our plants with organic fertilizer and use biological controls rather than chemicals as our first line of defense against pests. We use no systemic pesticides, such as neonicotinoids.
We focus on propagation and research to bring different and hard-to-grow native plants into production. In addition to propagating plants for our two Garden Shops, we also work with the Conservation staff and contract with other organizations to cultivate plants for the restoration of wild habitats. And, in our classroom at Nasami Farm, we also offer year-round classes in native plant horticulture and botany.
For home gardeners and professionals, the Nasami Farm Garden Shop offers an extraordinary variety of native plants during the growing season, and we are significantly expanding our seed collection and our list of species. Download the current plant list with prices on our Buy Native Plants page. The list applies to our Garden Shops at both Nasami Farm and Garden in the Woods.
We are located at 128 North Street, Whately, MA 01373. Please be aware that the exits on I-90 (MassPike) and I-91 are renumbered. The exit on I-90 for I-91, formerly #4, is now #45. The exit on I-91 for Conway/Rt. 116, which takes you to Nasami Farm, was formerly #24 (northbound) and is now #35. If driving southbound on I-91, the same exit was #25 and is now #36. Map programs may not yet provide the new exit numbers.
The classroom and the seasonal Garden Shop are the only parts of Nasami Farm open to the public.
Growing for Good
Nursery Production Manager Cayte McDonough reflects on 20 years in our nursery
Retiring after two decades with Native Plant Trust, Cayte McDonough, Nasami Farm Nursery Production Manager, leaves a thriving propagation center that reflects her passion for plants, her talent for systematic thinking, and her ability to build a mousetrap out of—well, anything. She has built a contract-growing program for restoring native plants to the landscapes of college campuses, land trusts, and national parks, not to mention introducing the popular pollinator kits for retail sale.
Resourcefulness is a hallmark of her many contributions: To modify greenhouse conditions for species with different needs, Cayte has created varying microclimates using little more than shade cloth and inverted crates. Native Plant News picks her brain about collecting seed, configuring spreadsheets, and tying down greenhouses during windstorms.
NPN: How did you get into the field of plant propagation?
CM: I’ve had a lifelong interest in plants, but early on I didn’t know about related career options. I studied English literature and communications as an undergraduate, and then worked in technical communications, later becoming a software quality assurance engineer and then a manager. Living in the Boston area, I took classes at the Arnold Arboretum and the former Radcliffe Seminars landscape design program. Looking to make a career change in my late 30s, I attended an event at which the director of horticulture at New England Wild Flower Society spoke about careers in public horticulture. My interest in native plants was really ignited when I took a workshop at the Conway School of Landscape Design taught by Heather McCargo, a former propagator at the Society. Curious, I visited Garden in the Woods, and while sitting on a bench in the Rare Plant Garden, I had an epiphany: I want to work here. I spent the 1999 season as a Horticulture intern at the Garden.
NPN: How did you join the staff?
CM: In the spring of 2000, after my internship, I was hired by nursery manager and propagator Bill Cullina, who trained me. My position was seasonal until I started year-round in 2002. During those early years, I was given opportunities to help other departments during the winter with projects including processing memberships and organizing the slide and image collection, which gave me a broader view of the organization as a whole. From the start, Bill was writing books and lecturing, so I worked independently a lot, collecting seed, growing plants, working with volunteers, stocking plants and assisting with plant sales, and more. During those years, our propagation staff consisted of Bill, me, and a six-month intern.
Photo: Cayte (third from R) with Bill Cullina (center, back) and other staff members and volunteers at Garden in the Woods, c. 2003, photographer unknown.
NPN: Why and when did the nursery move from Garden in the Woods?
CM: The nursery at the Garden was very successful, but we had no room to expand, and the site was shady. A committee of Harvard Business School grads explored how to expand the nursery enterprise and found there was opportunity in the retail market if we could expand physically. Various staff and board members scouted for new sites. A board member, Ruah Donnelly, located a large property with an operating nursery, Nasami Farm, in Whately, Massachusetts, about two hours west of the Garden. In 2003, the organization bought Nasami Farm and established a skeleton crew the next year. I was still working at the Garden, producing over 32,000 plants a year, sending seedlings to the Nasami crew to pot for sale at both locations. Construction of new greenhouses also began at Nasami that year.
NPN: Were the plants largely the same species you grow now?
