Traveling frequently for his job as an investment banker didn't allow Eliot Wadsworth enough time with his family. Or his garden. In 1976, he left his corporate job and bought White Flower Farm, a 200-acre mail order nursery in Litchfield, Connecticut. Back then, he says, the typical American garden was made up of rhododendrons and Japanese yews. As part of the growing niche of gardeners who wanted more sophisticated plant selections, Wadsworth got busy.
Today, with a full-time staff of 65 people, White Flower Farm grows about half of the 1,200 plant varieties it sells, from snow-white baptisias to marsh marigolds to 10 types of echinacea, the company's biggest seller last year. White Flower mails out hundreds of thousands of its glossy catalogs three times a year and has grown to more than $10 million a year in sales. And Wadsworth still gets his hands dirty. "Part of my job is to see what works," he says. "There's nothing I'd rather do than get 30 plants I've never seen before, stick them in the ground, and see what happens. That's my idea of a good time."
Record collection, about $10,000
"I have about a thousand records, all bought when that's all there was. I like the way they sound."
Shire draft horses, $3,000 for a pair
"We bought Blackmore and Langdon [that's him pictured] in Nevada. They're named after an English nursery. We mow the lawns, plow, and seed with them."
My delphinium experiment
"It's a labor of love. I'm cross-breeding 20 to 30 strains to create a hardier plant in 10 years."
Steinway baby grand piano, $40,000
"This was a present from my wife. I've played piano all my life but only started taking lessons five years ago."
Fly-fishing lures, about $100
"One of my favorite things to do is fly-fishing near my home. I have caught a lot of fish with a trout fly called the Hornberg."
'¶and What I Covet
The property next to mine
"A joke among farmers is, I don't really want any more land except the land adjoining mine. But most of it is wildlife conservation area, and the farm abutting us to the south isn't for sale."