The location of Rockledge Gardens gives it “the luxury of space.” Spanning 4.5 lush retail acres across the street from 8 acres of production farm along Florida’s sunny Space Coast, the garden center enjoys a scenic outdoor retail area.

To leverage its space — and its plant-growing expertise — Rockledge plants displays and raised beds to inspire shoppers.

“People find it inspiring to shop here because we give them ideas,” says Theresa Riley, the youngest child of founders Harry and Mary Witte, who owns and operates Rockledge with her husband, Kevin, and with help from other family members. “We have the luxury of space to do as many permanent plantings as we can to show people how plants look at maturity and what looks good together.”

These displays showcase and organize what can be an overwhelming variety, Kevin says. Plus, featured items usually sell quickly.

But large display spaces present challenges, too, particularly in the off-season.

“Because of seasonality, in your slower season you look empty if you bring stock levels down to reasonable levels,” Kevin says. “In trying to look fuller, we’re taking a section of retail area that’s currently used for trees and adding event space, complete with a pavilion and patio. We’re putting the trees in the shrub area, so it looks fuller in the off-season. We’re condensing our display area to create a place for events.”

Kevin and Theresa Riley
PHOTO BY JASON HOOK

The pavilion will provide protection for outdoor weddings and other activities. Every Saturday, for example, the garden center hosts a seminar or make-and-take workshop. Monthly “Little Bugs Club” meetings and school field trips draw kids regularly. Larger open-house events range from a Fall Festival to spring’s Fairy Garden Festival.

“What we’ve been doing to encourage people to look at our merchandise and spend money with us on the day of an event is handing out coupons,” says Liz Lark-Riley, events and marketing director. Coupons, ranging from 5 to 20 percent, give event-goers an excuse to shop and get kids to bring parents back after school tours.

Kevin forecasts growth for events — which fuel and inform the retail business. The Fairy Garden Festival debuted last year with such success, for example, that it distinguished Rockledge as a fairy gardening supplier.

“We’re finding ways to be relevant in people’s lives by creating unforgettable experiences they’ll take home and remember,” Lark-Riley says. “The next time they’re landscaping or need some mulch, they’ll think, ‘Let’s go back to the place where we created this wonderful memory.’”