Leaf Magazine Spring 2013

Spring is Sprung with Leaf Magazine

I hope you’re not tired of hearing about the new issues of Leaf and my involvement with them.  I think the latest issue–out today– Spring 2013–is as good, if not better, than those that have come before it.

Leaf Magazine Spring 2013

It’s a great source of professional pride for me that we–Rochelle Greayer and I– continue to publish it and to push the envelope of what we believe a great American magazine focusing on design outside can be.

Our audience continues to grow–our last issue was seen by more than 1 million people.  We are actively seeking publishing partnerships (however that becomes defined) and exploring new ways to deliver content to even more readers. So please  enjoy this issue and let me know what you think in the comments or email me at scohan @ leafmag dot com.

Field Trip: Urban Jungle

When I went to Philadlephia last weekend, I made a side trip to Urban Jungle with fellow garden bloggers Robin Horton and Laura Matthews.

Urban Jungle's open garage door entry

Located in the Passyunk section of South Philly, the three year old organic garden center has embraced its creative neighborhood and its limited footprint.  The storefront features two vertical gardens that even in early March were beautiful in the winter foliage colors.

A display of fun containers art and books
Painted concrete floor
A recycled display table

Using the industrial street level space as for pots, accessories and books, the actual nursery is on the roof.

Rooftop nursery getting set up for spring

As someone used to large country gardens, one of things that struck me was that everything was on smaller scale…perfect for a city garden.  Go to Urban Jungle next time you’re in Philadelphia…it’s worth a visit.

Plants and Gardens as Merchandise

A couple of weeks ago I went to PANTS10 (Penn Atlantic Nursery Trade Show) which is a pretty big show regionally. About a week after that, pictures started surfacing of the IGC (Independent Garden Center) show in Chicago which is a big deal nationally.

I want these shows to be better than they are.  I want them to dazzle me.  It’s time for the green industry to realize that all consumers–wholesale or retail—want an experience, not just merchandise–even if that merchandise is plants.  It’s time to inspire us to buy merchandise to help combat economic uncertainties.

Typical Pile it High Nursery Display

Too many of the displays had no thought or merchandising pizazz–these aren’t big box stores, they’re showcases for merchandise and plants that their purveyors really want and need us to buy.   I realize that much of the audience is garden center owners, contractors and nursery growers, but I firmly believe that even the most die hard, steel toed boot wearing, big pickup truck driving, tree spade buying guy would respond to great merchandising.  Hell Cabela’s, the outdoor sportsman’s paradise, excels at it.

Since I didn’t go to IGC, I only have pictures from PANTS10…here’s some who did it well there…often on a budget.

Still primarily plants…Moon’s simple use of their name punch added to this wholesale nursery’s brand–simple and effective.

Moon Nursery display

Plug trays coupled with photographs and a simple graphic layout from North Creek Nurseries was extremely effective.

Photos and Plug Trays from North Creek

The current trend for vertical gardening was used to great effect to display their annuals by Garden State Growers.

A Wall of Annuals

How do you make bags of soil appealing?  Organic Mechanics underscored their brand’s earthy appeal and commitment to sustainability via their booth.

The Potting Shed

And lastly, a bit of sizzle doesn’t have to be exotic.  Overdevest Nurseries used aluminum trash cans and bins as planters to contrast with an incredible selection of plants.

Aluminum 'planters'

They Give Great Shop

On my recent trip  to the San Francisco Bay area I visited  a quartet of garden shops.  Having worked in the fashion industry, I understand the power of  visual merchandising and have a healthy respect for the best of it as an art form–something sorely lacking in most garden retailers.  More than one Bay Area resident I spoke to referred to these shops as being well ‘curated’. Since when did merchandising become the same thing as curating? Stuff for sale isn’t art–maybe it’s a California thing.

The Gardener – Fourth Street – Berkeley, CA

For over 26 years The Gardener has blurred the boundaries between inside and outside  in true California fashion.  Half of the store was given over to scents and other smelly things–the other to a tasteful blend of interior and exterior furniture and accessories.  They are curated merchandised side by side in a way that makes it difficult to tell what the product’s original destination was–inside or out–and that’s the point–albeit a somewhat predictable one in 2010.

Inside out and outside in
Cast concrete stool -- at home inside or out
A clearly delinated 'outside' area

Artefact – Cornerstone Gardens – Sonoma, CA

Artefact Design and Salvage is a destination shop.  Brilliantly merchandised curated and lit, it is high drama retail at its best.  Someone else’s cast offs never looked so good.  New and antique, natural and manufactured, naive and sophisticated all at the same time, this is a place to slow down and look and to be inspired. The pictures speak for themselves–yet only tell part of the story since the scale of each piece and the ones next to it are very important to the look and feel of the store.  It is also, of the four destinations here, the only one that deserves to be called ‘curated’.

White and bright
Natural and artificial
Naive and sophisticated

Flora Grubb Gardens – Jerrold Avenue – San Francisco, CA

Located in an industrial part of the city, much has been written about Flora Grubb’s unique point of view.   Yes, I did see the framed as if they were curated art succulent displays and the funky planted junk car and bike.  I also saw the free hanging two sided Wooly Pocket (although it could have been a different brand) ‘wall’ pictured below.  The rest of the gardens were, well a garden center that was really well curated presented merchandised.  Fermob cafe tables and chairs were hung on a wall and contemporary garden accessories were freely mixed in with vintage ones.  Plants were showcased in vignettes with pots and accessories.  This is sophisticated shopping at its best, different from most garden centers’ approach but not unique to high end retail.