CM: The plant palette in the nursery and at Garden in the Woods was broader, including North American natives and some Asian analogs (such as the native Jeffersonia diphylla and its Asian relative Jeffersonia dubia). When I moved to western Massachusetts in 2005 and was promoted to propagator, we further expanded the palette and production. With bountiful open space and full sun, we grew more trees and shrubs in larger pots and produced more cultivars in addition to seed-grown straight species. At the height, we more than doubled the earlier nursery production at the Garden.
NPN: When was Nasami’s native plant center built and how did the new LEED Gold Certified facility affect nursery operations?
CM: Construction started in 2008 and finished in 2010. Until then, our office space was a minimally heated greenhouse complete with an outdoor porta-john, both of which became broiling or frigid during seasonal temperature extremes. The new building has more than met our basic needs. We have radiant-heat floors to help germinate seeds in winter, a seed-drying room to preserve seeds, and ample space for staff and volunteers to sort and clean seeds. The conditions are clean enough for us to produce ferns, which are easily contaminated by fungus.
NPN: You left the organization in 2007 and returned in 2011. In what capacity did you come back?
CM: In 2011 I was rehired as a part-time consultant at Nasami and became the full-time production manager in 2012, when the nursery was starting in a new direction. Until then we had been growing the broad plant palette I mentioned earlier. Now the organization decided to focus on its mission of conserving New England native plants. For the nursery, this meant growing plants from the seed of known ecotypes [genetically distinct geographic varieties or populations within a species that are adapted to specific environmental conditions]. This requires us to collect seed from diverse wild populations throughout the region, providing a unique biodiverse selection of plants for retail and. restoring landscapes.
NPN: How did that affect the nursery operation?
CM: It became vastly more complicated. We had to come up with a list of desirable common species native to our ecoregions [a major ecosystem defined by geography and receiving uniform sun exposure and moisture] and find large, healthy populations of these plants in the wild to allow for genetic diversity, which helps ensure that an entire population won’t be wiped out by a single pest or disease. We had to figure out when the wild seed of various species ripens and, for some species, what they require to germinate. We must get permission from landowners to collect seed. All this requires a lot of record keeping, because seed-source provenance is important to track. We weren’t set up to do any of this.
NPN: So, what did you do?
C.M: With help from staff members in horticulture, conservation, and retail, we developed a target species list, which we review and revise regularly. We originally planned that Plant Conservation Volunteers would collect seed, but they were too busy monitoring rare plants. With help from local community members, we eventually located many plant populations, mostly on private properties. Because we produce plants for sale, we can’t collect on most public land. While I have collected a large portion of the seed over the years, volunteers and other staff members have made significant contributions. Together we have built up our offering of species grown from known-ecotype seed—from 49 species in 2013 to 153 species in 2020.
NPN: How do you keep track of the provenance?
C.M.: I developed a spreadsheet-based system for recording data about each collection including the collector, date, and location, as well as a system for coding each collection with a unique tracking ID. We keep these codes with the seeds and on labels that follow every plant produced from them, from the first flat of seedlings to the point of sale. The system works, but a true database would enable us to integrate our wide range of records like those for seed-collection—which landowner, who collected it and when, requirements for germination—with our propagation and potting schedules, customer order confirmations, shipping lists, and more.
Photo: Cayte collects seed from inkberry holly (Ilex glabra), ©Deb Donaldson.
NPN: Did anything else change when the nursery started on this new path?
C.M. We made the decision to focus on seed collection and propagation and to seek out partner nurseries to grow plants to retail size. We knew that the change also meant that our operation would be more efficient. We sought out partner nurseries to take our plants at the plug stage and grow them to retail size. It took four years to find partners with the right expertise to meet our standards, and it takes regular coordination to keep things operating smoothly. Each year we negotiate our production plan with our retail manager and partners, aiming to ship plugs to the partners within the limited window necessary for them to be potted and to root fully. I regard this arrangement as a big accomplishment. It enables us to maintain our productivity and fulfill the organization’s mission by expanding the number of species we offer from known-ecotype seed.
NPN: Can you talk about the contract-growing program?
C.M. Before 2012 we had not done much contract growing for habitat restoration, but when we started growing plants from known-ecotype seed it was a logical extension of our operations. Since we introduced the service in 2013, our customers have included the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program, Smith College, Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, the Arnold Arboretum, the National Park Service Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation area, and of course, Garden in the Woods, to name a few. Though we now have three full-time nursery staff and many dedicated volunteers, our production capacity is limited, and we do our best to meet the increasing demands for retail and contracts.
NPN: You and other Nasami staff members have experimented with hard-to-cultivate species. What are some examples?
