Clay’s Garden Center and Farm Market is a joy for the senses. There are so many things to see and touch and smell and taste. Friendly voices greet you. Candy sold by the pound resurrects happy childhood memories, and an antique display wall at the back transports the mind to times long past. For Justin Sarafin, conducting this interview with Darlene Nash and her son, Eric, was like catching up with old friends. 

 

JS: “Tell me what you do here.”

DN: “We sell just about anything that we can possibly sell. We have small gift items that we can sell. We sell craft beers and wines from Virginia. We like to promote the Virginia products. We’ll sell Virginia peanuts, Virginia hams, bacon and the old country [hog] jowl.”

EN: “Everyone thinks we’re just a garden center, we’re far from it. That’s why four or five years ago, we changed our name from Clay’s Garden Center Incorporated to Clay’s Garden Center and Farm Market.”

JS: “Farm market – that’s the key part.”

Nodding in agreement, Darlene continues, And this time of the year, we have a lot of produce. That’s coming locally from Dinwiddie, Lunenburg, Nottaway…”

EN: “And cantaloupe, watermelon, corn, all that stuff. Butter beans are all local.”

DN: “And then we do all kinds of garden seeds. Spring is our busiest time, selling plants and dozens of pounds of seeds and stuff. And we have a little lunch counter Monday through Friday, 11 to 2:30.”

JS: “I’ll be getting lunch there in just a few minutes!”

DN: “We even cater, and people can call ahead orders as well. And there’s wine, candy, old-fashioned candies, jellies, and jams.”

EN: “Candy by the pound so people can just go and pick and choose. That’s a big thing people love.”

JS: “And that’s a huge thing. I remember doing that when I was a kid.”

DN: “Dog food, and we do livestock feeds, too.”

DN: “We have five greenhouses, two cold frames. Billy is the other half of this business. He’s into the greenhouses. This is his big thing. He loves raising plants and planting plants. He just got through planting poinsettias and they will be ready for the Christmas season and the mums will be ready in another month.”

EN: “Dad planted ferns a month ago for next spring. It’s a ten month process.”

JS: “10 months ahead?”

DN: “You have to. He’s already ordered ferns and plants for 2022 and ‘23. You got to order the ferns at least a year before you have to have them.”

 

JS: “I think what you’re saying is sort of answering my second question,  which is, what do you think separates you from other shops like yours or other places like yours? Maybe there aren’t other places?”

EN: “We were here when Walmart came and everybody said, ‘Well, how are y’all going to survive?’ We were like, ‘Well, we’re just going to try and do the best we can.’  You got to set yourself apart with service and quality of product. Our ferns, we were just talking about ferns. Our ferns may be $29, $39 a fern, but they’re also not cheap ferns. I mean, they’re huge ferns. They’re big things.”

DN: “Yeah, some of them that are in 14-inch pots, and people complain because, by the end of the summer, they’re hanging out of the pots that have turned into 16, 18 inches. And they always come back next year asking, ‘Can we have a smaller fern?’  Because they just grow big, well taken care of. We water our plants and shrubs where other places don’t have the time because they’re so diverse in other areas that it makes it difficult.”

EN: “But yes, we set ourselves apart by I think, service and product.”

DN: “Service and [we] enjoy talking to people. His brother and my husband are in charge of greeting…”

EN: “They’re the greeters. They talk!” With a good-natured laugh, Darlene adds, “You gotta walk away or you gonna stay awhile.”

JS: “What’s your favorite part of this job or this work?”

EN: “I like the family aspect of businesses. Number one, you can count on them because it’s their business as well. So they’re going to take pride and put forth. They’re invested in that business. I like the family aspect of it and I’ve been here since seven years old.”

DN: “We have always had a really good group of employees. I just wish they could stay longer.’

EN: “Mom treats them like her kids and family.”

DN: “I do. I bring them treats. I make them cobblers. I bought donuts yesterday from South Hill and brought them back and they’re just like family to us.  Family is the thing because I grew up on a farm in Lunenburg and it was always our family work. It was a tobacco farm, and cattle.”

JS: “And I think you’ve anticipated my next question, which was, what support team do you have alongside you? And I think you’re talking about your employees and family.”

DN: “Yeah. Family and employees, and very close friends that are diehard. They will share and publicize everything that Eric puts on Facebook. We got a good support system.”

 

JS: “What do you want customers to remember most when they leave here?”

DN: “How they were treated. I want them to remember that we are glad that they came, and to support us and that we want to give them the best that we can offer.”

JS: “And I know people come from all over. I’ve got a friend who lives in the west end of Richmond. And she drives down to come here.”

EN: “You’d be surprised at how many people come from Maryland, Baltimore, really just to come get country meat, hog jowl, bacon that we sliced in the back. 

DN: “And people kind of like the old-time look. I had one customer to say, ‘I don’t know if y’all try to make this look like an old-time store, but I love it. It reminds me of growing up and seeing the old-fashioned candies and the jellies and jams.’”

EN: “Dad’s got the largest antique thermometer display in the back of anywhere in Virginia, easily. He’s got the whole back wall and the whole sidewall just full of antique thermometers. That’s just stuff that Dad’s enjoyed collecting. Then you’ve got old tobacco that mom has hung and wrapped up there from years and years ago.”

DN: “So I’m bringing in a little of my heritage.”

EN: “Just some nostalgic items that people like seeing. I think the biggest thing to tell people about is the diverse line of products that’s here. I mean, you ride by it, you see this stuff outside obviously, but I mean, the amount of stuff that’s inside is…”

DN: “You could still come in and go, man, where did y’all get all this stuff from? I thought y’all are just a flower place.”

Sometimes sweet stories are best shared by the one telling them.

by Darlene Nash speaks on family and tradition

From the outside, Clay’s Garden Center and Farm Market might seem like just another nursery. The variety of products is so great, there would be no way to fully or accurately represent it on the outside. Clay’s is both a trip down memory lane and an adventure in finding and experiencing new things. It’s definitely worth any amount of travel to come here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit Blackstone VA is sponsored by Downtown Blackstone, Inc. www.downtownblackstone.org