Mantua – Few people noticed as construction began last June on additional greenhouse structures at Mantua Gardens on Route 44 in Mantua. As the garden season ended, and winter’s snow and frigid temperatures settled in, few people knew that tucked safely inside a climate-controlled greenhouse, a secret garden of sorts was springing forth with lovely green lettuce and tender, fragrant basil. 

IMG_5353Darin Kelley, a local garden center veteran since 1995, teamed up with entrepreneur Ryan Hyde to grow hydroponic lettuce and other greens year-round, in addition to continuing to run and maintain the existing garden center seasonally. This winter marked the inaugural season of growing and selling hydroponic or ‘living’ lettuce. This ‘living lettuce’, as they call it, refers to the fact that the lettuce you choose is still growing, right up to the minute it is harvested, roots and all, from its growing medium.

Since the plants are grown through the use of hydroponic techniques, soil is not involved. The system circulates 250 gallons of water though a system of channels with individual plugs that each contain a single head of lettuce. The soil-free system can grow over 4,000 head of pristine, pesticide-free lettuce that is healthier, fresher tasting and easier to enjoy than traditional store-bought greens.

Local restaurant Café Toscano, a regular customer, uses hydroponic greens from Mantua Gardens in its ala carte salads, preferring it to greens grown in soil. The hydroponic greens are harvested and delivered the same day, providing the restaurant’s customers with the freshest and most delicious product possible. And since soil and pesticides aren’t involved, it’s easier to clean, and healthier for customers. In addition, the growing process conserves water, filtering and recirculating the same 250 gallons to grow countless crops.

But they believe the freshness is what makes their customers happy. Receiving produce the very same day it was harvested means customers get the highest nutritional value possible. Comparing locally-grown lettuce to products from the grocery store that have spent days, if not weeks, in transit makes a palatable difference to customers. Current garden center customers have received fresh lettuce to try. “Everyone who tries it comes back for more,” boasts Hyde. Clearly, these are not your garden-variety greens.

They currently offer up to fourteen varieties to retail and wholesale customers, with the goal of providing fresh and clean products year-round to local customers, farmers markets, and restaurants. But don’t worry — if you’re looking for seasonal, quality annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, shrubs and gardening supplies, Mantua Gardens is still the place to go. During the summer, they’re open for both edibles and plantables — Monday through Friday from 9 am – 7 pm and 9 am to 6 pm on Saturday and Sunday. If you’d like more information, call (330) 274-0820 or visit