I guess you can say gardening was always in Jenn and Peter Cipriano’s blood. She always gravitated toward plants and people, working in a garden center in Milford, Conn., at 15. She wanted to go to Cornell University and study horticulture, which she did, graduating in 1998. One summer while in college, she interned at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. It was while she was at Cornell that she met her future husband, Peter Cipriano, who was also studying horticulture. He came to a lecture she was giving on her internship their junior year.
“Peter was always one step ahead of the professors in school. Our classmates were like, ‘Who is this guy? He knows so much about plants,” she recalls.
As a kid, Peter was always looking through gardening magazines and catalogs. At 8, he was helping his mother sell plants. At 11, he was calling nurseries around Long Island and ordering roses to sell. At 13, he was arranging meetings with sales reps.
“They would show up and be stunned they were dealing with me,” remembers Peter. He and his 17-year-old brother, Giovanni, were running the family gardening center in East Meadow, Long Island. Peter would answer customer questions and focus on planets and Gio did design.
“I was always focused on plants and horticulture. Some teachers actually called me stupid for it in high school. One teacher said I was too smart for that.”
Peter also knew he wanted to study horticulture in college. He went to North Carolina State initially to study under renowned Horticulturalist and Professor J.C. Raulston, who passed away his sophomore year. So, Peter transferred to Cornell University his junior year.
“Cornell wanted me to stay and get a masters and a doctorate and teach. I said, ‘That’s not why I am here, I want to continue helping my family’s business.’” His parents were immigrants who came here with nothing, but worked hard and paid for his school.
He won the Frederick Dreer Award from Cornell, which allowed him to go to Europe for a year to do volunteer work restoring gardens. When Jenn graduated, she went to work for the family garden center.
He proposed to her in England when she visited. They spent 10 days touring gardens. They got married at Waveny Park in New Canaan and stayed at the Roger Sherman Inn for their honeymoon.
They had driven around Lewisboro while on college breaks and loved the area.
“We saw this as a place to practice our craft, where people would appreciate our knowledge and saw potential,” recounts Jenn. “We were told we would have a hard time making it here.”
Peter initially started the business, living in the attic of Copia, which is at the corner of East Street and Route 123. Jenn was still living on Long Island and working for a doctor to support the family. She and their two children, Bella and Peter – 9 and 7 at the time, respectively – would come up on weekends.
April 8, 2011 was their opening day. “I remember the first person to welcome us was Timi Parsons (wife of then Lewisboro Town Supervisor Peter Parsons), who came by with a pie and then we met Judy Dunn, the children’s author who lives down the street, and I said to Pete that we’ve found the right place,” Jenn reminisces.
“The second Mother’s Day we were open, there was a line out the door. There was tremendous support from families we met at Meadow Pond and from the whole community,” said a thankful Jenn. “I think that’s why we donate to the town and local organizations. To give back.”
Copia has donated plants to Lewisboro Town Park baseball fields, to the Lewisboro Garden Club, and the John Jay Trail, and put money towards a composting toilet for Vista Memorial Park.
For the first year in business, they did not take a salary. They had a two-year lease with an option to buy. They got an SBA loan for a mortgage on the property through Westchester Bank so that got them on their way. The rent was not affordable or sustainable, which is why the previous three garden centers there had failed.
“April 2020 made us rethink what might happen if this pandemic really shut us down. We were 70 percent down in April and worried that we were not going to keep up with our mortgages and expenses,” Jenn said. The Westchester Bank and the federal government helped and the local housing market boom, which was a blessing for the gardening industry.
Bella is studying immunology at Cornell and Peter will join her there this fall to study animal science.
Hopefully, Copia Home and Garden will be here a long time and even perhaps run by the next generation of Ciprianos.
Published February 18, 2022, in the Katonah-Lewisboro Times