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Heather Leisher Coffin, who co-owns East Branch Organics in Keene with her husband Tom, poses outside the garden center on Tuesday September 27. (News Photo — Lauren Yates)

KEENE – Before East Branch Organics’ landscape and garden center became a reality, it already existed in co-owner Heather Leisher Coffin’s vision of her ideal garden center.

But when she first discovered the lot behind Stewart’s Shops on State Route 9N/73 in Keene, more than a dozen years ago, the garden center had been deserted for 10 years and the grass was the height of an average adult.

“It was almost like finding a ruin” She said.

But beneath the overgrowth were the beginnings of a new garden center that now offers landscaping services and a floral CSA, sells everything from perennials and annuals to wine and spirits, and even hosts educational and training events.

Leisher Coffin and her husband and business partner Tom Coffin moved to the area from Nantucket Island 13 years ago, where they ran a landscaping business together. They had been looking for something other than island life – more space to spread out, better schools for their two young children, house prices that wouldn’t break the bank. They tried Maine for half a year, but Heather said so “did not fit.” Then they tried Keene, a place they had visited in the past for camping and hiking. During their first night here, Heather said she knew they made the right decision. When she discovered the East Branch estate, all the pieces of the puzzle of her farming future came together organically.

East Branch Organics in Keene can be seen here on Tuesday 27th September. (News Photo — Lauren Yates)

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Heather has been surrounded by plants all her life – her father is a gardener and she spent the summers traveling to nurseries with him. One summer while in college, she got a job gardening on Nantucket Island. She had studied International Relations but discovered gardening was her future. She started working for a landscaping company on the island and that’s where she met Tom.

Inspired by the landscaping company Heather and Tom worked on together “Organic” Part of East Branch where all of the center’s growing practices are organic. Heather said Nantucket Island is a densely built-up place with manicured lawns everywhere, and it’s common landscaping practice to use chemical fertilizers to provide clients with the lush, green lawns they desire. But Heather and Tom noticed the side effects of these practices: They saw algal blooms, dead birds, rabbits and other wildlife that had suffered from the chemicals’ toxicity. When they later started their own landscaping companies together in the early 2000s, they were among the first landscaping companies to adopt ecological practices. Now, she said, it’s illegal to use chemical fertilizers on Nantucket Island.

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Heather and Tom were also among the founders of Nantucket’s first farmer’s market, and that inspired Heather’s idea of ​​opening a garden center.

“I loved the farmers market so much I just wanted that feeling every day,” She said.

Right now it’s pumpkin and mum season at East Branch Organics. But in spring, Heather said, the growing season is at its peak — the property’s five greenhouses are filled to the brim with plants. In summer, all plants come outside for cool, convenient shopping. In the winter, the East Branch sells Christmas trees and makes wreaths. After New Year’s Eve it’s back to planning for the next season.

East Branch Organics co-owner Heather Leisher Coffin wanders among the plants in a greenhouse at the garden center on Tuesday, September 27th. Lisianthus flowers can be seen in the foreground. (News Photo – Lauren Yates)

Heather said East Branch has grown naturally over the years, going from a part-time employee at the start to around 15 team members during the summer months. They’re still expanding and Heather is about to start a new position as Events Coordinator.

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Now Heather and Tom are getting into a new business. As of next week they are the new owners and operators of McDonough’s Valley Hardware in Keene Valley. They plan to continue the store as a hardware store, and Heather said they will have more retail space for gardening supplies.

Heather said that even when she tried to go against her intuition and move in with Keene, the move still happened. Before the move, Heather said she tried “to pull the plug” – she decided it would be safer to stay in Nantucket. But then everything went wrong. Her children got sick, her son’s school said he was late enrolled and would have to be transferred to another school, and the rental home they got in Nantucket had a sewer leak. The family decided to return to the Keene Plan. On her first night here, Heather said she felt like she could breathe for the first time. That was before she knew the garden center existed.

Her lesson learned: Follow your intuition and let life happen organically.

Various types of lettuce are on display in a tall tunnel at East Branch Organics in Keene on Tuesday 27th September. East Branch has five greenhouses with different varieties of annuals, perennials and flowers. (News Photo – Lauren Yates)