Planted Junker
Cafe tables and chairs as wall art
Free hanging and abundant

Annie’s Annuals – Market Street – Richmond, CA

In a league of its own, Annie’s Annuals was the most fun of all of the places I visited.  Definitely not curated, this retail/wholesale/mail order nursery backs up an incredible, hand picked and horticulturally diverse selection of plants with a sense of humor and delight.  Hand written plant descriptions and creative and funky signage (some with KidRobot ancestry) make this an oasis in the middle of industrial (and crime plagued) Richmond.  Annie and Elaine–our hostesses with the mostesses,  freely shared their time and stories as well as giving me a tour of the propagation areas and as Elaine described ‘the crazy science experiment’ area.  Annie’s doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not and because of that it was refreshing and original.  A big Bravo!

Hmmm. Adam and Eve..or maybe not?
1000's of plants
Is this a nursery or Kid Robot?

Field Trip: Atlock Farm

I’ve known Atlock Farm and its owner Ken Selody for years.  We were comrades in arms at the New Jersey Flower and Garden show for several seasons where each time I created a display garden, I gave Ken the forced plants that I knew wouldn’t overwinter in my garage when the show was over.  What I haven’t done in much of that time is visit the farm.  It’s out of my loop unless I want something that only Ken has, and then I usually send an assistant to pick it up after a phone call.

Last Thursday, I participated in a garden photography workshop run by APLDNJ at Atlock.  Eight landscape designers met with photographer Rich Pomerantz and used the gardens, hoop houses and chickens as subjects for photos.  Here are some of mine.

Still life w/disco ball
Still life w/disco ball
Coleus in a crowd
Coleus Standards
Fall Border
Fall Border
Palais de poulet
Palais de poulet
Lonley Luytens
Lonely Luytens
Nursery at the end of the season
Season's End

Field Trip: Terrain at Styer’s

Entry Sign

I don’t participate in the latest fads.  I keep current with what  the newest trends, destinations, colors or even plants are, but unless the opportunity to experience them is temporary I don’t feel the need to go in the first week, month or even year.  I  like to let things mellow a bit before jumping into the fray.  That’s why I decided it was finally time to see if all the hype about  Terrain at Styer’s was true.

Fountains and Planters at the main Shop Entrance
Fountains and Planters at the main Shop Entrance

Located outside of Philadelphia, it’s been over a year since Styer’s, which was already an excellent garden center, was transformed into what should be a new garden center paradigm.  Much has been written about Terrain. Its parent company is Urban Outfitters,  the hip retailer that also owns Anthropoligie.   They are merchants who understand their retail concepts generating 1.5 billion dollars in sales in 2007.

Stick Fence and Grasses in the parking lot
Stick Fence and Grasses in the parking lot

I allowed about 45 minutes for the stop and could have used twice that.  What makes this garden center different?  Unlike most others it has a distinct  retail viewpoint beyond the seasonal selling of plants.    The Terrain concept is realized at every turn, from the way the store environment is laid out to the design of the store fixtures to the merchandise, it all supports the Terrain retail philosophy.   Plants are huge part of the  merchandise mix and are displayed  in traditional (read practical) garden center set ups on tables and nursery rows as well as in containers, as props and as interior structural elements.  Terrain’s unique point of view begins to reveal itself in the parking lot and continues throughout the entire retail experience.

Wide aisles in on of the plant merchandise areas
Wide aisles in one of the plant merchandise areas

Reclaimed siding, stick fencing, willow wattles, salvaged architectural elements  are teamed with quirky new merchandise creatively displayed throughout Terrain–the same way they do in the Anthropologie stores.  Natural is juxtaposed with artificial, new with old.  Every opportunity to create customer discovery experiences and garden vignettes is maximized.  Merchandise is richly layered and ideas abound.  I found some wonderful rosy sandstone spheres  under a plant table that not only displayed plants but containers and other garden ornaments.  This was intentional and not a space saving trick.  The merchandisers at Terrain also understand the power of negative space–and there’s plenty of it to allow eyes to rest and the imagination to re-group.

Furniture and accessories
Furniture and accessories

Within the larger environment, there are several garden shops, a cafe and a full landscape design studio at Terrain along with enough plants to satisfy any gardener.  Shops are housed in cleverly designed shed-like structures and each has its own focus.  The main shop displays garden ornaments, plants, small pots, furniture, books and an area for spa products wiht a green wall of  staghorn ferns and other epiphytic perennials..  A hot house for tropicals and house plants has a wonderful planted arch, terrariums, containers and more accessories.   The potting shed houses garden practicalities like hand tools and amendments.  The design studio is a separate building adjacent the nursery area.  There’s also a shade house and the day I was there, a sale tent.  The sales staff–all in Terrain shirts or aprons–were knowledgeable and willing to answer any and all of my questions.

Green wall
Spa Green Wall
Merchandise Mix
Chic merchandise mix
A Fountain with clear glass 'bubbles'
A Fountain with clear glass 'bubbles'
Hollow Log Planter
Hollow Log Planter

Most garden centers need to take some cues from Terrain.  Garden shoppers are sophisticated and want great design and inspiration along with their 2 gallon perennials and bags of bone meal.  I say Bravo!