Friday, August 22, 2008

More Chicago

Faux Pas moment. Here are Melissa and I at the Top 100 luncheon that was put on by the publishers of Nursery Retailer. may remember.....The Flower Tree won an award last January for Top 100 Revolutionary Garden Centers. When we were walking around the convention center we kept seeing signs for Top 100 luncheon, so we decided to check it out. We walked into the room with music playing, crystal and china glistening on the table with champagne being poured. Naturally we thought that they meant us............turns out....they didn't. After sitting through the announcement of all the garden centers that HAD WON, we started getting a little queasy feeling when we not only didn't see our name up on the screen, but the ones that they were listing were THE BIG BOYS, THE 10 MILLION $$$ a year nurseries. Oh THAT TOP 100!!!! After having wonderful conversations though with everyone at our table, we just slowly sauntered out when it was time to pick up their plaques. Wow, talk about a faux pas moment. But at least it was an honest mistake, and a fun one at that.
One of the best ways to see the Chicago Skyline at night, the 96th floor of the Hancock Building.
Giselle in front of a beautiful Chicago night skyline.
These were globes from Thailand that were for sale at City Escape. The entire garden center was filled with artwork from all over the world.
Julie, Melissa and I enjoying a rest for a moment.
I didn't realize that they burn so much birch in the winter....until we started seeing it at every garden center that we visited. Seems to be in plentiful supply. I loved the textures in this shot.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chicago - More " Fashion in Bloom"

I am not really sure why these have fascinated me so much, ok, yes I do know why. I love it when people take ordinary every day items and turn them into original artwork like these. There are at least 20 of these up and down Michigan Avenue, and every time you encounter one it seems like it is better than the previous one. So creative! Watch out Michelle, I think I have a new event for the garden center next year : }

This one is made from what appears to be old shower curtains and the green tree tape that we use at the nursery!

This one is one of my favorites. It is old coke cans, and the necklace is made from the pop tops.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chicago Day 3

The problem that sometimes arises on one of these “working vacations” is that you start to see so much in such a short period of time that it all becomes somewhat of a blur. On Monday morning, we set out on the Garden Centers of America Chicagoland tour. We met the bus early, coffee cup in hand, anxious to get started. There were now four in our immediate group, as we are joined by Giselle from Dr. Earth/Kellogg’s and Julie Ruf of Greenhouse Garden Centers in Carson. The first stop on the tour was Alsip’s Home & Nursery Super Store, a very large facility that was established 39 years ago. While their location was extremely diversified, they sell everything ….plants..hardware….PETS, as in adorable little puppies and kittens, it was not applicable to the type of center that we have. I did have a great chat with a man about updating our website, and that short amount of time brainstorming with him was worth the cost of tour to me. Stop # 2, Sid’s Home & Garden Showplace was more of the same in that it felt more like a very large home & hardware center, with a plant selection added on. I did pick up some great info on signage options though, and the mascots were adorable. Back on the bus, and our tour guide, Shanan, has now delegated our bus #3, The Fun Bus! During the approximately 45 minutes in between each stop she has been walking up and down the aisle with her portable microphone, asking questions and gathering ideas from everyone on the bus and we have started networking and getting to know each other. There are 4 buses total, almost 200 people on the tour from all over the country, so the networking with peers is a big benefit to something of this sort. Stop # 3 is Henri’s Fountain facility, where we tour their artist’s rooms and learn how original pieces are created. This was one of the highlights of the tour as we watched their master artist Rong Xou create new selections for the spring of 2009. After the short tour, I took the opportunity to go back and speak to him about his creations and learned that Henri’s had assisted him 11 years ago to acquire his employment visa. He was part of a very large group of artists in China that sculpted the tribute to Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square , and was involved with creating replicas of the 2000-year-old Terra Cotta horses that were discovered in China. He was an extremely animated man and took me over to his laptop to show me his website where I could find more information about his creations. Stop #4 blew our socks off! We pulled up in the parking lot, and everyone on the bus was anxious to get out the door to the bus and hit the ground running. Now this was a garden center! Platt Hill Nursery was established 28 years ago First impressions really are critical in our business, and this location receives 5 gold stars in my book. It was lush; it was immaculate, creative and filled with knowledgeable and passionate plant people. We spent the better part of 90 minutes here trying to take it all in and visit every corner of the facility. Back on the bus, we headed from the suburb area of Chicago to the heart of the city. How four huge tour buses managed to wind themselves down the extremely narrow side streets of downtown Chicago was amazing in itself. We started to wonder how we could possibly be in the right area when we turned a corner and tucked under the elevated train tracks was an eye popping, color infused final stop of the day, City Escape Garden Center, . It is so hard to describe this stop…art filled every space where there were not plants. I have included some photos of the different locations….and will post more when I get back home.