C.M.: We had difficulty germinating Gaylussacia [huckleberry genus]. After some trial and error, I tried putting sown seed onto a heat mat for 30 days, allowing temperatures to cool at night, followed by refrigeration. Many seeds started to germinate within 30 days. We are still cracking it, with better germination some years than others, but are now able to grow more of the popular black huckleberry. My colleague Alexis Doshas [Cayte’s successor] experimented with several methods of germinating Carex pensylvanica [Pennsylvania sedge], a popular replacement for turf grass and has substantially increased germination rates. Alexis describes the process in an article that will be published in Native Plants Journal. We continue to experiment with many other species, such as bearberry [Arctostaphylos uva-ursi].
Photo: Cayte gets her hands dirty in one of Nasami Farm's greenhouses, Alexis Doshas ©Native Plant Trust.
NPN: What are your favorite tasks in the nursery?
C.M.: I love working with people who enjoy learning and talking about native plants, experiencing their enthusiasm. I enjoy going out and scouting for plants, working with the plants in the greenhouses, getting my hands dirty. And in spring it never gets dull seeing the seeds split open and the cotyledons emerge. I feel proud to have helped over a million native plants get started here. It has been rewarding work, contributing to the health of our planet. Overall, what drives me is the passion I feel about the work we do at Native Plant Trust and the organization's mission. It has felt like my calling to work for an organization whose aim is to support our native flora and, by extension, our native ecosystems.
Gifts in honor of Cayte McDonough will support the seed collection program at Nasami and continue her legacy in the field and in the greenhouses. To celebrate Cayte's career and wish her well in retirement, please click here. To get stock-transfer information, click here, or call 508-877-7630 x3802. Thank you!
Why We Grow Native Plants from Seed
Nursery Manager Alexis Doshas explains.
When nurseries propagate plants through cuttings, cloning, or using seed collected from a small or cultivated population, they winnow out genetic diversity, rendering all the individual plants in the group susceptible to the same pests and diseases. That means that all plants of the same species that live in a particular geographic area can be wiped out by a single pest, as happened, for example, when one microorganism decimated Ireland's potato crop in the mid-19th century, causing a famine that claimed about a million lives.
In some cases we need to propagate plants through cuttings or another vegetative method, usually when a species is difficult to grow from seed or does not produce much, if any, viable seed. Also, native plant cultivars—varieties that have been bred for certain characteristics, such as resistance to disease, size, and ornamental traits—have their place in our landscapes, in moderation.
Take, for example, double blood-root (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’). A natural mutation in the wild created a plant with additional flower petals. Unlike the straight species, double blood-root is sterile—that is, it does not produce seed—because the mutation transformed its reproductive parts into petals. While we continue to collect wild seed of blood-root and grow it from seed, that is not an option for double blood-root and similar sterile plants. So, we may divide the plants, take cuttings, or purchase them from our partner nurseries that have propagated them from cuttings.
But these are exceptions. We primarily focus on growing native plants from seed collected in the wild by a team of trained staff and volunteers who research and document local sources of healthy, wild populations. At the right time, we head into the field to collect seed, careful to leave plenty of intact specimens to enable the population to continue to thrive. This widespread sampling in the wild ensures that the native plants we grow in our greenhouses represent the region's robust genetic diversity.
Fertile Ground for Research
We experiment with chemical-free pest control, nutritious soil mixes, and propagation techniques for challenging plants
For example, in one ongoing experiment, we're trying to learn how to get the seeds of bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), a low-growing evergreen shrub, to germinate faster. Bearberry is a popular nursery plant because it thrives in poor, dry soils and is a favorite alternative to turf grass, especially on slopes. Birds and other animals feast on its red fruit. But it is nearly impossible to find genetically diverse, seed-grown specimens in commercial nurseries because of the plant's hard-coated seed, which can stay dormant for years. To keep up with demand, most nurseries produce clones with cuttings from one or two parent plants, contributing to a lack of biodiversity in the landscape.
What if nurseries could grow bearberry faster, without resorting to genetic modification? The first step in solving the puzzle is to find out why the plant's tough-coated seeds germinate when they do. Is it an environmental stimulus, for instance? We are collaborating with staff at a local community college to discover what triggers Arctostaphylos seed to germinate, treating the seeds with smoke, heat, chemical baths, and combinations thereof. Our findings could lead to more nurseries growing bearberry from seed—and bolstering the species’ genetic diversity in the wild.