After a two-year hiatus, Colorful Gardens, the Jamesport garden center and retail gift shop, has reopened.
The garden center, which has been in business for about 27 years and was formerly known as Porter’s Colorful Gardens, reopened May 10. Owner Michele DeVito said she felt that even after a number of misfortunes — including the deaths of two loved ones and a fire that took down the garden’s shed and surrounding structures late last month — it was time to come back.
“I purchased this property in 1996 with my husband and Ilene [Porter] was already established up here,” Ms. DeVito said. “She rented from us for years and then, I think it was in 2003, maybe 2004, I had approached her with, ‘Would you mind if I came in and took over the gift shop?’ ”
From there, a partnership was born. Ms. DeVito managed Enchanted Cottage — the gift shop’s former name — and Ms. Porter managed the garden center. When Ms. DeVito and her husband first bought the property from Dick Cantwell, the site was known as the Farmhouse Nursery, which is why a few of the greenhouses and an herb room were already established.
Manuel Canel, an immigrant from Guatemala who owns Canel Landscaping, worked with Ms. Porter to begin building necessary structures in 1989. The Riverhead News-Review recognized Mr. Canel in 2006 for becoming the first Hispanic member of the Jamesport Fire Department. To this day, he works for Colorful Gardens as co-owner and landscaper.
“I helped [Ms. Porter] fix this greenhouse and after that, we moved it back and I built more greenhouses,” he said. “That’s pretty much how we started. In a way, I’ve been managing this place for that long.”
By 2007, Ms. DeVito was running both the center and the shop. Then came loss. And then came more.
“As everybody knew,” Ms. DeVito said, “Ilene … she was sick. She had breast cancer, and as she was getting sicker, she purchased this property in Calverton. There’s a [Colorful Gardens] Wholesale in Calverton. Ilene — she was our sunshine. I just started doing more and more and she was teaching me about the plants. After her passing [in 2010], I kept it going.”
But Ms. DeVito’s husband, James, was not well either, and money grew tight. To pay for his medical insurance, Ms. DeVito decided to go back to school in 2012. At the age of 49, she enrolled in a nine-month medical assistant program at the Branford Hall Career Institute in Amityville. She worked through a few externships, until settling in with East End Cardiology in Riverhead a year later.
Around Thanksgiving of 2016, Ms. DeVito’s husband was diagnosed with leukemia. While he was receiving treatment at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, Ms. DeVito would drive to the hospital to see him. She would ask Mr. Canel for help with her three kids, Richard, Lambros and Nicole.
“Anything my kids needed, anything my husband needed, he was there,” Ms. DeVito said. “‘Manuel, can you take me to the hospital?’ It was never a ‘no.’ ”
Mr. DeVito died in April 2017.
Ms. DeVito took some time off to sell her late husband’s properties and deal with his estate.
“It was really hard to do it, get [the garden] running, work full time,” Ms. DeVito said, “but the support of family and friends is how you get through these things, and I had great support. This year it was like, ‘Do I open, do I not? Do I open, do I not? Do I open?’ ”
For five years, she worked with East End Cardiology, growing close to patients and staff. With some prompting from Mr. Canel, Ms. DeVito decided this March to return to the place she calls home.
“I was broken-hearted … a year and a half went by and we didn’t open,” Mr. Canel said. “We’ve become one big family.”
Mr. Canel’s mother, father and relatives all work at Colorful Gardens. Once again growing and selling annuals, perennials, herbs, vegetables and hanging baskets with her now-extended family, Ms. DeVito said she feels great.
“We’re not a big production, we hand-water everything, we are small-scale, but everything we do, we do with love,” she said.
The majority of the garden’s plants are either grown on-site or by the wholesale business in Calverton. A small percentage is brought in from local shops, but Ms. DeVito said she’s very picky when it comes to bringing in outside product.
Good news is no longer as hard to come by, as Ms. DeVito will soon be a grandmother. Her parents are still with her, residing in Ridge. One of her sons is married and has moved to North Carolina, where he and his wife are expecting a child. Her other son has also moved to North Carolina, and her daughter, who lives in Farmingville, is set to be married in June. Ms. DeVito said she plans to use this year to bring the center back up to speed, but hopes to eventually expand the gift shop and see the garden’s free Saturday seminars make a comeback.
“I’m just going to do it and see where it brings me,” she said. “When you’re in it, when you’re in the forest, you can’t see through. I’ve come a long way. And I have to tell you, honestly, Manuel has been — he and his whole family are up here and they have seen me through every single stage.”
Photo caption: Maneul Canel and Michele DeVito, owners and operators of Colorful Gardens in Jamesport. Ms. DeVito, who purchased the property with her late husband, James, in 1996, has been working with Mr. Canel and his family for more than a decade. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)