Christmas blooms at garden stores

Ed Holden, owner of Potters, a chain of popular garden centres in the Langley and south Surrey areas, began the Christmas transformation at his new 27,000-square-foot store at the corner of 192nd Street and 48th Avenue in September.

This store is now the largest Christmas store in Western Canada. It has become a destination for shoppers from all over Metro Vancouver.

The rest of the year its focus is 100-per-cent garden products and all the familiar horticultural components – sections devoted to trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals as well as areas featuring containers, tools, fertilizer and all the other gardening paraphernalia.

“By September, we’re done selling chrysanthemums, pansies and bulbs,” Holden says. “We’re already starting to convert the interior of the store over to Christmas. Certainly by early October the change is complete.”

To give the store the desired Christmas ambience, especially in areas with themed ornaments such as nutcrackers, collectibles, novelties and seasonally slanted gifts for sportsmen and fishermen, part of the mega-Potters store has been totally blacked out. This is also to protect products from being faded by direct sunlight.

Elsewhere there are life-size Santas, trumpet-blowing angels, bearded old-world Saint Nicks, stockings and candles on fireplaces, garlands and sashes, wreaths, holly boughs and myriad twinkling tree lights.

Holden does all his shopping for Christmas items in the middle of February, not, as you might imagine in Asia, but in California and Las Vegas.

“We leave just after Christmas every year. We start out in Mexico, where we buy a lot of pottery items. Then we work our way up into the U.S., and end up in Las Vegas where there is a really big Christmas item wholesaler.”

“It has been suggested that we should shop in Asia – we certainly buy enough to do that – but we have a great relationship with suppliers already and they help us to identify trends.”

Holden says the end of summer and fall are “nail-biting” times for garden centre owners.

“If the weather is great, people aren’t prepared to yank out all their geraniums and impatiens just because we’re ready to sell them chrysanthemums, bulbs and winter pansies.”

So it has become more and more tempting to make the switchover to Christmas earlier and earlier.

“By October, one in 50 customers, if that, come in for garden items. Everyone comes here for Christmas stuff,” he says.

Other garden centres that have also made a major switch from horticulture to Christmas include Art Knapps in Port Coquitlam and Gardenworks at Mandevilles in Burnaby.

Both stores have devoted hundreds of square feet of store space to Christmas giftware, everything from artificial trees and accessories to Christmas candles, bells and novelties.

At Art Knapps, Clare McLellan, seasonals manager, says this year they have decorated at least 50 trees in a variety of themes, each in a different colour scheme.

“We’re already seeing that the most popular colour this year is platinum, which is actually more a cross between silver and pewter.”

Art Knapps was one of the first garden centres in Metro Vancouver to see the potential in switching the store to Christmas items in fall when it pioneered the idea back in 1990.

Meanwhile at GardenWorks at Mandevilles, off Southeast Marine Drive, manager Roberta Wards says they begin the transformation immediately after the Thanksgiving weekend in mid-October.

The store’s entire bedding-plant greenhouse is turned over to Christmas trees, wreaths and green decorative foliage materials, while an area normally used for displaying garden tools, pots, birdbaths and flower seeds is transformed into about 30 areas, each with a specific Christmas theme: nutcrackers, snowmen, Santas, angels, nativity, elves, glass ornaments, retro-Christmas, teddybears and so on.

“Our main goal is to maintain sales, which in turn enables us to keep staff year-round, rather than having to lay people off,” says Ward.

This year the store’s hot display is a Sex and the City tree, a black tree decorated with pink ornaments and flashy bling.

Carol Boyce Nelson, the store’s gift buyer, says Fraser-fir scented products are also popular, especially potpourri and reed-diffusers.

“There’s also always demand for products with a woodland theme – twigs, feathers, birds and branches.”

Top colour schemes this year, she says, are apple green and silver-grey.

“We have the apple colours displayed with a silvery mercury and the silver-pewter theme with purple accessories.”

Novelty trees are fun, but there hasn’t been a decline in interest for traditional red and green Christmas colours, Boyce-Nelson says.

Come January, though, all the stores will make a quick switch back to seeds, soil and slug bait.

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