Michelle Simakis
KEN BLAZE

Spring 2018 has been an interesting one for independent garden centers across the country, to say the least. April was colder (and in some cases, snowier) than average for many regions, leaving growers and retailers working overtime to make sure they stocked enough plants for consumers, who craved warmer days and gardening time after a very long winter.

I had the opportunity to visit garden centers in and around Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., the week before Mother’s Day. Jennifer Schamber, general manager of Greenscape Gardens & Gifts just outside of St. Louis, described the first part of May 2018 as “The nuttiest two weeks we’ve seen in the history of this industry.” We spoke to close to a dozen garden centers and other industry leaders, and the story was the same in much of the country — IGCs experienced a very delayed spring, with sales shortfalls, followed by an explosive May, with some making up for losses and even noting record-breaking sales days and weeks.

My trip included a visit to Colonial Gardens, located in Blue Springs, Mo. The garden center has undergone a complete transformation that took two years of planning and renovations. You can read more about the business, which celebrated its grand reopening this past spring, in our cover story. While the physical updates, which include an open-air courtyard, comfortable classroom, modern café and remodeled greenhouses are impressive, perhaps more groundbreaking is the vision of founder Tory Schwope and the team he has assembled to create Colonial Gardens.

The company’s mission is “to connect the community with agriculture in new ways than they ever have before,” says Keri Lauderdale Olson, senior director of marketing and agritourism. Schwope adds that Colonial Gardens’ goal is to give people the opportunity to experience local food at the level they are interested in, whether they just want to enjoy it in the newly opened Bean Counter Café or purchase local produce at the garden center’s local market, or if they want to grow their own vegetables or pick berries and apples in fields across from the garden center. They also plan to organize festivals celebrating sweet corn in July, salsa in August and apples in September. It may seem like a lot to manage, and it is, but what each initiative has in common is the goal to connect consumers with agriculture, to celebrate food and to recognize where it comes from.

There’s always going to be a compressed selling season in spring, but the extreme temperatures we have experienced so far in 2018 may be a new normal. Colonial Gardens is preparing itself by being more than a store, providing its customers with more than products and celebrating the bounty that each season brings.

Michelle Simakis
msimakis@gie.net