The day ended with an amazing meal, once again. George Bowman with Laguna Ponds took us Bistro 110, a culinary explosion. Tucked into the side street that aligns the famous Water Tower building, we sat at a street side table and recapped our day for him. We finished our evening with a nightcap on the 96th Floor of the Hancock Tower, and then it was back to our wonderfully comfortable hotel for good night’s rest. The trade show opens early Tuesday morning and we want to hit the ground running. Till then, Susan

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day 2, Chicago

Day 2, August 17th

When we got up this morning we decided to see about renting some bikes down at the Navy Pier. We got online and found the vendor, reserved everything and off we went. They fitted us to some real comfy bikes and locks and gave us a great map of all the bike trails along the lake front. When I was in Chicago last year with Sara we managed to figure out the public transportation pretty well, but we were still walking a long..long way to get to anything. We thought it might be easier to cover a lot more ground on two wheels and boy where we right. We set out North on the lake path only to run into more people than I have seen in a long time.....this weekend happened to be the Air & Water show that the city has put on for the last 50 years. If you have ever been to the NAS Air Show, multiply that amount of spectators by 500 and that is how many people it seemed like we were trying to dodge...and did I mention that Melissa hadn't been on a bike in at least 15 years. We turned around and headed south move. We traveled on a wonderful bike path, extra wide right along the beauty of Lake Michigan. Even though there were still a lot of people, it was manageable and easy going. This city really planned out it's bike paths, and the best part, no hills. We traveled over 25 miles during the 4 hour rental, and we were on sensory overload with the abundance of flowers, people, sailboats, skyscrapers, flowers, flowers, flowers! One area that we rode along was just east of Soldier Field and was filled with acres and acres of planted prairie wildflowers. We were riding along, just the two of us on this beautiful path, and up from the flowers came these beautiful sculptures. Truly breathtaking, the flowers in bloom, the sailboats in the lake, and these magnificent pieces of art lifting their wings to the sky.

After covering the entire museum area and Millennium Park we headed west on some of the back streets where the historical district is. Somehow we rounded a corner and happened into a park where we met a lovely women who actually tried to get us to volunteer some of our time in the garden until she found out we lived thousands of miles away. We were talking tomatoes, cabbage and peppers with her - she was tending part of the community garden - when we asked her about the house that was sitting in the middle of the park. Turns out the house was the oldest standing house in the city of Chicago, The Clarke House, and we had our own private historian as she filled us in on all the efforts to save the areas homes. Turns out Mayor Daley lived right down the block, and she told us to look for the police car out front, which would signal to us that he was home.

After a light lunch, we traveled back to the Millennium Park where I got these shots of "The Cloud", one of the, what seems like, hundreds of pieces of artwork and sculpture that fill the city. We sat and put our feet in one of the many water areas set up for just that reason, to take time to relax and contemplate all the beauty in the park.
After turning the bikes back in, we ventured back on foot to our hotel and a nice relaxing evening finished out the day. Tomorrow we start the first day of our true reason for being in Chicago, the trade show and a bus tour of the areas premier nursery. Melissa and I are both excited to see what they specialize in, their displays and ideas for merchandising. Our other friends have arrived, Dave and Julie Ruff from Greenhouse Garden Center in Carson City, and Giselle from Dr. Earth Organics, and we are excited to share the day with them tomorrow before the true hustle and bustle of the trade show starts on Tuesday.

