Even the most “in-the-know” locals may not yet have discovered Pratt’s Greenhouse, tucked away on a lovely stretch of Hillendale Road just minutes from the heart of Kennett Square. The longstanding wholesale business has only been open to the public since 2021.
But everyone who has walked or driven down State Street in the spring or summer months has admired the artistry of Pratt’s Greenhouse owner Bill Reynolds, who has designed the Kennett Square planters for nearly 20 years.
The Kennett Beautification Plant Sale at Pratt’s on May 6th and 7th will offer an opportunity to discover this great local source for plants in addition to supporting the efforts of the hardworking volunteers who put the planters together every year.
At a recent visit to Pratt’s Greenhouse, Reynolds shared well-seasoned gardening advice as well as a peek behind the scenes of this venerable local business.
A gardener’s rule of thumb
Reynolds has a legendary green thumb, but he also understands that all of the best gardening advice in the world boils down to this simple rule of thumb: “If you put the right plant in the right spot at the right time, it will do well,” he says.
The right plant is a healthy one that’s been grown with care under the right conditions, free of pests and disease. But how do you know which plant to put where, and when? That’s where the deep local knowledge of someone like Reynolds comes in. Pratt’s offers a wide variety of carefully chosen plants that thrive right here. In addition to his own decades of experience, Reynolds relies on the research expertise of Penn State’s Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Landisville. “They’re constantly testing plants to see what works in this area,” he says.
Successful gardening requires patience, too. Reynolds is loath to let a plant go home with a customer before the time is right for planting. “Plants are like people,” he says with a smile. “You have to toughen them up. They need air—oxygen first, water second.” Which is why, he says, plants from big box stores wilt quickly and often don’t survive.
Reynolds tends the 31,000 square feet of his greenhouses, often accompanied by Bear, his loyal German Shepherd, with paternal concern and a firm belief that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. “Proper care beats any chemicals,” he says.
Grown with love
Reynolds is a Kennett Square native who worked in landscaping and studied floriculture before returning to the area to purchase the business from the Pratt family in 1992. The Pratt family, local farmers who bought the original greenhouse in 1926, specialized in carnations and selling cut flowers to local markets. Under Reynolds’ management, Pratt’s Greenhouse has supplied local independent garden centers, public gardens, and landscapers—and now home gardeners—with beautiful, well-tended plants grown with love and care.
Perhaps part of the magic of Pratt’s Greenhouse is that it also holds a love story. To honor her parents’ first anniversary after her father passed away in 1991, a heartbroken and recently divorced 25-year-old Jacque came to the greenhouse to buy a hibiscus bush for her mother—something her father had done for years. She bought the plant, got talking to Pratt’s new owner, and came home to tell her mother about him. Jacque’s mother, who had been a hairdresser in Kennett for many years, vetted the Reynolds boys from Kennett Square through her network. Then she told Jacque to go back and buy the rest of the plants for the garden.
“I bought a lot of plants that year,” Jacque says with a smile. After twenty-eight years of marriage, their love story continues to flourish—in their home next door to the greenhouses and in the business, where Jacque works as Bill’s “ace unpaid employee” when she’s not working her full-time job at Nemours. She loves working with the plants and finds it relaxing. “Bill’s taught me a lot,” Jacque says, “and he doesn’t let anything out of here that’s not top-notch.”
The business is a year-round, seven-day-a-week calling, Reynolds says, with a few weeks off in January between poinsettias and pansies and another few in July to recharge before the growing cycles begin again. Together with staff members Paul, Ruben, Lisa, Gina, and Diane, Reynolds carefully tends the acres of plants, making sure they’re properly watered, free of disease, and acclimated before they leave the greenhouse.
“I’m amazed by all the different varieties and the quality of the plants Bill grows,” says Gina Lombardi, a longtime Kennett resident and seasonal employee at Pratt’s who encourages people to support local. “It’s worth it,” she says, “and the staff is kind and friendly. They’ve been here for years, and that says something too.
Reynolds loves designing containers, and he’s happy to help customers create the look they want. “If people see a picture of something they like, they can bring in a photo and I’ll help them find plants that will work,” he says. This year he also has some shallow, compostable pots that can be set into larger planters already filled with soil. To those who need to buy containers, Reynolds says: “Buy the biggest pots you can afford. The plants will establish better root systems and will require less watering.”
The right plants in the right spots on State and Cypress Streets
Some of the biggest planters in the local area are those on State and Cypress Streets in Kennett Square. For nearly 20 years now, Reynolds has practiced what he’s preached about putting the right plant in the right spot in each of these eight different locations. “That’s why the planter in front of Talula’s never matches the others,” he says with a knowing smile. “That corner gets morning sun only.”
Having studied the daily patterns of sun and shade in each spot, he selects a variety of plants for maximum effect and interest throughout the season. “I also have to make sure these are plants that will thrive with being watered only every other day and will last through the weekend,” he says.
The design, planting, and maintenance of these planters requires a significant investment of time, hard work, and expertise from many different community members. Volunteers from local garden clubs including Four Seasons Garden Club, Seedlings, and the Spade and Trowel Garden Club, do the planting. The hardworking staff from the Borough of Kennett Square’s Public Works Department prepare the planters and keep them watered throughout the season. It’s a true collaboration. “There are a lot of people involved, and it has succeeded for all these years because we listen to each other,” Reynolds says.
The best way for those who enjoy the plantings to support these efforts is to come out to the Kennett Beautification Plant Sale at Pratt’s Greenhouse (634 Hillendale Road, Avondale) on Saturday, May 6th (8am to 4pm) and Sunday, May 7th (10am to 3pm).
Customers will find a wide variety of beautiful and well-tended annuals and perennials for sale, including plants that local garden club members bring from their gardens. This is the third year that Pratt’s has hosted the sale, which improves on the old Genesis Walkway location in a number of ways. In addition to a spacious layout, with plenty of free parking, and an extended two-day format, there’s a much bigger selection. “There are so many more plants here than I could never bring into Kennett,” Reynolds says.
In addition to supporting fundraising efforts for the supplies and new planters, everyone has a role to play. “It’s all part of a whole,” Reynolds says. From the lovely plantings in front of Country Butcher to Kennett Collaborative’s gardenscape in the Genesis Walkway designed by Hilltop Garden Design, merchants like Portabellos who brighten their stretch of sidewalk with beautiful plantings, the unsung hero who weeded the patch at the bottom of Millers Hill, and every citizen who plucks an errant weed or picks up a piece of trash—all of these large and small contributions create a beautiful place for everyone to enjoy.
Reynolds is also working with Prairie Wind and other professional gardeners and garden clubs to organize a new initiative this season to help address another perennial problem home gardeners face—what to do with used plant pots. “By 2050 the weight of plastic in the ocean will be greater than the weight of fish,” he says. Stay tuned for more details about a public plastic plant container recycling event, somewhere in the Kennett area, in late June.
Find Pratt’s Greenhouse at 634 Hillendale Road, Avondale. Open 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday, Saturdays from 8am to 4pm, and 10am to 3pm on Sundays.
Photos by Dylan Francis