Jessica's Garden & Lobster Shack is a sanctuary for CT residents

2022-07-30 18:40:29 By : Ms. Sandy Guo

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Jessica's Garden & Lobster Shack is located on East Hampton Road in Marlborough, Connecticut.

Customers socialize on the lawn of Jessica's Garden in Marlborough, Connecticut. Guests are allowed to bring dogs and their own drinks.

Jessica Carroll, co-owner of Jessica's Garden & Lobster Shack, stands among the flowers of the garden she's owned and operated for 18 years.  

The lily pond at Jessica's Garden in Marlborough, CT is surrounded by numerous tables and chairs. 

Little fairy houses and villages border the walking trail at Jessica's Garden in Marlborough, CT. 

A rope swing hangs on a large oak tree by the lily pond at Jessica's Garden in Marlborough, CT.

Jessica's Garden in Marlborough, CT sells a wide array of plants and shrubs during the summer. 

Some kids grow up playing on the lawn at Jessica's Garden in Marlborough, CT. 

Jessica's Garden in Marlborough, CT has a walking trail encircling the lily pond. 

The lily pond at Jessica's Garden in Marlborough, CT is home to bass fish and the owner Jessica sometimes feeds them hot dogs. 

On a quiet summer evening in Marlborough, the food shack at Jessica’s Garden releases the scent of warm butter and the sounds of a grill cooking, the shack’s bright pink paint appearing in the reflection of the lily pond nearby. Someone just ordered one of its popular lobster rolls.

The fresh lobster meat is served in a grilled bun, both of which are doused in real butter. According to co-founder Jessica Carroll, the food item is one of the many qualities that separates Jessica’s Garden & Lobster Shack from other outdoor dining spaces in the state. 

“There are people who come here religiously for lobster. You don't have to drive all the way to the shore,” she said. “There are certain people that come here just for their birthday. Families get together from all different states, and they all meet here."

Jessica’s Garden & Lobster Shack on East Hampton Road is an outdoor restaurant and garden center that also serves as a giant backyard for families. Since they started Jessica’s Garden in 2004 after their honeymoon, Jessica and Matt Carroll have combined their landscaping and food industry skills to maintain their local family-run business for 18 years. 

Jessica's Garden lobster rolls contain fresh lobster, real butter and a grilled bun, Matt Carroll said.

Jessica said the garden serves as a sanctuary from the stressors of the outside world. 

“It's just a break from your normal day, especially for people who are local,” she said. 

Whether guests need comfort food or a quiet place to think, the garden has something for everyone. Behind the pink food shack and garden center, a rope swing hangs by a large oak tree, adults socialize at the picnic table or read in one of the rocking chairs and children compete in a serious game of capture the flag or play in the miniature house. 

The atmosphere is almost as calm as the lily pond, which is encircled by a walking trail and fairy garden. On the trail, people can find small fairy houses, miniature statues and a wide array of vegetation like Clethra, a shrub with white flowers and a strong scent. The only sounds are crickets, birds and sometimes the toads that live in the pond. 

Growing up in East Hampton, Jessica knew of the sanctuary long before it became her garden center and restaurant, she said.

“I fell in love with the pond. I lived in this area. So I’ve always liked this little spot, and then it came up for sale,” she said. 

She bought the property as a place to keep her landscaping equipment and keep an inventory of her trees and plants, but it turned into a garden center when people expressed interest in buying the greenery she grew. They deliver mulch to customers in 15 different towns across the state and are open from March to the end of October. 

The decision to add an ice cream shack and other food items didn't come until a few years later after the Carrolls noticed a decline in plant sales during the summer.

“We thought, ‘How can we balance this business and make it more sustainable? And allow people to enjoy the property?’” Matt said. 

The pink shacks that now sell ice cream and food were originally painted green to blend in with the rest of the garden, Jessica said, but then a friend visiting from Florida who had trouble finding them gave her an idea.  

“He’s like, ‘You really need it to be a color that's going to stand out.’ And Florida has pink houses,” she said. “I definitely like things to blend into nature. I don't like to be a sore thumb. But if you want business, you've got to be a sore thumb, right?” 

The menu includes Gifford’s ice cream (they even sell ice cream for dogs), grilled cheese sandwiches, pulled pork, smoothies, kids meals served on frisbees and hot dogs, which they feed to the bass in the pond. They are currently building a new kitchen and indoor dining space, which is expected to open in the spring of 2023. With the new kitchen, they plan to add French fries, onion rings and more seafood options, Matt said. They have also partnered with Burger Heaven & Sweet Açai in Portland, and plan to bring its açai bowls to Jessica’s Garden. 

Matt said adding quality food has helped sustain their business and has even drawn in loyal customers from across the country.   

“We have regulars who come in from California every year and we're their first stop. People travel from far away,” he said. 

Besides the menu, the garden is constantly changing due to the weather. Jessica is at the garden almost every day weeding, pruning and watering the plants. Three employees help out on the weekends. 

Heavy rain can bury the fairy houses and sometimes slow business, an issue they hope the new interior dining space will fix. The heat wave also affects the quality of the plants and requires higher maintenance. Jessica said while the heat makes the plants harder to maintain and requires her to work all the time in the summer, she will always keep the garden.  

“That’s my passion. That’s what keeps me going,” she said.  

Matt said seeing how much families enjoy the place makes the long hours worth it. The restaurant’s motto even reflects its focus on family: "Family Time Matters." 

Their own kids also grew up playing in the garden, and some of the high school and college students who scoop ice cream for them have been visiting since they were infants. 

“We've been in town a long time. We've seen a lot of places come and go, and we just stick to our formula and what we know works,” he said. “It’s good having all the regular customers return every year and the kids, who we see grow, come back and they talk about how much they've always loved the place. And seeing our employees over the years now are doctors. It’s pretty cool to see.”