Find more current information about Garden Center magazine's Top 100 List, including the 2016 independent garden centers and the 2017 form, here: www.gardencentermag.com/page/top-100-igcs-america/
The United States retail garden-center market contains roughly 16,000 independently operated companies, according to a 2010 report by Research and Markets, the world’s largest market research source. The combined annual revenue for the lot of them is—again roughly—$30 billion.
|Rose Red and Lavender holds classes each week on various “tricks” to better urban gardening.Rose Red & Lavender is a prime example of an urban garden center that has found its niche. Located in Brooklyn, N.Y., the store has a management team dedicated to a simple mission: to educate people on how to grow their own food in an urban environment and to help promote healthier eating in urban environments.
As a result, owner Kimberly Sevilla and Co. have crafted a workshop series that teaches the locals an array of practical ways to make a garden work for them, as well as a cooperative program with local schools that reaches the next generation of prospective gardeners.
One recent Saturday, Sevilla led a demonstration at the shop on “How to Can Tomatoes.” It was part of an ongoing series of workshops that Rose Red & Lavender (www.roseredandlavender) hosts to teach people what to do with the food that they grow. On another occasion, Sevilla set up a table on the sidewalk and showed people from her urban neighborhood how to make jam out of backyard figs. She has also taught classes in floral design and hosted “how to” seminars on the art of building terrariums.
GARDEN CENTER: What prompted you to start the workshops?
KIMBERLY SEVILLA: We do the workshops on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. Each workshop lasts about an hour. In our neighborhood, we have a lot of beginner gardeners, and the workshops are a great way to explain the basics of gardening. Teaching people what to do with their harvest is a natural fit. It takes advantage of the time before fall planting season and gets people excited about gardening.
GC: Has your attempt to “spread the gospel” to urban customers been a success?
KS: Yes, it has been a success. I get so much pleasure when someone comes to me and shows me a tomato that they grew and I see the look of pride they have. Americans have been disconnected from their food for so long that the act of actually growing something edible becomes almost sacred. Witnessing that re-connection is amazing.
GC: Do you see the recent “edibles craze” being something that will take hold and last beyond a few years?
KS: I think it will last. I remember when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, almost every woman in my grandmother’s generation had a little kitchen garden and canned food. This was a carryover from the victory gardens that were started in the ’40s. Today, there is a burgeoning youth movement to tear out front lawns and replace them with vegetable gardens; our urban landscapes are changing. Once you discover the pleasure of gardening and growing your own food it becomes a lifestyle that is difficult to change.
GC: Give us a nutshell history of Rose Red & Lavender.
KS: We opened the shop in the fall of 2008. I am originally from West Virginia and worked for the Department of Agriculture when I was in college. My parents had a huge garden growing up, and we grew most of the food we ate. After moving to New York in the ’90s I became obsessive about gardening and experimented with lots of techniques on how to grow food in urban places. I was fortunate enough to have a job where I traveled all over the world. I studied urban gardens wherever I went, particularly kitchen gardens and edible gardens. I became fascinated with the use of space. In Europe, for example, I saw vegetables being grown next to airport runways, on median strips on roofs and on the sides of buildings. Brooklyn, to me, is a blank slate ready for a change. I opened the shop to share my love of flowers and gardening and to teach people how to grow their own food in an urban environment.
GC: What’s the best way to educate urban customers about gardening?
KS: We have demo gardens that we planted in front of an abandoned lot, in tire planters and in an old bathtub. When people see edible plants growing, and thriving, and looking beautiful, they want to try it themselves. I also make DIY videos and write a column for a couple of local papers, an online magazine, http://thewgnews.com/category/gardening/, and my own blog, http://www.roseredandlavender.com/blog, to help spread the word.
GC: Please share some of the ways you think garden center operators can cultivate a spirit of enthusiasm with their customers.
KS: We opened our shop in the middle of a recession. Many of the garden center owners that I have met are pessimistic about the future and concerned about how business has changed. I see a huge opportunity. Most of my customers are under 30 and new to gardening. They are the DIY, Etsy generation and have a general mistrust of chain stores and mass marketed items. They want to support the little guy, and they want to learn how to do things themselves. This is a perfect opportunity for locally owned independents to do what they do best; offer exceptional customer service, sell unique items from smaller growers and be an active part of the community. It is also the perfect opportunity to teach people how to garden year round, not just in the spring, and to change the nature of our business into a lifestyle business that will take food from lawn to table.
GC: Do you approach 2011 optimistically or otherwise?
KS: I am optimistic about 2011. In 2009, I could not even give away seed, no one thought it was possible to grow a tomato, and a 16-quart bag of potting soil was a laughable amount for someone to buy. The spring of 2010 was the season of the “cool kids,” the early adopters, and they started growing and raising their own food. They are doing this on rooftops, fire escapes, abandoned lots and even in the back of pickup trucks. It’s trendy for local restaurants to have roof-top gardens. Recently, I helped a major Madison Avenue ad agency install a vegetable garden on their roof—even “Don Draper” [the principal character in the Emmy-winning television program “Mad Men”] is growing tomatoes. I have had a lot of people tell me that they cannot wait until the spring to start gardening because that is what their friends are doing. We are in the beginning of the curve, and I know this year will be even better.
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True story: My sister and one of my friends, both roughly five at the time, were engaged in heated debate over something of minimal consequence —except to roughly five year olds. Because of the he/she variable, this was a fervent discussion, with at least two “Boys are dumb!” and three “Girls are dumber!” thrown in, along with some token “betcha a million dollars” for good measure.