It's off to bed, a big day is ahead. Till then, Susan

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 1 Chicago

Day 1, Chicago – August 16th, 2008

We are on our way to the windy city. Although thunderstorms were originally forecast, the pilot has informed us that clear skies will await us. Melissa, my friend that owns Every Bloomin Thing’ in Susanville, Ca, is with me on this adventure. I have only been to Chicago once before, last spring for a short - but wonderful - 4 days with my daughter Sara, and I loved it. The architecture, the arts, the people, the museums, the parks….and on and on. I am looking forward to experiencing it with Melissa.

We have been brainstorming for the past 3 hours of our flight. We haven’t really gotten to see each other the entire spring/summer gardening season so we have a lot to catch up on. Our businesses are very similar in size, and gardening in her area is also a challenge with poor soil conditions, hot dry summers and cold winters. She has been an amazing mentor and source of inspiration to me, and I have learned over the last eight years of our friendship to soak in as much of the knowledge that she has regarding this wonderful business we both enjoy.
Our first stop will more than likely be a good coffee shop. After delays getting through security this morning we didn’t have time to get a good cup of coffee before we got on the plane at 6am. The lucky thing for a tall person like me though, was finding the exit row seats empty as I boarded the plane. We grabbed them! And it’s been a comfy ride so far.
Next stop……Chicago

We're Here!!!! Absolutely beautiful weather, not a storm in site...we got checked into the hotel and then hit the streets walking. I shot this picture of the new Trump Tower, mostly for the view of the reflections. Our hotel is just a block from Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile, so we thought we would see the sites. Both Melissa and I are "People Watchers", we love to try and figure out where someone is from, what they do for a living, etc, and this is definitely the place to do that. We happened on the "Fashion in Bloom" project and I got a few shots before my camera battery gave out. More of those tomorrow. Amazing. Till then, Susan

Every, and I mean EVERY corner has the most beautiful arrangements of color and texture. This is Bright Lights Swiss Chard in full show.

Part of the "Fashion in Bloom", every block has a different display where an artist has created their idea of fashion. As a fan of Project Runway, I am really enjoying the creativity involved here and will post lots more of these when we get back there this week. Yep, that's real hair for the bottom of the skirt. Wow!!!

Friday, August 8, 2008 ahh moment in time.

I have just returned from four days up at the south shore of Lake Tahoe. For the last eight years or so, a group of us girls have gotten together to spend time up at the lake. We ride our bikes, we read.....a lot...., have ice cream by the shore, we swim and hike, eat great meals, and of course fill our evenings with wonderful conversation and giggles. Some years there are ten of us, others just a couple....this year found four of us gathered around a water soaked log, soaking up the sun with our feet in the water.

It takes times likes these to help me unwind, to really listen to the trees and the birds, relax into the moment..and just I am so very fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing circle of friends. Both in and out of the nursery. We share common histories, whether it is children that spent 12 years together on the swim team, husbands that worked together for years, or common friends that brought us together and have since moved away. I truly cherish our moments in time, and I will look back on this last week, as I have so many others, with incredible fond memories.

See you in the nursery soon, Susan

Monday, August 4, 2008

Blues, Brews & BBQ 2008

Great time was had by all!!!!! just doesn't seem to really describe the evening...but that's what it was! After a strong wind blew through right about 6pm, the skies cleared to a light breeze and an absolutely beautiful starry evening.

Fun - Friends - Food - and of course amazing Blues!!!!!

Thank you,

Terrapin Road & Blue Haven!

Once again you put on an amazing show!!!

If you want to hear some can sometimes catch them at the Blues Jam on Thursdays at 3rd Street Blues in Reno, or visit their websites for upcoming dates. We have already booked them for next year, and I for one can't wait!

Thank you to Jim & Carole Kapner for the great photos!Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Having the a good way.

