AS WE MOVE INTO July, I realize that we have had a nice, long spring, like one for the books. It’s not every spring that we can start gardening in late February and keep on gardening right into July. Our rainfall has been normal, and our temperatures have been a little on the cool side, but I think that is probably coming to an end. It’s been nice while it lasted. Mimi and I waited until fairly recently to plant our veggies. We really were just too busy at the nursery and getting the rest of our yard ready for the summer months… mission accomplished. I really think we didn’t miss too much by not getting the vegetable plants and seeds in the ground until now. I saw a lot of people coming back to replant some of the plants in their garden that really need warmer nighttime temperatures to take off. Cool nights on eggplant, okra and peppers are not the best environment for successful growth.
I told myself that I was going to pull the Pepto Bismol pink petunias that are planted down the entire length of the front of our business by the middle of June. With the relatively cool temperatures, the petunias just won’t quit. We grew a crop of Indian Summer rudbeckias to replace the petunias. When I could tell that I wasn’t going to keep that promise, we bumped up the rudbeckias into gallon pots, so they could continue to grow while I dilly-dally around with trying to make the petunias last one more week. I just pulled the snapdragons up, after they bloomed for the third time, since I cut them back after every flush of blooms.
I hired a horticulture student from Mississippi State as a summer intern. Last week, she and I filled in the spaces where the snaps had been with Indian Summers. Next week we will dig up the petunias, cut them way back, pot them up into eight inch pots and resell them. We will fill those bare spots with more of the bright, smiley black-eyed-susies. Right now there is a plethora of colors causing wrecks on Highway 51. From the top down, the colors are coming from blue vitex trees, which I plan to dead head so I can get a full, second flush of blooms. There are also red yuccas, limelight hydrangeas, Cuban gold durantas, Indian Summer rudbeckias, and pink petunias with a dash of blackie sweet potato vines to add some contrasting color.
The city of Ridgeland honored us with the Business Yard Of The Month last week, so I really have to keep it snazzy looking. I expect the Indian Summers to keep looking good until it’s time to switch over to fall plants. I’ll have to do some dead heading to make that happen. My famous giant pink petunia hanging baskets will continue to drive people crazy until I see 28 degrees coming. That’s when I will cut them way back and put them to bed in one of our greenhouses for the fourth year in a row! Four years for an annual flower must be some kind of world record. I can’t quite figure where in the Guinness Book Of World Records that the oldest pink petunia hanging baskets would fit, but in my mind it’s a world record.
In the old days, I used to say that when the mascara starts running down the customers’ faces, that the season was over, that it’s just too hot. That time usually comes about right now. July and August used to be the time that all of us nursery people would begin to peel off to take some vacation time. We would be lucky to have a few cars in our parking lot, and we would consider ourselves even luckier to have something to sell those brave customers. In 2002, Mimi and I changed that forever. We devised a rewards program that allows our loyal customers to come in during July and August to shop for anything they want for up to half off the regular price by using the Bonus Bucks that they have earned all year long by spending their real money at our place. These ‘frequent flower miles’ are accrued every time you purchase something. For every ten dollars you spend with us between September 1st and June 30th, you earn one bonus buck. For every one hundred dollars you spend, we give you ten Bonus Bucks. You can see how fast they add up. Most people have two or three hundred Bonus Bucks burning a hole in their pockets by July, which means they have spent two or three thousand dollars with us during spring, fall and Christmas.
Even having sixty free dollars to spend on anything you want is fun. We have heard some people trying to figure out a hitch and tell us we only want them to spend the Bucks during the months that the mascara is running. We like to point out that you can use them to buy Christmas gifts in July, mulches, your chemical arsenal, houseplants, pottery… anything you want except landscaping services. It’s a win-win situation.
The customer gets some great deals, and we get to make room for new stock coming in for fall. We grow a huge crop of plants for the two month Bonus Buck season, so you will be able to freshen up your yard. It has been fun watching this program grow into what it has. People often remind us to give them their Bonus Bucks before we’ve even had a chance to forget to do it. Some people start staking out the place, looking for the thing that they are going to treat themselves with. We’ve even found people hiding a pot or fountain so no one can get it before July 1st, when they can come and get it for half price.
I LOVE THE RENEWED enthusiasm during what is usually a time when garden enthusiasts are normally sagging. Every year we try to be better about giving as many Bonus Bucks out that we can. The more we give out, the bigger our summer sales will be. Plus, we don’t like to be like the Maytag repair guy with no one to talk to. We’d rather have a bustling store full of people who are looking for any old thing that tickles their fancy! I can remember years that people would show up at the register with things that I’d forgotten we even had. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone started pulling wood off of the walls to purchase!
During Bonus Bucks redemption time, the place has the feel of a flea market, which is exactly what we were shooting for. Some of our best tricks have come from flea market finds from Forney, Canton and Roundtop, Texas, as well as an importer in Maryland called Great Stuff By Paul. At flea markets we get so caught up with filling our truck and trailer, that we buy stuff we would have never dreamed of. Those are the things that have kept our store looking unique over the years. The stuff that we buy at market in Atlanta is the same stuff that any other store can buy. By adding flea market finds into our mix, we feel like we add another reason for people to stop by more frequently to see what crazy and unusual things Mimi has managed to get me to haul into our store.
We love the hunt, and we love to see customers’ reactions to some of our found oddities. We know that most garden centers basically have some version of the same thing to offer gardeners and that it basically comes down to price and quality, so we were hoping that by adding a ‘frequent flower miles’ program, we would be giving gardeners a great reason to spend their time and money with us.
I am hoping that your mascara isn’t running too badly yet and that you have gotten on board with our program, so you can come in to have a little fun with your funny money. It looks like we’ve closed in the slow summer gap, so we are now extremely busy in July and August, which is unheard of at a garden center in the heat of the south. Now, if we could just figure out how to have a busy January. Better yet, maybe that’s the time we can use to go on more great adventures so I’ll have more to write about.