A tale of two flower sellers

Story and photos by Derek Doeffinger

As I pulled into Iris Country Gardens owned by sisters Sara Ann and Reba Martin in Hall, NY, the last thing I expected was to discover that the old and new ways have a lot in common. As I got out of the car, I spotted Reba. She was kneeling beside and reaching out to the pom poms of a magnificent peony. And on the other side of the garden, I saw a fit, middle-aged customer kneeling beside and extending his arms to an iris. What’s going on?

Before exploring the kneeling mystery, I took a few moments to stand in the middle of these splendiferous gardens at their peak and soak in their beauty.

Appreciation completed, I walked over to Reba to see what she was up to. Clutching a few stamens in her fingertips, she explained she was trying to pollinate a favorite peony with a tree peony to create an even better hybird. She and her sister Sara, learned this art and science from previous owner Dana Borglum, renowned nationally for his hybridization successes.

One mystery solved, I pursued the other. But before I reached my other kneeler an older customer smiling and hugging her freshly dug iris ambled by and so pleased at her prize iris she blurted out to me, “That nice young man who works here dug up my iris for me.” He was a customer not  a worker but apparently he was nice and saved her the difficult effort of digging into the rock hard ground.

As I closed in on him, he knelt before another iris and extended his hands. Then he scooched over and did it again. Five times. He was taking phone pictures of the irises he wanted. 

I asked him what he was up to. Like Reba and Sara, he sells plants. But on the Internet, where he would use the pictures he just took. Specifically he is the owner of an Etsy shop dedicated to plants. Etsy is the website that gained fame for offering artists and crafters a way to sell their works. Since then it has expanded to include many more products, with a focus on gifts.

His Etsy shop is Mikesplants. He is thirty-five year-old Mike Pacini, a plant lover and former landscaper in Ontario, NY. Mike decided he wanted his own plant-focused business and started his Etsy shop in 2020. Last year he shipped out 4,000 orders all over the country.

But how can this work? Most gardeners love to see and caress and nuzzle and inhale the plants to find the one that speaks to them.

Mike explained, “I get most of my plants from smaller high quality growers, many who specialize in a few select plants. Iris Country Gardens fits that mold for me. I know I can get top quality and unique Iris for my customers.”

Although Mike may never see or even talk to his customers, it’s pretty clear that he and the sisters share a couple of important qualities. They both provide high quality plants as well as reliable and superior customer service. Smiling and helpful, Sara and Reba exude expertise and helpfulness to the people standing across from them., and they’re likely to return and spread the word.

Mike, meanwhile, can point to his 4.8 out of 5 customer rating. It seems the online plant business succeeds using many of the methods of the on-ground business. But it’s still hard to beat the nuzzling, sniffing, and ogling of plants, which even Mike seems to do in picking out plants for his online customers. 

Before I left I peeked into the buggy horse barn, then passed by Sara on the way to my car. She  surprised me by informing me that Iris Country Gardens now has its own website and Facebook page.


Derek Doeffinger spent a few decades at Kodak explaining how people can take better pictures and then encouraging them to use Kodak products — especially digital cameras. That last part didn’t quite work out. Fortunately during his Kodak days he became an obsessed outdoor photographer, especially of Finger Lakes waterfalls. He’s written several photos books about the Finger Lakes and digital photography, and now has written quite a few articles for Life in the Finger Lakes.

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