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.
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’.
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.
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!