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What a great piece of writing. I have been a fan of S&H since the beginning and it is sad what the company grew into, like an unwelcome kudzu vine or a suburban lawn. Our trips to northern California always included stops at S&H, but that is no more. My happiest tool purchase was the poacher's spade, now worn and grey and well loved. There were those glorious Japanese folding pull saws, that in the end were made in China (what arrogance to save a buck), and the magic holiday ornaments. So I'll open a beer, Negro Modelo, and say, oh those were the days. Thank heavens I was left speechless as the $9,000 outdoor flatscreen tvs. In the end, Scotts just didn't get it.

Very sad news. Great products, good people, nice memories; had a nice book launch in their SoHo store.

Hmm. I am looking down at my feet - gee I love these dragonfly garden clogs and my weeder, trowel, etc...

Strange times: my Jeep is a Fiat, my Pontiac is defunct, and my favorite garden store now gone. :(

Thanks for the info on Garden Tools

Thank you for this wonderful essay and it could not have come at a better time. Smith and Hawken became a ghost of its former self after the SCOTTs purchase. Sadly my last few trips to the store here in Houston, resulted in a quick browse through the store and then I was on my way out the door. It just did not feel like same place. The romance of the earthy store filled with orchids, bulbs, and hand forged tools was gone. Truth be told, when they started selling products at TARGET, I knew their days were numbered. They were destroying the brand. I only hoped that SCOTTS would sell them to a private group that would allow them to be restored to their former glory. The only consolation is that SCOTTS lost money on this deal in the end.

I got my first pair of Felcos from Smith and Hawken. I got my first orchid from them. I used to buy books by the stacks. I, too, will miss the pre-Scott's takeover version.

Good in the beginning, but really, gardening clothes?

They lost me about ten years ago when I saw a display in March in the McLean, VA store selling seeds and potting mix to "start your garden early". The staff had never heard of damping off and was untroubled by my description. I wrote to S&H, but never heard anything. I hope the folks who tried did some reading up for the next time. Like those above; Lee Valley and AM Leonard got my business.

Thank you for the terrific article. It is bittersweet as I totally agree with your sentiment: Smith & Hawken is dead. Long live Smith & Hawken. I'm hoping for a sort of J. Peterman style resurrection with Hawken back at the helm!

Maureen — virtually all my tools are from S&H. I started to order from them when the catalog was illustrated with black and white drawings and they only sold tools. For my 10th wedding anniversary, I got a pair of 2 Imperial gallon Haws watering cans. Did you happen to buy the Gertrude Jekyll weeding basket. They copied an old Jekyll photo and the basket is a large oval that is flexible. I never walk into the garden without it. Yes, they were pricey but I've been using these tools for almost 30 years so they were worth it. I've ranted about S&H in the past and I'm not surprised to see them go. The real S&H died when the real S&H left.

Wow, Linda, I'm so jealous of your weeding basket! I know which one you're talking about. And you were there from the very start, before the beautiful photos! The only other S & H tools I have are a digging fork, many Felcos and scabbards, and a small hand rake.

However, one of the many reasons I fell in love with my husband was because he owned a beautiful reproduction of a Julia Morgan bench and chairs. They are now beautifully weathered, with lichen growing on them, and the most prized of our furnishings.

I, too, as a beginning gardener in the late 1980's bought from S and H. Favorites: the pots shaped like heads to mount on walls; the above-described basket that I gave to my mom and step-dad; $70 bib overalls that I still wear every spring.

One time, when ordering was still done by phone, I had the most wonderful 45 minute conversation with one of the reps after placing an order for a gorgeous dark-blue linen shirt that finally wore out.

Over time, I noticed the change in emphasis but never knew the reason. My partner and I have regularly mocked their over-priced stuff. But I still want the French bistro set for 4.

Lee Valley Tools is based in Ottawa,with a US branch in NY.They carry many well made English & Canadian tools along with a number of useful items.By all means give them a try-I have many of their items and have been quite pleased.My Smith & Hawken here in Sacramento just opened this past autumn-a glorious store; alas, soon to be no more!

