Hornbaker Gardens Offers a Beautiful Oasis
After discovering an idyllic spot to settle down and raise a family, lawyer Richard Hornbaker made a prophetic statement to his late wife, Kathy: “Someday this will be a real oasis.”
Inspired by their new 40-acre homestead near Princeton, Hornbaker dreamed of trading in his suit, tie and office job.
“Right away I started thinking about how I could make a living out here,” says Hornbaker, who practiced law for 13 years. A weeklong symposium hosted by the Perennial Plant Association in 1986 provided the direction he needed.
“I came back extremely enthusiastic about perennials – and hostas in particular,” he recalls. “I decided to give up my law practice and jump with both feet into perennials.”
Fortuitous timing put the Hornbakers on the leading edge of a surge in perennial popularity – and soon, the family business began to bloom.
Now in its 32nd year, Hornbaker Gardens – a combination garden center, botanical garden and arboretum – offers variety and beauty in equal measure.
“We have become a destination garden center,” says owner Richard Hornbaker, who runs the business with daughter, Molly Blogg, and son, David Hornbaker. (Daughter, Sara Tracey, teaches kindergarten in Bloomington.) “We carry just about every kind of plant you could imagine for a garden or container. And over the years, we’ve developed quite a few display gardens to show mature specimens – they’re a great sales tool and enjoyable simply to walk through.”
Specializing in hostas and daylilies, Hornbaker Gardens grew its tree and shrub offerings and dove into the world of aquatic plants over the years. Green thumbs and a thirst for variety drive this family business.
“We carry 500 varieties of hostas, which put us on the map 30 years ago,” says Hornbaker, particularly passionate about this perennial.
“Hostas are gorgeous. They are a great foliage plant that grows well in shady areas – and everyone has shady areas,” Hornbaker says. He suggests planting a variety of hostas together to create a tropical look and using coral bells for a hint of color.
The Hornbakers always keep an eye out for new varieties to share with customers.
“We have some really interesting new hostas this spring. ‘Waterslide’ is going to be a big hit,” Blogg says. “It has bluish-green foliage, long, narrow leaves and wavy edges. It’s one of the hosta highlights this year.”
For sunny areas, Hornbaker Gardens carries hundreds of perennials, including many varieties of coneflowers and bee balm, which attract customers and pollinators alike.
And don’t forget the daylilies. You’ll find more than 200 varieties at Hornbaker Gardens, all of which tend to grow quickly once planted.
“Daylilies multiply quickly and grow into big clumps,” Hornbaker says. “Don’t be afraid to divide daylilies every few years. Early spring and after they bloom are the best times, but they can be divided pretty much any time.”
While hostas have his heart, Hornbaker happily branched out into trees and shrubs over the years.
“Quite a few customers seek us out for trees and shrubs. We have unusual varieties, such as Japanese white pine and Hinoki cypress, and several varieties of Beech trees. Our dwarf conifers are very popular, too.”
A quick trip through the arboretum can quell concerns about planting a less traditional tree.
“The arboretum really helps,” Hornbaker says. “Customers can look at maturing varieties of trees they have never heard of or considered and gain confidence that these trees will grow well at their place, too.”
Hornbaker Gardens also offers unique twists on traditional favorites like hydrangea.
“Hydrangea have experienced a resurgence in the last 10 years,” says Hornbaker. “There are a lot of wonderful new varieties – some have blooms that transition from white to pink to rosy red.”
The vast variety at Hornbaker Gardens extends to the gift shop, which offers garden-related necessities and niceties.
“At the shop, we sell everything from gardening tools and gloves to garden art, and indoor and outdoor garden-themed décor,” Blogg says. The gift shop also carries a massive supply of miniatures to make the most of any fairy garden.
Fairy dust aside, Hornbaker Gardens provides a magical spot for weddings with background beauty to rival any bride. While outdoor weddings remain popular, The Barn at Hornbaker Farms offers a weatherproof alternative for weddings, receptions and corporate events.
“The Barn event center is open year-round and has room to seat 350,” Blogg says. “Even though it’s designed with a rustic barn look, it’s very finished and elegant inside.”
Hornbaker Gardens hosts about 50 weddings every year. Somehow it seems fitting that so many families get their start where Richard and Kathy Hornbaker grew a family – and a family business.
Today, as he eases into retirement, Hornbaker delights in sharing his once-private oasis with thousands of visitors every year.
“We’re are a bit off the beaten path, and you have to drive down a long lane to get here,” Hornbaker says. “Customers are always amazed at how much is back here. It’s always fun to see.”
If You Go...
The nursery, gift shop and display gardens at Hornbaker Gardens open April 10 through Oct. 10 every year, but The Barn doors stay open year-round for events.
April 10 through July 10 Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 pm. Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. July 11 through October 10 Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays
Closed Easter Sunday, July 4 and Labor Day.
22937 1140 N. Ave., Princeton
Phone: (815) 659-3282