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?

8 thoughts on “They Give Great Shop

  1. I’d better keep working my pah-toot off, because I’m gonna need some money to spend during my trip to SFGS!

    Great pics, and thank you for planning this little shopping itinerary for me (us)!

    Each of these shops as you can see has a different personality. They are spread out in California fashion…I had a car!

  2. There are some great things here (also some not so great): am particularly drawn to the concrete stool: possibly because it is going to be really heavy.
    Also like the cafe tables and chairs but the basket full of old horns leaves me a bit cold.

    The old horns? They were kind of cool sculpturally but I see what you mean. I didn’t even think about them in terms of horns–too busy soaking up the surroundings.

  3. Wonderfully insightful commentary about merchandising vs. curating.
    Each location has its own special brand of identity and your captured it right on the money.
    Enjoyable reading of your keen perspective.

  4. Curating has become quite the buzzword apparently. Everyone is doing it from dj’s to bloggers to retailers. I am attaching an interesting article I found on the subject. To me I don’t care what they call it as long as the pieces are great! Thoroughly enjoyed the article and the pictures. It makes me want to visit!

    Thanks for the link. I agree if the pieces are great…visit if you can!

  5. When I was ‘just’ a gardener, I never saw the need to call myself a ‘horticulturalist’, although that was what my qualification specified!

    Fascinating view of those shops-thanks!

    Best Wishes


    Funny Robert…we sometimes don’t really recognize who are what we really are…glad you liked your virtual shopping trip!

  6. Thanks very much for the great shop tour. As I also studied and worked in Fashion before Horticulture the corollary is not lost on me! Some nurseries could really learn a few lessons from this as well. (Other than Annie’s of course 🙂
    Your post will be my base shopping guide for when I come visit SF for the Flower and Garden Show soon. Hopefully, dragging my husband along for week will pay off when he’s helping me lug all my treasure home!

    I hope you have a car! They’re not close to each other…as for buying…there’s shipping!

  7. I love the displays depicted above from Artefact. How did you extricate yourself from any of the garden shops? I’m sort of happy that I cannot attend the SFGS this year. While the Bay Area is one of my favorite places, I have a lot of dough-saving to do before I venture west. Thanks for the virtual tour in the meantime.

    Thanks Lynn. Artefact was impressive in its presentation and selection. There were so many ideas there to extract and use in a garden.

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