December 6, 2017

Kale’s Nursery & Landscape Service, Inc.: A Princeton Mainstay for More Than 60 Years

HOLIDAY MAGIC: Kale’s Nursery & Landscape Service offers moments of magic at its annual Christmas Shop. “We look forward to inviting everyone to come and see our holiday specialties,” says owner and president Douglas W. Kale. He is shown by a display of handmade, decorated single-face balsam wreaths. Kale’s offers an array of handmade bows and other holiday decorations.

By Jean Stratton

Once upon a time, family businesses dotted the Princeton shopping scene, but now, with the changes in shopping habits, including the arrival of chain stores in town  and online shopping, these independently-owned businesses are slipping away.

Fortunately, there are still exceptions. For example: Kale’s Nursery & Landscape Service, Inc. A rarity on the shopping streetscape today, it is a family enterprise that has stood the test of time, and remained in its original location at 133 Carter Road. And according to all indications, it is here to stay!

Opened in 1956 by Herbert Kale, it began as a landscaping business. “We were originally a landscape contractor and designer,” explains Mr. Kale’s son, Douglas W. Kale, president and owner. “One of our first projects was the Shady Brook Lane property across from Lake Carnegie. When Dad retired, I expanded the business into retail in 1977. Many of our customers had been asking to buy plants and trees.”

Growing up in the business, including working at the nursery as a boy on weekends and in the summer, Douglas Kale always knew he wanted to continue the family tradition, offering customers quality products and helpful, knowledgeable service.

Best Quality

“Landscaping is still a big part of the business, and in order to give customers the best quality, we grow many of our trees, shrubs, and plants. We have 13 acres here at the Carter Road location, and 150 acres in Solebury, Pa., and north of Flemington. We grow most of our ornamental trees, and also some evergreens. Our cut-live Christmas trees come from North Carolina and Pennsylvania.”

Although winter is closing in, Mr. Kale notes that it is still possible to plant certain items as long as the ground stays warm. “You can plant bulbs and deciduous trees through the fall and into the winter. There will still be root growth.

“Also, before winter arrives, it is good to clean up around the base of the trees and plants, and remove leaves and excess debris.”

One of the highlights of the season for many customers is a visit to Kale’s Christmas Shop and Garden Center. It is truly a holiday festival, filled with a wonderful array of holiday delights. A splendid vista of color, ornaments, decorations, and gifts that appeal to all ages, it encourages return visits.

Santa is on hand every weekend before Christmas, and coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies are also offered on weekends.

Decorated theme trees are situated throughout the area, with ornaments of every kind. Special vintage-style Old World glass in a variety of styles are very popular. Delightful gnomes from Scandinavia on bikes and skis are new this year, as is the selection of beautiful crystal ornaments and prisms — also perfect for a window display to capture the light and create a rainbow.

Seashell Ornaments

Those who enjoy the sea will love the variety of hand-dipped seashell ornaments, including large sand dollars.

Also new this year is a collection of miniature ”Brush Art” animal ornaments, all made of brush material. Novelty ornaments include those with sports themes (lacrosse sticks, basketballs, canoes, even yoga mats), and foodies will be delighted with miniature replicas of pancakes and hamburgers.

The Byers’ Choice Carolers are always a big favorite at Kale’s, and there are many choices, including a new model each season. Ceramic lighted trees are traditional for a window setting, and there is also a selection of nutcrackers and small decorated trees made of pine cones, sprayed with glitter. New this year are small wooden “Alpine” trees and reindeer in assorted sizes and colors.

The array of colorful ribbon, Christmas stockings in all sizes, and accent pillows offer decorating possibilities for many tastes.

In addition, the selection of Thymes scented candles is a must for many holiday shoppers. In different sizes, and with Fraser fir or gingerbread fragrance, they start at $12.99. For homes with gas log fireplace systems (lacking the wood-burning aroma), these candles are a great addition, providing a realistic fireside scent.

Poinsettias in traditional red, also white, and pink, are in abundance in every size, and the popular Christmas cactus and cyclamen are other favorites.

Standing Orders

Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands, and roping of every kind are available. “We are known for our custom hand-decorated wreaths,” says Mr. Kale, “and we have standing orders from customers for these and other decorations, including centerpieces for the table.”

A full range of cut live trees, from table tops to 10- and 11-feet high, is available, with Fraser fir the current favorite, known especially for its long-lasting quality and pleasant fragrance. Douglas fir and concolor fir are other popular choices. Wreaths (both decorated and undecorated) include balsam fir, Douglas fir, concolor fir, and Fraser fir, as well as mixed evergreens. Fresh cut greens and garlands are in many varieties, and grave blankets and swags are also available.

For those wishing to have a Christmas tree that can be planted later, live balled in burlap trees are another choice. In addition, Kale’s offers a recycling service for cut trees to be returned after Christmas through January 31.

Customers at Kale’s will also find a wonderful selection of outdoor items including bird houses and feeders, garden products, and wind chimes — all welcome holiday gifts.

In addition, for the past five years, Kale’s has been the exclusive central New Jersey distributor for the high quality Walpole Outdoors products. A special section in the Garden Center displays a number of these, including lamp posts, mail boxes, window boxes, table and chairs, bird houses, and Adirondack chairs, among others. Kale’s can also install Walpole arbors, pergolas, weathervanes, and more.

Also available for the outdoors are very large, handsome stone bird baths. In a natural, rustic design, they are offered in two sizes, and have become big sellers.


The business is primarily residential, but Kale’s also offers service for commercial operations and institutions. “We have provided landscaping for the Nassau Club and Grounds For Sculpture, both longtime customers,” says Mr. Kale.

“We also ship live trees year-round, including to Boston, Connecticut, and Long Island. We have a wide regular customer base, covering New York City, Atlantic City, and of course, Princeton and the area. Our customers include children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of our original customers.

“We always strive to bring customers something unique and of very high quality,” he continues. “Trees and shrubs, and quality items like Walpole products, and our Christmas Shop — and all combined with personal service and our helpful, knowledgeable staff. I am very fortunate to have many longtime employees — 10, 15, and even 35 years with Kale’s — and also wonderful, loyal customers.”

Staying up-to-date with new ideas in gardening and landscaping is another priority, he adds. “We introduce new ideas, new design, and new products to go with that design. There is always new plant material and new hybrids coming along. We will also go to a customer’s home to consult and help with suggestions. I enjoy discussing choices with people and working with them to implement their choices. We can also show customers how they can be more efficient with their garden.

“I enjoy the feeling at the end of a job and the satisfaction of seeing the result of hard work, and seeing the customer’s appreciation. It’s great to help people and help them enhance their property.”

Prices cover a wide range at Kale’s, with small trees from $19.99, fresh cut greens starting at $2.99, wreaths from $12.99, and garlands from $3.99 a yard. Poinsettias start at $7.99, and ornaments and decorations from $4.99.

Kale’s is a wonderful place to visit year-round, and especially during the holiday season. Hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 10 to 5. (609) 921-9248.