I didn't notice the previous post about Lee Valley-sorry!I decided to visit their site after my first post & I find out they're offering free shipping thru 19 July ! Yea!!!So a good time to give them a try.

random Smith and Hawken memories:

I remember moving to California in the mid eighties and being so excited to visit the original retail store in Mill Valley for the first time. There was a serious horticultural vibe that I'd never felt in any other nursery. I loved to browse the book section, there were always unusual orchids on display, and it was the only nursery I knew to label all their plants with latin names. Since I studied botany and horticulture in college, I felt like I'd found my home. For many years that store was a place of refuge. My kids loved to visit the fish in the big cement trough and we loved climbing the decomposed granite path, lined with a rosemary hedge, up to the top of the nursery where a rare species rose, with prominent bright red thorns, grew. They sold roses you couldn't find just anywhere. I still have a Felicia shrub rose in my garden, one of the few roses I've kept, because it's carefree and delightfully scented. Just down the road was their outlet store, where I found many treasures before it was shut down. I still garden in the tough cotton t-shirts I purchased there 2 decades ago! I once lusted after a pair of green and purple gardening shoes, but even at a discount I didn't want to spend whatever they wanted for them. Without my knowledge, my next door neighbor bought a pair, thinking they might fit her son. They didn't, and she passed them on to me. Perfect fit. :)

Smith and Hawken sponsored the garden at Edna McGuire Elementary School, also in Mill Valley. Before Alice Waters became involved at MLK middle school, Edna McGuire was *the* model school garden. S&H supplied them with tools, bulbs, starts and seeds. I once went on a tour to pick up some tips in preparation to start a garden at my son's elementary school. I'll never forget walking through the teacher's lounge. It was all about the garden.....I saw boxes of bulbs, flower posters, gardening books and watering charts. That kind of passion never permeated the culture of my son's school, but it was inspiring to see the potential. I'm sure that Smith and Hawken vibe had something to do with it.

When the business was sold for the first time, I remember the book section disappearing, which was a sign of things to come. Then, ever so slowly, furniture became the main attraction and I became disinterested. I've only been in the new store a couple of times because there's nothing of use to me in there. I do recommend their stackable composters, which they still sell, as far as I know. I have two of them. The first one I bought through my town at a deep discount because of a partnership with S&H to encourage county wide home composting. This was back in the early 90's before it all went downhill.

So bye bye S&H! I'll remember the good old days as I drink smoothies on my Monet garden bench (purchased at a great price on at an end of summer sale!) inbetween garden chores.....

Walmart tries to do the right thing. I'm tempted to stop as I push my cart down the aisle to the groceries to check out cute bras and undies. Anyone that wear's a thong thinks they're sexy. Why else would you wear it?

Beautiful essay! The founders moved on to other, bigger things, and I am sorry that the original purchaser didn't do better by S&H but that the firm was eventually sold out to Scott's, of all absurd possibilities!
There's an old-fashioned concept called quality, and in response to the commenter who asked if we can still afford to pay for it, the answer is YES! Of course, it may mean cutting back on some of the junk purchases, and saving up for something, not just whipping out the credit card or settling for a cheaper item. It includes taking the time to learn whether a high price is justified by an item's quality or is just a result of marketing costs and status, but the time is well-spent and the knowledge gained thereby extremely valuable in honing "life skills" such as critical thinking and decision making.
Good luck, Dave & Paul in your current endeavours, and "Thanks for the Memory". I, for one, am glad that Scott's will no longer be able to trade on your names.

Gardeners understand that everything has a lifespan; this includes businesses. Having owned a retail garden business for 14 years, I understand that the minute I lack fresh committment to it, its demise will come not long thereafter. Henry Mitchell was right. To paraphrase,there are no beautiful old gardens; beautiful gardens are a result of the intensive care of the present. There was a time when Smith and Hawken was an inspiration. The individuals that made it what it was moved on to other things that interested them. The tools from them I still use I will always have.

After reading Paul's comments in the papers yesterday about his joy at having his name taken off of a company that doesn't represent who is he, makes me kinda happy they're going. To go so far as to have a celebration party the night before their public announcement, makes me realize what a huge thorn in his side he's had to deal with for the past 15 or so years.

I'll miss them dearly, for all the reasons people wrote about above, and feel like an old friend has moved away for good, but I didn't like the fact that they were turning into another Starbucks - one on every corner. It took away the 'special-ness' of going into a store and finding a treasure.

