Landscaping your IGC

Features - Marketing

Looking for new ways to inspire and connect with consumers and your community? Purpose-driven display gardens could be the answer for your garden center.

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April 6, 2022

© Cindy Carlsson | Adobe Stock

Arboretums and public gardens have long enjoyed crowds of people hungry to see beautiful gardens at their peak. Seeing successful plantings firsthand inspires gardeners of all ages and experience levels to recreate that beauty in their homes. By landscaping your IGC, you can capitalize on the allure of gardens — while you showcase plants, build your brand and boost sales.

At Natives Landscapes and Garden Center, the display gardens show issues that gardeners face at home, making it easier for team members to demonstrate what they can achieve in their own yards. The IGC showcases native plants and gardening techniques to optimize biodiversity, as well as customer success.
Photo courtesy of Natives Landscapes and Garden Center

Envisioning the end

For many consumers, especially those new to the gardening ranks, it’s not easy to visualize what they can accomplish with healthy plants, appropriate planting sites and good design. And despite descriptions from your most eloquent salesperson, grouping pots together on asphalt doesn’t do the trick.

When Pete Muroski founded his native plant landscaping business in 1987, customers were less interested in native plantings, naturalistic design and biodiversity than today. On top of normal business challenges, Muroski faced extra hurdles to win consumers over to native plants and what he calls “whole-concept environmental landscaping.”

So, 15 years ago, Muroski added a garden center and display gardens to improve access to native plants and nativars, and help people envision their potential in nature-inspired designs. “One of the big fallacies out there is that native plants aren’t as attractive as some of these exotic species, but that’s not true,” he says.

The Pawling, New York, business now known as Native Landscapes and Garden Center is surrounded by gardens that mimic challenges and conditions consumers face at home. By landscaping the IGC, Muroski and his son, Adam, demonstrate plants and gardening techniques that optimize biodiversity.

Each garden represents a different exposure, from hot south-facing locations to cool north-side shade to sites with early morning, half-day sun. Consumers see what they can achieve in similar sites — with the help of Muroski’s crew or on their own.

Photo courtesy of Natives
Landscapes and Garden Center

Muroski credits the display gardens with helping solidify his native-based brand through the years. He says they’ve demonstrated his company’s landscaping expertise and educated gardeners on the value of native planting communities in sustaining biodiversity — and filling landscapes with non-stop beauty and blooms.

Lupe Ford, garden center manager of The Fields on Caton Farm, says the 5-acre walking gardens help to instill a “wow experience” for customers.
Photo courtesy of the Fields on
Caton Farm

“When a potential customer comes in, I’m able to show them what type of plants they can use … and what the potential is on their property. And I think that putting in display gardens is hands-down a better way of selling a landscape,” Muroski says.

“If you have a garden center and you’ve got the room for display gardens, in my opinion, it’s a no-brainer to create display gardens so you can show your customers the type of work you do, the style of work you do, and see if it’s something that they would like to see on their property.”

Experiencing the benefits

When The Fields on Caton Farm was founded in 1993, plans for the 210-acre plant nursery included a 5-acre walking garden and a garden center from the start. Located on a family farm in Crest Hill, Illinois, the gardens have become synonymous with what garden center manager Lupe Ford calls The Fields’ “wow experience.”

Ford shares that the walking gardens not only allow people to envision plants in landscape settings, but they also allow visitors to physically immerse themselves in gardens. The gardens also reinforce the IGC’s brand as a grower of nursery tree stock and other plants, as staff uses the gardens to show customers mature, landscape-size versions of the plants they sell.

The Fields’ display gardens pull double-duty as both inspiration and destination for curious customers.
Photo courtesy of the Fields on Caton Farm

“We’ve taken customers back there to show them different trees that are more mature in our gardens, so they can see what to expect in future growth and different examples of what we sell and grow at our nursery,” Ford explains. “So we use that as a selling point also.”

The Fields’ walking garden plantings get periodic facelifts to showcase popular plant trends and highlight in-demand plants. “Different trees have been planted in the last year that we grow here in our nursery,” Ford says. “And hydrangeas have been something that customers have really been interested in. So we did put quite a few of those into the gardens as well as past year.”

The gardens are so compelling, Ford says people sometimes ask if they can simply stroll the gardens and enjoy their beauty. The answer is “yes.” By walking the gardens, accessed through the garden center, Ford says people experience how gardens can be extensions of their homes. That extends to the seasonal décor, paver pathways, stone fireplace and other hardscapes they see along the gardens’ paths.

And, of course, should visitors strolling through the gardens have questions about plants, plantings or products, The Fields garden center and landscape design staff is nearby to provide answers and assistance to help customers recreate that beauty at home.

Photo courtesy of the Fields on
Caton Farm

Connecting with the environment

Through its 66 years in business, Mulhall’s reputation for strong connections with its Omaha, Nebraska, community has grown. But a recent landscaping project at the company’s Garden + Home store underscores the power of display gardens to connect consumers and community with more than the IGC’s goods and services.

Read more about Mulhall's Garden + Home's in our January, 2021, issue.

Since the early 1970s, Mulhall’s has always landscaped the property at its current site. Display gardens evolved as the company grew, showcasing customer wants alongside things most important to the Mulhall team.

“I think for a long time, our business was kind of a negotiation of those two things,” says CEO Mick Mulhall. “We’ve been particularly fortunate in the last few years that those things have converged more than they ever have before.” At that intersection is an environmental agenda that’s been brewing, long before the pandemic.

At Mulhall’s, the goal is to highlight the beauty of native plants and showcase their functionalities in the natural environment.
Photo courtesy of Mulhall’s Garden + Home

Mulhall describes climate change as one of his generation’s biggest problems — one resulting from “our living at odds with the natural world.”

Moved by climate change and environmental stewardship, he believes people and businesses are re-evaluating their relationship with the environment — and Mulhall’s Garden + Home is no exception. “We’ve pretty much fundamentally re-thought our store,” Mulhall shares.

That shift is celebrated in landscape plantings that will greet customers in spring 2022. “As you move closer to the center of our property, we’re working to make it increasingly more natural, wild and free,” he explains.

As visitors leave the highway behind, they’ll pass from more structured plantings into the 1,500-square-foot native prairie garden at the project’s heart — planted by the staff as a team.

Defined by ribbons of Echinacea purpurea and E. pallida, the garden showcases native and nativar favorites of Mulhall's team members, including Mulhall-grown baptisia, little bluestem, milkweed and yarrow. A bee sanctuary/pollinator garden in a Mulhall's growing facility echoes the environmental connection.

Mulhall says the gardens-in-progress have drawn interest from local developers curious about incorporating more naturalistic, native-inspired plantings in corporate landscapes. And feedback from the IGCs devoted clientele reflects excitement and support for a project designed to connect community with the environment and instigate lasting change.

While the IGC’s shift in focus is a powerful brand statement that showcases plants, design and purpose beautifully, Mulhall says there’s something more fundamental than inspired sales and marketing going on. “It almost seems disrespectful to reduce it to some way to drive traffic,” he says.

By landscaping your IGC with display gardens to educate and enrich, Mulhall says benefits may surpass aspirations as nature does its work. “I think we have been very consistently surprised that when we really put aside our short-term business interest and focus on adding real value to our community, really cool stuff happens way beyond anything we could expect.”

The author is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Garden Center magazine. Reach her at jolene@jolenehansen.com.