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A beautifully written essay.

You've captured perfectly what happens when a corporation like Scott's believes they can completely redefine (and in this case subvert) another company's brand and message, yet somehow still maintain its value, cachet and customer base. I'm not surprised one of the founders threw a party.

Thanks for the S & H history. Although I'm skeptical of lifestyle marketing, especially when it comes to something as basic as gardening (e.g., growing food), companies such as S & H helped keep the idea of grassroots gardening alive after the hippie commune era and before the current garden chic era.

All that got me thinking about who/what pushed me into gardening as an adult. I think it was moving into a falling apart yet charming house in the S.F. Mission District in the early '90s. The remnants of the Italian ethnic population there was encouraging - old ladies would give me surplus greens, not knowing they were being cutting edge. Cranky old Italian guys would eagerly talk about their very "square foot" organic methods for squeezing the most out of their little backyard plots.

In the absence of enthusiastic garden mentors, boutique outfits like the old S & H definitely have their place.

Maureen, I don't know where to begin. Apologies in advance if this is long.

First, wonderful, wonderful piece, and since I am very familiar with your gorgeous prose, thoughtful stance and diplomatic opinions, this is hands-down the best of the best. I had tears in my eyes from the title alone.

Second, about Smith & Hawken. When Dan Eskelson tweeted yesterday morning about them closing, I couldn't believe it. Downsizing, maybe, but not gone, just like that? One week after they gave a presentation at our APLD meeting and gave all 40 members present a beautiful white orchid?

It's been years since I've been able to afford anything from Smith & Hawken, but I too have a tool that I bought from them at least a dozen years ago; it's a simple black watering wand that can shoot a stream 20' or mist a seedling. I would love to have another, and cannot find it anywhere, certainly not at Smith & Hawken. Paul & Dave had left the building.

I swiped Paul's book 'Growing a Business' from the library at my old job; it didn't hold much of a message for them, but it did for me, and I had it in my hand as I launched my design business in 2001. The irony is not lost on me when I consider that my business has changed considerably as well, and I too am in the process of contemplating some new doors.

So that's the white orchid I'll take from all this. The only thing you can be sure about is change. Thanks again, Maureen... from tweets last night to a blog this morning, brava...

Maureen, fantastic piece--and very sad news. Everything I ever got from Smith & Hawken, I liked. My mother-in-law sent me a fantastic edging spade and beautiful pots from them. I spent my money on big iron arches--a fancy one for my city yard and simpler ones for my vegetable garden. Unlike other garden supply catalogs, whose stuff was always too dinky, Smith & Hawken got the scale right. Big and sturdy.

Beautifully written essay from the heart and hand of a gardener.
This is very sad news for my local Marin County economy and for the rest of the country who enjoyed to stock their home and garden with well made products from S+H.
The corporate headquarters is just 3 miles from my house in Novato and the main retail store is just a few more miles down the road.
I've had many friends over the decades work for Smith and Hawkens , who had always been a decent company to work for.

I was just at the original retail store in Mill Valley the other day . A landscape lighting company moved into the building and is struggling to stay afloat there.
The swath of Japanese anenomes that was planted by S+H original horticulturist Sarah Hammond was about to burst into bloom.

I'll greatly miss this store, even if it had veered away from its original roots.
It was always the shop that I turned to for holiday gift giving and special occasion gift buying for friends and family.

Like you, Maureen, I cherish the 'real' tools I bought from Smith & Hawken, but more than that, is the acorn. Outside my front door is a mossy, oversized, concrete acorn bought from Smith & Hawken that greets all who enter. There hasn't been anything like it available anywhere else--ever. Smith & Hawken had authenticity and a high level of quality which gained my trust. They also had a sense of humor which I still appreciate everyday as I come and go beside the acorn.

I've admired Smith & Hawken from afar. I spotted a patio set I liked from Target of all places. I didn't purchase the patio set because Target made it very difficult for me to purchase; pieces at different stores.

Like Laura I haven't been able to afford anything from their beautiful store but it's still sad to see them go.

In noting all the comments above re affordability of S&H's products, I've been mentally tabulating what I bought from S&H. In reality, apparently not much. Certainly, nothing from their sturdy/pricy line of garden tools and furniture. But this was a store whose mere existence provided solace and optimism, that there was this guiding intelligence out there focused on garden stuff. From their long-gone seconds outlet in Santa Rosa I bought very inexpensive tables and benches made from repurposed wine barrels and lots of other odds and ends. Along with Western Hills, Smith & Hawken was a yearly destination/road trip, So. Calif to No. Calif, where Sarah Hammond's plantings at the Mill Valley store were worth the trip, along with the excellent nursery selections that seemed to be synchronous with exciting stuff happening just over the bridge at Strybing Arboretum, and I always came home with a car stuffed with plants. For a short while, the Mill Valley S&H had an incredible book section as well. The plant nursery and books at Mill Valley disappeared years ago, and then eventually the yearly pilgrimages. (I hear Western Hills has new owners and may be open again by appt.)

Bright side is, there's gotta be a vacuum left for some energetic person to fill.

I was there with you, Maureen, in the mid eighties, devouring each catalog and marking the items I would love to have. Many are still with me, including some of the ill fated clothing line, all cherished. My goal was to have only S and H in my closet and cupboards. When it was sold the first time, the quality changed and those tools were replaced with lesser mortals. Visiting the store in Houston was still a delight however. We await what Hawken will offer us next.

No tears here. Haven't liked the store since it went all upscale, like every other damned store in that market. Selling to yuppies (and yes, I even was one) with money.