I had a sinking feeling things were 'going South' when I saw how many pages they devoted to selling huge, outdoor TVs. TVs in the garden? I can't think of anything more offensive to most gardeners. It goes against the very grain of what gardening is - nature, harmony, getting lost in one's thoughts, appreciating the world for what it is.

It seems they wandered the wrong garden path, which ultimately led to their doom.

Dear Troll:
Kinsman?? Are you kidding?

Lee Valley Tools....great products, great prices. I'm still using the terrific spade I bought from them 8 years ago.

The best prices I found on the Internet for Felco pruners was at frostproof dot com.

I guess I wasn't alone in regarding my gardening tools as useful treasures and being excited by the opportunity to plant things I'd only seen in pictures. I too, will treasure my poachers spade, hand spades, trowel, hand weeder & Felcos, along with my concrete acorn, watering can and bench from the 1980s. Loved the moments spent perusing catalogues with my mom and sister and planning what to grow that year. Loved giving and receiving S&H tools, seeds & bulbs as gifts. Some of my favorite plants have been rahabs from the sale table. When the store came to San Diego, Costa Mesa and Pasadena, it was always the destination or meeting place of choice and, although things had changed from the beginning, there were still times that equated with a gentle, pure enjoyment that is rare these days. Yes, Scott's took things in a direction that left many of us, while hanging on in spirit, at the side of the road. Just the same, I have still loved S&H, like an old friend who had walked away and who I'd catch a glimpse of occasionally and then walk on.

Scott's took a valued and respected brand like Smith and Hawken and stripped away its core. While I still coveted a small handful of S&H products, I haven't felt a soul in the product line for some time.

Again to echo the sentiments of others....regrettable, but certainly understandable. What a bright glimmer of hope that Mr Hawken may explore a return to the business. There's certainly demand for quality garden tools in a corporate retail culture that only values fast profits and cheap, disposable garden implements.

After reading some of the contributors describe their love of all things Smith and Hawken I became nauseous.
The fact that the company was founded in Mill Valley says a lot. I'm a 4th generation Californian who's family didn't dabble in gardening. It was about survival.
Enough rhapsodizing from wealthy post-era hippies about their return to the earth. Let's teach everyone the value of farming one's own food, whether they turn the dirt with breakable Lowe's tools or expensive Smith and Hawken status symbols.
The Smith and Hawken where I live in Raleigh/Durham never did well. There are a lot of Californians here and many of us garden. The area is affluent and well-educated, but the snob appeal of Smith and Hawken didn't catch on. We've learned a lot from easterners who don't see gardening as a trend. If one has a sunny place in the backyard, chances are there is a garden plot that grows food.
I miss California, but I don't miss the Marin mind-set!
As for Mssrs. Smith and Hawken. Who twisted their arms and made them sell out to Scott's?

V. Callahan, we must not have been reading the same comments. The majority posters seem to feel that S&H sells beautiful, expensive boutiquey garden stuff, but had long gotten away from their roots. What I read was sad remembrance of the company many of us remember from many years ago.

I can only compare it to the passing of an elderly friend or relative who in the final years might have been only a shell of what once was, but when the end comes you still grieve for the robust, principled, beautiful friend that you miss.

And to clarify, Dave Smith and Paul Hawken did not "sell out" to Scott's.

Dave Smith left in '88 and Paul Hawken retired in '93. The company had already changed hands several times before Scott's expressed an interest in 2004 ... long after the founders had any input in how the company would be run. No twisting of arms occurred.

Thank goodness for the 'net. The only place one seems to be able find proper comment these days. As an owner of an English garden boutique 'The Worm that Turned' we were more than a little distressed to hear of S&H's closure. Having visited the Soho store a decade ago, it was an inspiration. Reading some the real reasons for the demise here is heartening and gives us hope. If there's no-one in the US that your readers can find to fill the gap - can I suggest they try -we'll certainly ship smaller items and who knows one day might see if we can export our shop concept too.

Just like the fall of Lands' End, only faster.

My comment is simply-- I will treasure the "old" Smith and Hawkins Company. It was one of integrity, which sold excellent products. I will always mourn the loss of it. The world today needs more companies like it.


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