By Marianne Apfelbaum
A wide, grass-green streak of hair is the first hint that Sabrinajoy Milbury is not your garden-variety business owner. “When I work with plants, I feel as if I am dancing with them. Sometimes I am the leader, sometimes they are,” she wrote on her blog in explanation of the naming of her company, Just Dancing Gardens & Greenhouse in Williston.
The dance began 16 years ago, when Milbury decided to start her own business after stints as an office worker, home daycare owner, Mary Kay consultant and volunteer at her daughter’s school in its gardening program, which she created, and where she enjoyed sharing her knowledge and passion for gardening with the children.
“I loved going around to different classrooms with my little cart…building gardens…planting trees,” she said.
After participating in “Growing Places,” a Women’s Agricultural Network program designed for women interested in starting or growing an agricultural-based business, Milbury set up shop in her South Burlington backyard, where she built a local following of both gardening enthusiasts and those with brown thumbs. “I don’t have a green thumb, but I wanted lots of plants,” says Leslie Holman, a Shelburne resident and one of Milbury’s longtime customers.
Holman brings her pots to Milbury every spring—“Isn’t it Sabrina time yet?” she laughs—and as Milbury’s clients often describe it, “Lets her do her magic.”
Milbury’s potted plant creations are “visually and aesthetically phenomenal. They are a mélange of textures. I could never recreate that,” says Holman. “It’s her love of flowers that does it. She literally brightens my life. It is the highlight of my spring when I bring her my pots.”
The art of gardening
Milbury agrees that her approach to her work is a unique one. “I am an artist. I use plants and soil as my medium.”
Her “paints” are an eclectic and broad collection of high quality flowering and vegetable plants, many of which are not the norm at other garden centers.
“One of my favorite plants is crossandra. I adore this plant and haven’t seen it anywhere else,” she says. “It has amazing orange flowers with shiny, glossy leaves and it flowers all through the summer.”
Milbury says one advantage she provides to customers is that she has more flexibility as a small grower to carry these types of unusual plants. If she sees or hears about a plant that intrigues her, she says, “I’m just gonna try this plant!”
She is very selective about what she offers. “The only zucchini worth growing is Costata Romanesco,” she asserts. “It is firmer and less watery (than other types) with a nutty flavor, not as seedy, just yummy.”
She also speaks admiringly about the benefits of container gardens. “I love the convenience of them. You don’t have to kneel or weed. They are easier to maintain and move around. In this business, a lot of what you do is move plants.”
After more than a dozen years, 57-year-old Milbury’s business was so successful it began outgrowing her backyard greenhouse, so she started looking to move her business. A friend referred her to Mike Isham, who runs the Isham Family Farm on Oak Hill Road in Williston. She visited the farm in August of 2011 and said she immediately thought, “Oh, this is a pretty cool place.”
She and Isham worked out an agreement and she opened her greenhouse behind the Isham barn last spring. For his part, Isham says he likes Milbury’s “positive and outgoing” personality and that she offers “much higher quality” and is not trying to compete with Wal-Mart or Home Depot.
Just Dancing is the first in what Isham hopes will be a series of collaborations on the farm to create an “agricultural center for Williston. I don’t want people to think of Williston as just a shopping center,” he says.
Milbury is happy to be on board. “The Isham family has welcomed me with open arms. I love this family. It’s a great place to be.”
Just Dancing Gardens & Greenhouse will open for the season on April 24 and will be open Wed. – Sat. 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. However, there will be a hanging basket workshop on March 24. The business is located behind the Isham Family Farm barn at 3515 Oak Hill Road in Williston. Phone: 863-3530. Website: www.justdancinggardens.com.