I'll support the local gardening stores selling good, cheap tools. Or even good expensive tools. Not the garden frou frou ones that cater to the well off (even though I am pretty much well off...)

I too echo the comments of this beautifully written post. And I am one who would always browse the S&H store whenever I could. Yet like many of you, I rarely bought anything from them because of price. But S&H stores clearly hand an allure for so many of us.
There have been several mentions of their quality products, something they were well known for. But as with all things, you get what you pay for and quality costs.
So here's my question; Did they price themselves into closing or is there an opportunity for another store (startup) to fill the void? We gardeners love our quality tools and the ambiance of shopping at S&H. But are brick and mortar stores for lifestyle products dead in general? Can an online store give us the quality without the high costs? Or, do we need the experience of a retail store too? Curious...

That was one truly great written piece, the passion for the brand and the tools was profoundly portrayed. I can remember my grandparents owned S&H tools and would rant and rave at the quality. Me being only 10 I didn't really understand all the fuss. However in my older age I can now appreciate their fondness with such a quality company.

So that's what happened to Smith & Hawken. Like you, I was enamored of all the fantastic garden tools and clothing in the catalogue. It was a little expensive, but it seemed worth it for such quality. Then the stores opened. The first one I entered was the outlet store near Goose Island in Chicago. It was still pretty good. Then, as the years passed, the catalogue started to be less relevant to me. By the time the store opened in a mall near me, there was virtually nothing I wanted to buy there that I could afford. I see now that this was post Scott's purchasing S&H. That explains so much.

I am known in my family for being stingy (I call it thrifty), so S&H was purely a look-for-ideas destination for me; fortunately, my husband is much more willing to spring for quality, and the beautiful wood bench in my garden was purchased by him from them for a long-ago birthday. It was beautiful then, but now it is even lovelier in its grey weathered state with lichens and mosses softening it, plus the memories of thirty years in my garden.

Lovely essay, Maureen, but I won't really miss the current incarnation of S&H -- last time I looked, there were no tools, no real garden equipment, but only outrageously expensive outdoor dining furniture and tchotchkes. Let's hope Mr. Hawken will resurrect the original idea! But I would like the doors with their shovel and fork handles -- they would look very handsome on my newly rebuilt shed.

I miss S&H before the takeover by Scott's. It was swallowed whole...

RIP. Just went online 2 days ago to see of they had some more of the bendable oblesik. This really is sad for those of us who do not live near a large metro area. Was a customer for years.

Thank you for writing this. Reflecting on what S&H meant to you, I found myself nodding about the fine garden tools. I was a broke college student when I read my first catalog, but it was always my goal to buy something as soon as I could. Twenty years ago, that tool was a triangular hand hoe, which I still own and use everyday. It has long ago lost its shine, but it has the patina of years of soil embedded in the handle. I bought many more of these hoes for friends over the years, and although I'm sad S&H is closed, I can understand why.~~Dee

What a grand essay. Maureen, you have a gift for distilling feelings into words. I too remember that garage off of El Camino in Palo Alto. They had the best tools and handmade Felco scabbards. I still have mine even though it is more holes than scabbard. Sounds like Smith and Hawkin had more holes than scabbard and had to call it a day.

I used to get great gear there, had a pair of gardening gloves from them that lasted FIVE YEARS (do you hear that west country gloves people? NOT six months, FIVE YEARS). Their quality used to be worth saving up for. I wonder how long Scott's has owned them and how much their attitudes had to do with the increases in prices and the junk-ifying of the stores.

I believe I have the same hand hoe as Dee/reddirtramblings, a Japanese hand hoe from S&H and it is one of the best hand hoes I have. I would never part with it. Later I bought two other hoes from S&H, and though they were fancy... stainless steel hoe heads and walnut handles, as actual hoes they were/are fairly worthless. Perhaps those hoes were an indication of the beginning of the end...

I remember reading Paul's 'The Next Economy' and then saving my pennies to invest in a fork and scuttle hoe from S&H (we were living hand to mouth, so that took awhile) because I knew they would last me a lifetime.

So far they have.

And ironically they've already outlived S&H.

S&H quality went down hill after the Scotts purchase.
My openning irder with Scotts for 2008 was in excess of $145,000 just for one of our stores...for '09 $38,000

If you are looking for fine quality sturdy "garden stuff" from tools to de'cor and more might I suggest Kinsman Company.

Wonderful things and decent prices considering the high end nature


Fatal flaw with acquisition. By thinking name alone can carry the acquired company forward, the parent company ordered them to cut down on quality to save a few pennies most probably. I never bought from them, but always enjoyed walking through their stores and ogling at the very expensive, upscale items.

And the Target thing, it was a counter pitch against the Martha Stewart brand at Kmart.

I hope A.M. Leonard gets some fall out business from S&H closing shop.

Lee Valley for solid, long wearing tools, and interesting and useful gardening items you didn't know you needed.

Check them out!

Thank you to everyone for your comments. It was such an honor and pleasure to do a guest post for GR on a subject I felt so passionately about.

I do believe there are still garden tools available out there that are worth saving for. As an entry-level gardener, I saved for a couple of months to get my spade back in the day, and have never regretted the sacrifice.

I'd highly recommend to anyone working as a hort professional, landscape designer, etc., that they read "Growing a Business". I've bought and given away that book so many times...

I was also inspired by Paul Hawken's recent address to the graduating class at the University of Portland. "There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. "

Everything changes. I'll always love my S & H spade, now naked of its warranty. But I love the fact that we still have the minds behind the original concept, here and continuing to contribute, trying to steer us in the right direction.

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