Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bay Area Visit 2014: FLORA GRUBB

If there's a name that's stood out in the last few years in terms of innovative garden trends, Flora Grubb is probably on top my list.

A few years ago, I remember sitting down for lunch with a landscape architect friend who was starting up his own design-build business and told me about a vertical garden project he was working on utilizing succulents. Part of me sort of rolled my eyes as I began to see EVERYONE growing succulents and purchasing all these new (and expensive!) products like Wooly Pockets ( felt-like bags filled with soil and plants that can hang along a railing or placed up against a wall). The early plantings I saw in garden centers were very ugly as if people simply just shoved whatever plant they were told could grow in them.

Then I began to notice garden centers carrying more air plants (Tillandsias). Next to them were these glass orbs (some hanging on a fishing line) with a large hole in them and inside was a Tillandsia and a piece of moss or lichen and a few twigs. These were dubbed as "Aeriums" like "Terrarium", but without the "terra" or "earth" part of it. I thought they were kind of neat, but seemed to be somewhat of a temporary composition as air plants can be somewhat finicky in the home if they don't get enough warmth and humidity, but enclosing them in a terrarium-like glass vessel was suppose to just do the trick!

So, during our chat, we discussed our businesses and he introduced me to the name Flora Grubb as a model of success in our line of work and that in order to thrive as a landscape business, we had to really find a need in the market and really push for that ever illusive "niche". Being somewhat reluctant to follow any sort of trend while simply focusing on the work I had before me, the name just kept coming up as I chat with fellow gardeners and designers.

The name is actually the name of a very talented and innovative young woman who teamed up with a business partner, Saul Nadler, to first start a palm nursery and they decided to take her name and start a venture that would change the course of how people looked at plants in their lives.

So, there's a floral design component to this blog post as well. Susie Nadler, Saul's wife, runs the floral component of Flora Grubb and, once again, the clever and beautiful use of succulents and Tillandsia are evident and actually inspired my design work quite a bit.

Michelle's wedding featuring Tillandsias in a really sophisticated bouquet inspired by Susie's work!

After all the hoopla and press I've heard about this business venture, I truly wanted to experience the phenomenon that is Flora Grubb for myself and MAYBE meet her in person to better understand the model she has created and, perhaps, discover elements of her business structure that attracts the next generation of gardeners.

Here are some highlights from my visit this past April:

A popular destination in an industrial part of San Francisco, Flora Grubb provides an oasis for city dwellers to relax and take in a bit of nature

Ideas and inspiration can be found everywhere you turn

Amazing what can be accomplished in such a small space. It feels huge!

Rotating displays of plants and containers keep things looking fresh and the wide paths invite you to explore

F L O R A spelled out in succulents!

"Rustic chic" with a living centerpiece....

...of succulents!

A colorful and modern sitting area

...with the best succulent wall I've ever seen!

Flora Grubb has DIY benches for customers to pot up containers and create aeriums! Love this idea!

The wonderful Tillandsia selection. I had a chance to meet Zenaida Sengo who works for FG and also has a book coming up on air plants!

Tillandsia concolor looking stunning up against a purple panel!

FG has everything an urban gardener needs! Even old bicycles for floating!

Now this is how you plant up those Wooly Pockets! Make it look like it's been growing there forever!

It's not all just succulents and air plants. Perennials, trees and shrubs and edibles can be found!

Todd Holloway of Pot Inc. in Vancouver, BC introduced these hover dishes this year and are perfect for succulents

 Overall impression of the place? Pretty cool!

I think Flora Grubb satisfies a pretty broad customer base that's really geared to be simple, sophisticated, creative and most importantly, accessible. I often am critical of small "Boutiquey" shops that have very high mark-ups claiming a "work of art" for something so simple and straightforward, but that's coming from a experienced plant-person point of view who's also a tightwad when it comes to things that are considered "luxury items". I was a bit sticker-shocked at some of the prices on materials that were simply "sanded down twigs for $25), but that's retail for you; they understand that there are those who are more than willing to pay for such items.

The space and layout is the best part of Flora Grubb. Wonderful plants all around, but there are distinct garden rooms and places to sit and really be immersed in the vegetated space.

Knowing Flora is probably near impossible to track down for a chat given the celebrity status a lot of us have given her, I got in touch with their PR and also palm specialist (AGAIN, WITH A BOOK IN THE WORKS ON THE TOPIC!), Jason Dewees, who kindly set up a short meet and greet and took this picture!

Being on a tight schedule, I was bummed not to get a sit-down interview with her to ask about her design aesthetic, business model and what she foresees as the future of gardening, but I sort of let that go. Part of me felt like she's been asked this a million times and I didn't come prepared with more interesting insights and inquiries. She also didn't have much time so, I thought, I just need the experience of just being there, making my own observations and this meet and green was just an icing on the cake! 

Then I began to wonder if a model like Flora's could exist here in Seattle. It sort of does, in a way, with a few businesses deriving elements of her set up and offering products similar to hers, but one has to consider location and also the CLIMATE! They're blessed with a true Mediterranean climate so the plant palette is quite different, but the overall goals are the same: make plants and gardening accessible at many different levels and offer a space for refuge, relaxation and ongoing inspiration. Also a place where visitors can be engaged by being able to create for themselves instills confidence in growing! I loved that aspect of Flora Grubb.