Tonight is our 5th Annual Blues, Brews & BBQ concert in the River Garden. Robert and I spent the better part of yesterday up in Reno picking up all the last minute supplies that we need. It is a huge undertaking to put on an event of this size. We sometimes compare it to hosting a family wedding, only 2 or 3 times a year, EVERY year! You get all gussied up, the place has to look beautiful, the food needs to be wonderful, the selections for the bar top work the better part of the month putting it all together, making sure all the phone calls have been made, make the posters and get them distributed, touch base with everyone that is going to help out.....sell the tickets...and then the magic begins. The sun goes down, there is a light breeze to cool things down, the music starts....everyone is visiting with long lost friends, or making new ones, and everything just feels right.

Robert and I are headed out the door.......have to get the smoker going that will cook the pork for the next 12 hours or so. Of course there are still lots of details left to do........get the bar area set up, make sure all the twinkling lights are working..and...and....and.....

Tomorrow I will post some pictures...hope you are in one or two enjoying the music with us.
Happy Blues, Susan

Friday, August 1, 2008

Whole Foods

Today I had the opportunity to visit the new Whole Foods store up in Reno. I have been anxiously awaiting their opening, having visited their stores in other cities, I was familiar with the vast amount of selection available. Nothing however prepared me for the size of this new store.

Robert and I were up in Reno today to pick up last minute items for our concert at the nursery tomorrow. We met up with Mike McLain, our sales rep for Dr. Earth, and a good friend. Mike is also the amazing tour guide that put together the trips to England that I was able to go on in 2001 & 2003. I mention this because it is important to set the tone of the post.

We had a great lunch at Great Basin Brewery, I am always fond of the garlic fries, and then we sent Robert on his way over to his favorite hangout, RMS, Reno Motor Sports. Mike and I jumped in his car and headed for Whole Foods on the other side of Reno. The plan was for Robert to pick me up at Whole Foods about an hour later, giving me plenty of time to see the new store and get some shopping done. Or so we thought...........I think it took us 30 minutes just to get through the first 50 feet of the store! This is where the tour guide part comes in. Mike had been to the store the day it had it's grand opening, and has had the opportunity to visit again a couple of times over the last month or so. He not only could tell me where the different departments where, but how the corporate policy was formed, how the bread was baked on site etc. We looked at displays like we were in a college classroom, I took pictures (after asking if it was alright from a very helpful person behind the bakery counter), we visited with the manager of the wine department, and on and on and on...............I was impressed!!!! This was not a visit to a grocery store, this was Retail 101 in the truest sense..........and I loved it.

Here are a couple of things I took away from there.

1. Yes, you can have great selection, but you better back it up with even better service.

2. Displays are critical. They set the tone for the entire store when they are cohesive and creative.

3. Don't forget to have fun! It was obvious that the bakery department was having a good time.

4. Great you customers when they first walk up with a smile and a non intimidating comment. (This was especially helpful to me in the meat department. As a vegetarian myself this is not an area I feel very comfortable in picking out items. The butcher made it very easy for me to find just the perfect dinner treat for Bob)

5. Take the time to stop and talk, but more important, LISTEN, to your customer. Don't be a wine snob, be a wine teacher.

6.Offer samples whenever possible. You don't have to sample everything, but having one or two available for people to try (cheese department) is a great way to break the ice and see if you can help them make a selection.

7. Be quick, and courteous at check out. I have made my selection, now it is time to go.

8. Have a wonderfully inviting space for spouses or friends to wait.......the fireplace is a very cool idea and come winter time it will be a great place for Robert to sit with a coffee and relax.

Of course none of these things are new thoughts. They are basic tasks that every store should be
making a 100% effort to obtain, and this is exactly why I visit stores of this caliper whenever possible. To remind me of the best of retail, and fire me up to provide the same quality of service at our store.

I am pretty sure the experience I had today is not a fleeting one. Whole Foods has built their reputation on just these principles. While the store can be intimidating on first much to see...............I am sure that they can keep it up over the long term. I know that I will still be visiting my other favorites, Trader Joe's etc, but it is so nice to have such a vast selection in such a great new local. Reno is lucky to have them, I think. Thanks for the tour Mike!

It's off to prepare dinner. There is an amazing dessert waiting for us!

Till next time, Susan


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