Palmieri's Nursery reborn as Anthony's Nursery & Garden Center

Westport landscaper Tony Palmer buys property from cousin Frank Palmieri

Blossoming buds in hues of purple and pink, fragrant shrubs of evergreen and resplendent red azalea are displayed in an outdoor garden at Anthony's Nursery & Garden Center in Westport.

Visitors are encouraged to meander along the grassy path, which is lined on either side by more than 4,000 plants and shrubs, said Tony Palmer, who opened the business earlier this month.

"We have a huge selection of large shrubs and trees, unique shrubs and trees, all kinds of annuals, an assortment of perennials," he said. "We have all different shapes and colors, lavenders, greens, yellows. It's a little bit of a mix of everything. We're trying to utilize every bit of space."

Palmer, a Westport native, recently bought the 1.1-acre property for $1.1 million from his cousin, Frank Palmieri, where Palmieri's parents, the late Phil and Josephine Palmieri, since the 1940s had operated Palmieri's Nursery next to their home. Frank Palmieri closed the business at 489 Main St. last spring, two years after his mother died.

Having his own full-service garden shop has been a lifelong ambition, said Palmer, who for three decades has owned T. Palmer Landscaping.

"It's always been a dream of mine," said Palmer, who lives with his wife, Susan, across the street from the Palmieri family.

In addition to bringing in thousands of new plants and shrubs, Palmer has made several upgrades to the property to ensure that the new venture will flourish for years to come.

"We also put in some new fencing, did some woodwork and added a new infrastructure that included a whole new computer system," he said.

The next order of business is to fill the shop's 3,200-square-foot greenhouse, which is partially stocked with hanging baskets, succulents and tropical plants, with inventory over the next couple of weeks.

He also plans to transform a 560-square-foot garage on the property into a retail store and offices. The new structure, which will be designed to resemble an old country barn and made from used building materials to incorporate "green" practices, will have a stone veneer and barn siding with a large display of potted flowers outside.

By next year, Palmer said he plans to turn Phil and Josephine Palmieri's former home into a gift shop and base for the business' online store, where customers will be able to register their family's birthdays and other special occasions when they might want to send a floral arrangement or plant.

"We gently remind them by sending an email as this date approaches," Palmer said.

Palmer said the sales approach for the new business is "the plants will sell themselves," while three staff members offer "common sense advice," when asked.

"Our theme here is that we are offering old-fashioned service with state-of-the art technology," he said. "Most importantly, we want our customers to feel welcome. When you come in, we want to offer you a cup of coffee. We want people to feel comfortable browsing. We're definitely not going to try to force any sale upon you."

Palmer said the landscaping and garden center businesses will be run separately, yet he expects both ventures to complement each other.

"T. Palmer Landscaping will definitely be one of my best customers," he said. "It's wonderful that I will be able to bring landscape design clients here, at Anthony's Nursery and Garden Center, so that they could see trees, shrubs and plants up close."

The landscaping business had slowed during the recession, but the commercial end has picked up recently. Residential landscaping jobs are expected to increase as the economy slowly rebounds, Palmer said.

Although Anthony's Nursery & Garden is located next door to an established nursery and florist, Palmer said he considers "everyone and anyone" his competition, so he and his family have always strived to deliver top-notch products and services.

"We feel that the work we've done in the past and being in the public eye for so long will speak for itself," Palmer said. "Right now, 95 percent of our business is through referrals."

Palmer's new nursery business is entering a booming market despite the slow economy, given Nutmeggers' penchant for landscaping, said Bob Heffernan, executive secretary of the Connecticut Nursery & Landscape Association.

"We are perhaps the most landscaped state in the nation, where per capita spending on plants is among the highest of all 50 states," he said. "Just look around the state -- a home or business without landscaping is not only rare, but sticks out like a sore thumb."

Landscaping in Connecticut is about 15 percent of the total value of the average home, Heffernan said.

"It shows how significant an investment our state's residents are making when they plant around their homes," he said. "And the spending on flowers and plants seems to be most heavy in Fairfield County, so he (Palmer) has all the economic forces running in his favor."

Connecticut's "green industry" -- florists, nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers and landscapers -- is a $1.1 billion annual business with about 3,000 companies employing 48,000 people in all 169 towns, according to the association. The production of flowers and plants is also one half of all of agriculture in Connecticut.

An official ground-breaking for Anthony's Nursery & Garden Center and a private flag-raising ceremony will take place Wednesday, April 27, to honor Palmer's friend, Lt. Cpl. Charles "Charlie" Mark Rochlin. A U.S. Marine, Rochlin was killed in an automobile accident in Westport at the end of 2009 while on leave before heading back for his second tour in Iraq.

"This is my way of showing my patriotism and helping the Rochlin family to remember Charlie," Palmer said.

For information about Anthony's Nursery & Garden Center, call 203-221-3410, or T. Palmer Landscaping, call 203-227-8264.