Bigelow Nurseries was founded in 1915 by Palmer W. Bigelow in North Grafton, Ma. His initial passion for growing plants had begun as a child while spending summers on his grandmother’s farm in Enfield, Ma and further nurtured studying horticulture at the University of New Hampshire. With an inheritance from his paternal grandfather, Palmer was able to purchase his first farm. Though initially thinking that the railroad that intersected his property in North Grafton was an asset, he soon realized that it posed a serious hazard to both man and mule, and began seeking other property. Standing on the back platform of the trolley that lumbered between Worcester and Marlboro, Ma. he found a large dairy farm in Northboro, Ma, perfect for his growing ambition. Selling the Grafton property, he bought the Northboro farm in 1921. This property had a large old house, a huge barn, pasture hill, lots of land for growing, a pond for irrigation, and a beautiful ever-running brook.
During the prosperous twenties, Palmer developed lovely display gardens on the grounds, planted out fields of evergreens, flowering shrubs, trees, and perennials. Liners in huge wooden crates would arrive from other nurseries by rail cars, brought back to the Northboro farm and planted in the perfectly organized fields. He was also an accomplished artist, and came from a family of printers, and created beautiful catalogs, stationery, and mailings. The nursery’s primary customers were the wealthy folk, then mill owners, in Worcester, and landscaping their homes the main business.
The goal of the thirties was survival, rather than growth. It also meant that Palmer’s family, two boys, two girls and wife Margaret moved permanently to the farm in Northboro. The family had been living in Worcester since the children started school, but the Depression forced economies, and two residences were a luxury they could no longer afford. Living on the farm, the family soon adapted, growing most of their own food, and also incorporating the children into the daily activity of the nursery. The oldest son, Palmer W. Jr. “Bill”, began helping in the perennial beds and soon began travelling with his father to potential customer’s homes. The Depression had significantly decreased the demand for nursery plants, so it was necessary to rely on more direct sales tactics. Bill and his Dad would regularly load up a truck with large balled and burlapped evergreens and shrubs and then go house to house in Worcester trying to sell the plants. They would even unload the plants, placing them around a home to clinch a sale. The goal was to not return home until the truck was empty.
Through the forties and WWll, the nursery maintained their larger landscape customers in the city and grew more and more nursery crops and perennials. Bill was a Navy pilot throughout the war, Palmer Sr. not able to enlist due to poor eyesight. Once the war ended, Bill returned and the nursery prospered. In 1950 the nursery passed to second generation-Bill and his young family moving into the family homestead on the nursery. The nursery expanded its palette of plants, growing area and customer base, concentrating on the homeowner.
Over the next 30 years, the nursery added acreage, an expanded garden center, and most significantly began growing plant material for landscape contractors, designers, municipalities, and smaller landscape companies. Thousands of plants were grown for newly constructed roads, government construction, and developing office parks and housing.
Entering the eighties, not wishing to compete with its own customers, the company eliminated the landscape division, concentrating on retail and wholesale sales. Production of plants had also evolved, and the nursery created a large growing area for shrubs and perennial plants grown in containers to complement its expanding field production.
As third generation’s involvement grew so did the expanding commitment to growing plant material for the New England wholesale market and homeowner. Another large field production farm was added, perennial and container growing areas expanded, and most importantly staff maintained and added with excellent horticultural knowledge in both production and sales. Since 1915, the goal of the company has been to grow quality plant material. First and foremost, the company prides itself on being a horticulturally and environmentally sound grower, decades ahead of the curve encouraging organic controls to its retail customers and practicing IPM in the nursery.
Now owned by third generation, the company looks forward to decades of growing a wide palette of plants. Fourth generation, now vitally involved in the company, shares the passion for plants that began with Palmer Bigelow on his grandmother’s farm. As technology moves to increase speed of communications and systems within the company, the nursery will always remain a horticultural entity privileged to be farming for generations.