For those of us who live in the Philadelphia area, we have become familiar with Richard Hayne, a local entrepreneur. He created both Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, building them into national chains of lifestyle clothing/accessory stores. Each of them has, in part, been extraordinarily successful because they are marketed to specific demographic groups. It was just a matter of time before a savvy entrepreneur would decide to conquer the well heeled 50+ females who have the discretionary income to drop a nice piece of change at an aspirational, gardening, home lifestyle store.
And that is exactly what Richard Hayne did (and what he does so extraordinarily well)! He bought out Styer’s Nursery, well known for perennialy being one of the more creative exhibitors at the Philadelphia Flower Show. And what was once a full scale nursery, that I used to whiz by on my way out to Longwood Gardens, is now called Terrain At Home (which still does offer full landscape design and installation services).
Like Anthropologie, when I walked into the main store, I was overwhelmed by the artistic setting as well as the plethora of beautifully displayed products. As I slowed down, taking time to look at and handle the merchandise, I found some well crafted, novel pieces, all with very hefty price tags (although there were some good sale items). Yet, as much as I tried to imagine what it would feel like to walk into such a store and select whatever it is that I fancied, I wondered if I would ever feel compelled to do so.
Because for me, gardening is always about the plants. As I zoomed past the cafe where a few women were sitting with their coffees in casual conversation, I thought to myself, ‘Now I’ll see what I’ve been waiting for’. So, here’s the bottom line. The plant material is robust and merchandised to the hilt (which as far as I’m concerned is just fine). After all, why not inspire consumers and offer them some new or unthought of ways of creating vignettes with plants? Why not use a magnificent, rustic setting as a backdrop to showcase the plant material and all of the accoutrements that one could possibly desire?
But this is where I have a problem. When I started looking at the plants, I was shocked at the price tags. One container of a deep violet Geranium (perhaps Geranium x ‘Rozanne’) and what appeared to be Heuchera x villosa ‘Citronelle’ (or another chartreuse colored one) were priced at $17. a piece. A large row of robust, 2-3 year old panicums were $30. each: coleus at $7. each and cleomes $6. per plant.
Rest assured that having lived on the Main Line, the Western suburbs of Philadelphia, for all of my adult life, I have become less than surprised when I see women filling their carts with a slew of perennials priced at $11.95. But somehow, having my eyes land on perennials priced at $17. made me feel squeamish.
And yet who am I to say? One of the saleswomen told me that business was incredibly brisk since their opening: and that Terrain had been able to maintain Styer’s roster of loyal customers, in part because Styers has been known for years as a purveyor of unusual plant material. Ahh…I thought to myself. So, maybe I hit an off day. I do love echinaceas, geraniums, heucheras and a smattering of ornamental grasses. But somehow I don’t think of them as highly unusual specimens for which I am willing to pay a premium.
As I walked out of the store, I questioned my own strong reactions to what I had just experienced. Call me naive, call me old fashioned, but somehow when gardeners reach the point where we don’t intrinsically have an emotional reaction to a plant because of its pure beauty, because it does something to the inside of our souls, like a great piece of music or a piece of art, then why bother gardening? Where after all is ‘the muse’ if not for the plants and your landscape upon which the plants are painted?
So, I’m asking each of you, as keen gardeners, where do you like to shop for your plants, containers and other garden accessories? Are you price conscious? Or if you find a plant or a grouping of plants in a setting that ‘grabs you’, does price become very secondary with the emphasis on ‘I just have to have these plants’? How important is the quality of the plant to you? Where do you buy the majority of your plants? Local garden centers? Big box stores? On line?
Do you think Terrain is the type of store that would appeal to you? If so, why? My hunch is that if the economy can handle it, in the not too distant future, you’ll be seeing Terrain buying out local high end garden centers throughout the country and ‘Terrainizing’ them. For more information about Terrain, click on: www.terrainathome.com.