Great Barrington — Donald Ward had a lot of ideas in 1957 when he and his business partner purchased what would become Ward’s Nursery and Garden Center. Now, decades later, many of Donald Ward’s ideas have been brought to fruition and Ward’s itself continues to be an anchor of the business community.
Today, the traditions set by Donald are carried on by his sons Greg and Mike. “Everything we do, my dad initiated,” Greg explained, referring to many of the garden center’s events and festivities. “He’s the ideas guy. All of these initiatives were his, and we have taken them along for the ride.” These traditions include Kooky Spooky Avenue around Halloween and a Christmas Wonderland featuring an animal menagerie, events enjoyed by multiple generations of Berkshires residents.
In fact, this year is the 60th anniversary of the family business. It’s no wonder Ward’s has stood the test of time. Over the years, the business has expanded its offerings to better meet its customers’ needs by expanding its retail space and purchasing a farm in Sheffield.
By Greg’s count, Ward’s offers over 700 varieties of woody trees and shrubs, and 1,400 herbaceous perennials. Many of these plants are grown on the farm, reducing the need to import. Now Ward’s can meet the needs of local landscapers and houseplant-loving millennials.
During these fall months, Ward’s is also the place for decorations and other seasonal items. In addition to ready-made decorations, Ward’s offers classes and workshops where participants learn to make their own festive creations with plant materials. Importantly, the garden center also offers other courses including topics on plant-care such as winterization and pest control.
Ward’s isn’t just one of the oldest businesses in Great Barrington; it was also one of the first to accept BerkShares when the currency launched in 2006. Even then, the Ward family was no stranger to local currency. Since the 1980s, Ward’s has offered Laurel Loot, a currency that shoppers can redeem for up to a 50 percent discount on merchandise from trees, shrubs and houseplants to soil, tools and garden accessories.
“It’s a win-win,” Greg explained. “We experience increased traffic and customers are happy to receive something extra.” Formerly redeemable only when the mountain laurel was in bloom, Laurel Loot has grown and evolved, now featuring several redemption periods throughout the year.
It’s all in the spirit of local resilience. “Anything that encourages people to shop locally is a good thing,” Greg said. “We’re all in a community. Let’s work to support that community.”
Firmly rooted in the region and looking to future generations, Greg sees the Berkshires as fertile ground for entrepreneurial spirit of the youth. “The Berkshires is a great place to start a business,” he said, emphasizing the supportiveness of communities in the region. “If you have an idea, you can make it happen here. The sky is the limit.”