As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Real Deal Road Trip No. 10: R. Seawright Gardens

R. Seawright Gardens

Carlisle, Massachussetts

A lot of the best “real deal” places are kind of insider.  You have to be told to go there.  This was the case with R. Seawright Gardens.   In Boston, gardeners pass the name around freely, but the ordinary civilian would have no clue about the place.  Actually, what gardeners really say is “You have to go to this place in Carlisle.  Just drive past Kimball Farms (a popular ice cream destination) look out for the flower fields behind the simple road side sign with a picture of a daylily.”

The owners of the gardens, Bob and “Love” Seawright sell just two things:  hostas and daylilies.   Both perennials are beloved because 1) they have endless varietals, and 2) you absolutely cannot kill them.

Bob is a friendly guy with an open, easy smile.  So I asked him to tell me about his life’s journey to this 13.5 acre field full of carefully tended plants.  Bob  grew up in Mississippi.  His father died when he was 14 and he moved out of the family home to a dormitory to complete high school.  He somehow also got a college degree in “computers and mathematics” and spent twenty years in those fields.  Bob told me his last job was for “an MIT startup where my territory included Wall Street.”  He said,  ” I loved it but I kept thinking about my boyhood hobby of growing daylilies.”

I asked Bob how he knew he could make a go of running a specialist nursery.  He replied, with a laugh, “I sure didn’t.  There were a lot of sleepless nights.  But  I had read this book Think and Grow Rich.  I wasn’t expecting to become rich but I was sure doing a lot of thinking.   One of my mentors told me ‘you can’t fail if you burn all your bridges behind you.’  That’s not necessarily good advice in all cases, but that’s what I did.  I had no choice. I had to do this because I knew this work would make me happy.”

Happy indeed.  Everyone who visits this special place looks charmed.  One male customer told me, “These plants are like my drug.  I have 400 of them that I’ve grown over 40 years.  And I am back today for more.”

Selecting a daylily from 650 varieties, 75 of which Bob personally cultivated, is a daunting task.  It starts with perusing thick notebooks full of daylily photos and descriptors.

One of the many helpful employees acts as “counsellor”, talking you through the choices.  Once you make your selections, she lovingly writes the names of your future plants on tags which she hands over to a guy working the fields.

In this case it was 22-year-old Jack, who told me:  “You have to come back in July when they’re all blooming.  It is breathtaking.  I just stand and stare until Bob wakes me up and suggests I might get back to work at some point.”  Like everyone at R. Seawright, Jack tended the plants like babies.  (I liked his Italian soccer player headband, and was not surprised to learn he had been a Division 1 soccer player in college.)

Jack carefully bundled great groups of each daylily.  I watched another man cutting the leaves down and washing the roots of specially selected daylilies.  He told me they were mail orders.  Apparently Bob’s skill with these plants has garnered a national following and there is a booming business originating from the thick catalog and website Love creates in the off-months.

Daylilies being rinsed and dried in preparation for shipment

I loved seeing all the tags lined up in careful alphabetical order.

Even with the tags, I guess some plants go renegade.

I enjoyed the place so much, I visited the gardens twice in a weekend.

My favorite takeaway from Bob, besides my gorgeous new plants, was something he said about determination.  He revealed that a person he greatly respected–a mentor– told him, “You’ll never succeed at this enterprise.”  Bob said he told the man, “Just watch.”  And once Bob knew he was on solid ground with the enterprise, he even named a favorite new cultivar “Just Watch.”  Next weekend I think I just might return and bring that plant home,  as a reminder of Bob, and what one person with determination and vision can accomplish.

My newly planted "Frances Williams" hosta

3 Responses to “Real Deal Road Trip No. 10: R. Seawright Gardens”

  1. Margaret McKenna

    When I go to Seawright, I never look through the books. I go when the daylilies are blooming (which is for several months) and just wander until I am smitten. I buy what I can see…very satisfying.

  2. Jackson

    just so you know this place has closed down also, some of the information about the people who worked there is incorrect and or misquoted.

    • julespieri

      Jackson, I am so sorry to hear this! Can you tell me what to correct, nonetheless? I can imagine I would miss somethings as I did this from memory.


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