What was also impressive was the number of staff on hand tending the plants and helping customers. Flora has hired experts with specialties, like Jason and Zenaida, to be on hand and not only do they have their fortes, they are also multi-talented individuals with a broad range of stills they bring to the table! That was mighty impressive because even the uber plant geeks like myself can feel engaged at Flora Grubb!

I hope to return in the near future to see how things are evolving and see what new and inspired ideas emerge because I'm certain it will be executed beautifully!


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bay Area Visit 2014: San Francisco Wholesale Flower Mart

What's becoming almost an annual trip down to the Bay Area to visit friends, family, nurseries, and gardens, I had three destinations in mind for my extended weekend down in the Bay Area of California. One of my first stops was one of the country's largest flower markets!

"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair".... well, then you have to hit up the famous SF Wholesale Flower Mart on Brannan Street.

Composed of a MASSIVE warehouse where 60+ vendors pack the large facility with cut blooms, potted plants, branches, and other natural materials, the SFWFM also includes "stores" lined up one by one selling specialty products such as orchids, potted tropicals, floral supplies and other hard goods. It's the nucleus of the Bay Area's floral industry and you can basically get everything you need to run your flower business.
It was a little intimidating to go as I was renting a car for the very first time so driving into the big city was a little nerve-wracking (thank goodness for iPhone Maps)  and I was also testing out my new digital camera and entering a place that can be very fast paced and I was actually worried about vendors harping on me for being a disturbance. Perhaps I could have contacted someone and inquired about visiting and taking photos, but they did have public shopping hours so I thought I'd just go and ask the individual vendors if I could take photographs and all seem to say "yes" (although I did see a sign that said "no photography please", but no one said anything and I was pretty much finished taking photos when I saw it. OOPS.

This place was quite large and pretty exciting to see the product being offered.

These manzanita branches were to die for!

California grown!!

A baker's multiple dozens of already cut succulents!
Yes, please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

An assortment of Bromeliads sold here for floral work!

My favorite Tillandsia xerographica

Puffy hydrangeas including some unusual peachy types!

A close-up of these soft peach Hydrangeas that were probably dyed. =(

A most interesting manipulation of Phalaenopsis orchid spikes shaped into a heart

Fresh old-fashioned garden roses!!

 Another interesting observation was a business that I've heard a lot about in various publications. "Farmgirl Flowers" is tucked into a vendor stall within the SFWFM and boy is business thriving for them. What surprised me most were the multiple employees. Two long tables up front are flanked with Macs with 5-6 people at a table probably taking orders and in the background you can see all of their supplies and the arrangements being assembled. They supply locally sourced flowers throughout the city and often do special events.

 Their wedding inquiries are sent over to my next stop in San Francisco: the infamous FLORA GRUBB.


For more information about the market, visit their website (which could use a reformat and update):


Monday, May 19, 2014

Buying less plants, but making new friends: Hortlandia 2014

I'm so very behind with NGG, but I'm gonna attempt to catch you all up anyway! I've blogged about this plant sale before as I've considered it the very best of our region because of the wonderful selection of rare and unusual oddities, but it's also made special due to the wonderful people and friends that I've met over the years that make the long three-hour drive (I hate driving long distances) so definitely worth it.

So let me take you back to April when I made my annual spring drive down to Portland, OR to hang out with planty friends and attend the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's plant sale dubbed, "HORTLANDIA"!

The really big difference this season is I'm not able to splurge and purchase plants like I used to. It Without my own personal garden anymore, I've really had to show restraint and avoid buying plants that won't have an immediate home. So mostly, I aimed to shop for clients.

The crowd this plant sale generates is incredible!

Moments before customers flood the floors of the Portland Expo Center

The "FLOOD" can see floor...must either be lunch time or it's the second day of the sale, which is traditionally slower.
The guys from Sebright Gardens have the best shelving/delivery system for their plants!
And here's their gorgeous display of Hostas, ferns, Epimediums and other shade loving plants from Salem, OR. Kirk and Thomas are two of the nicest guys with some pretty extraordinary plants.

I'm always excited to help out at the Cistus booth with all their incredible selections of plants for everyone!

Prior to the sale, however, I was able to meet up with some plant friends and fellow garden bloggers. Scott Weber of Rhone Street Gardens and Loree Bohl of Danger Gardens joined by other local Portlanders and a few friends from Washington also made it down!

We hit up Xera Plants retail space in Portland where we held the EMERGENT get-together last summer. Then a nursery none of us have ventured to: Secret Garden Growers in Canby, OR. A lovely specialty nursery with a great selection of choice perennial plants.

Loree and avid gardener Ryan Miller chat's with Greg at Xera Plants

Perusing the plants at Secret Garden Growers in Canby, OR

A sweet little Columbine I couldn't resist at SGG: Aquilegia viridiflora 'Chocolate Soldier'. What's so special about this tiny flower with a muddy color?  IT'S FRAGRANT!

Discussing our finds and what we should have for lunch! lol

Loree found her plant of the day and she made sure no goat was gonna get a nibble!!!

 This gang of Portland gardeners are a wonderful bunch and I feel honored to have gotten to know them. We all crossed paths at the plant sale to add to our acquisitions for the weekend where I came away with just a few things. I'm glad I found a few larger plants for a client!

And a trip to PDX isn't complete without a visit to Cistus Design in Sauvie Island.