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Venture off the beaten path, past quiet woodlands on a back road in Ridge and you’ll discover a garden oasis straight out of a storybook. As the garden center’s name suggests, Hidden Ridge Plants is a secret garden that has virtually flown under the radar for more than 20 years.
“Even people who have lived around here for their whole lives are surprised to find it some times,” said owner and grower Bill Erdmann. “I like being tucked away…It is not like buying a plant out of a parking lot at Lowes.”
Hidden Ridge Plants predates the popularity of big box garden centers in Suffolk County, and the difference in the operations are quite stark. For starters, Erdmann, 63, grows all the flowers, houseplants, vegetables and herbs — more than 500 varieties in all — on site from seed or bulb each year. The Morrisville State College graduate, who holds a degree in conservation, grows in his garden center’s seven greenhouses almost all-year round. The flowers are rotated to different greenhouses of varying temperatures every few weeks until their ready for market — Erdmann trusts his gut on timing.
“I don’t have a growing calendar or a bunch of lists…I like to believe it is in my blood,” he said. “I think of it as more of a farm than a garden center.”
Erdmann’s love of horticulture began at an early age. He is a 1974 graduate of Mattituck High School, who spent his adolescence and young adulthood living in Laurel and working at now-defunct greenhouses on the North Fork.
“That was back in the potato days,” he said with a laugh. “I learned a lot from my old bosses and they gave me a chance to lease space and start growing on my own.”
Erdmann moved his growing and his house — yes, physically moved his North Fork home — to the secluded two-acre property in Ridge, when he was 23. He wasn’t growing too much commercially then, and spent some time at the Franciscan Monastery and working for Suffolk County and Hope House Ministries before opening Hidden Ridge Plants to the public roughly 25 years ago. Erdmann, and his wife Muriel, still live in the house on the property where they raised their three children.
“I never post hours because I’m usually always in the greenhouses,” Erdmann said. “I laugh a little when people ask when we’re open. If I am awake, I am usually open.”
The public is welcome to walk through the seven greenhouses and enchanting flower-lined paths decorated with colorful trinkets and memorabilia from Erdmann’s travels abroad. The checkout out counter is located inside a quaint, one-room barn that is a treasure trove of Erdmann’s collections from throughout the years, everything from old books and one-of-a-kind furnishings, to statues and cozy couches. Hidden Ridge’s mascot “Mr. Bunny,” an extra-friendly white rabbit that once belonged to Erdmann’s daughter, has also found a home inside the cottage.
“Everything here was donated or it was a gift,” he said.
Tropical plants like caladium and annuals like geraniums are popular plants at the garden center. Erdmann is also in tune with on-trend and eco-conscious plants that attract pollinators, such as milkweed and lavender, and sells those varieties as well.
No matter what you’re trying to grow, Erdmann can be of help. He puts his 40-plus years of greenhouse experience to good use, sharing tips and tricks with customers and at local garden clubs, where he regularly speaks about a host of gardening topics.
“I can talk about anything and people seem to like that,” he said. “I have a passion for it and it inspires people. I am all about plants and customer service.”
Erdmann has made it a personal mission to get to know all of his customers on a first name basis. Ridge resident Tony Abernethy, who has been coming to Hidden Ridge Plants for more than 15 years, said it’s one of the reasons his family keeps coming back.
“We love the atmosphere,” he said. “We get the personalized suggestions, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bill just sitting around with his feet up.”
Erdmann does much of the work at Hidden Ridge himself, hiring part-time staff to help for three months in the spring, and again in the month of December for the holiday season. When he’s not in the greenhouses, or entertaining at garden club talks, Erdmann spends time in Haiti working with agricultural consulting groups to help small-scale farmers who were left with few resources after the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
“I just enjoy connecting people with plants and nature,” Erdmann said. “I think they get something good out of it.”
Hidden Ridge Plants is located at 441 Randall Road in Ridge.