Garden field trip: Terrain at Styer’s
April 19th, 2009
I have a backlog of cool ideas and discoveries that I want to write about. Too many inspiring thoughts and insights swirling around my head. Too little time.
Since returning from my crazy Jan-Feb-March travel (seven out-of-town lecture trips in something like 10 weeks) I have been trying to carve out time to return to Shedstyle.com. It is the writing forum I love the most, but family demands, and the need to actually make some money, have distracted me. But I’m back on track, friends. I promise.
One of the places I visited on my many journeys is Terrain at Styer’s.
I recently wrote about my early March trip to lecture on stylish sheds and other small abodes in a talk called “Your Personal Escape” at the Philadelphia Flower Show. But my side trip to Terrain was great fun and I don’t want any more time to pass before writing about it.
Terrain is the darling of the home and garden media. As a hot, design-oriented gardening emporium outside Philadelphia, Terrain appears in shelter magazines as often as its west coast “kindred spirit,” Flora Grubb’s. How cool that I visited both plant- and style-savvy destinations within a few weeks of one another.
You all probably know the back-story about Terrain. If not, I’ll give you the short version here, beginning with Terrain’s own words:
“Lifestyle merchandising is our business and our passion. The goal for our brands is to build a strong emotional bond with the customer. To do this we must build lifestyle environments that appeal emotionally, and offer fashion correct products on a timely basis. Our customers are the reason and the inspiration for everything we do.”
Founded in 2008, Terrain transforms the local garden center into a celebration of nature. Our flagship location . . . was inspired by the idea of merging house and garden to create an experience for the senses, catering to our customer with a curated assortment of plants for all seasons, as well as inspired items for the home and garden. Situated in a luxurious indoor-outdoor environment, our on-site nursery is flanked by a cafe and garden terrace, providing the ideal environment to host events and workshops. [from the Urban Outfitters corporate web site]
In order to launch Terrain, Urban Outfitters acquired an established suburban garden center outside Philadelphia, called J. Franklin Styer Nurseries. The renovation turned what was probably a very beautiful specialty nursery into a shopping “experience.” If you’ve ever spent time at Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters’ popular apparel store, you’ll feel a similar vibe at Terrain.
I was determined to visit Terrain while I was in Philly, despite the cruddy weather. But as luck would have it, one morning in early March, the winter storms subsided and I was able to drag my roommate Mary-Kate Mackey along on this excursion. We rented a car and left downtown Philly, managing to drive on roads that were (mostly) plowed, to reach the hamlet of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.
The auspicious date – March 3rd – coincided with the staff’s re-merchandising schedule. “Spring” was arriving at Terrain the morning we, too, arrived. We met Greg Lehmkuhl, Terrain’s creative director, as well as several other creative and passionate plantspersons, merchants and retail staff.
I was delighted to spot several “sheds,” or outbuildings, around the property. We learned that some of the structures were originally built from recycled materials to be used in a Terrain display garden at the 2008 Philadelphia Flower Show. Now they have been returned to the grounds and given a place of honor.
Unlike your typical mish-mash of tools, gloves, flowerpots, and bags of compost stocked by most specialty nurseries, Terrain has a “curated” merchandising approach. Even the utilitarian products are displayed with style. Color, shape, material, texture and finish factor into each vignette, illustrated by some of the photos we snapped. Here is a delicious gallery to inspire you:
Terrain features an eclectic mix of slightly distressed and recycled structures, shelves, tables and lighting, combined with exotic, vintage and retro accents. This is boho-eco-luxury in a very appealing environment. If you’re like me, you’ll want to wander, inspect, study and absorb the product mix, visit the artfully-merchandised rooms (inside and out) and relish the relaxed mood. And unlike so many other places that purport to be garden emporiums, Terrain and its staff know plants. Real horticulturists work here, design gardens for clients and teach plant care skills to customers.
The great thing about coming here is that you don’t want to leave. We languished in the greenhouse-turned-restaurant, where Mary-Kate and I ordered mugs of hot tea (served in glass Ball jars) and savored quiches and other breakfasty fare, like a farmhouse frittata laced with fresh herbs. I love retailers who keep hungry customers satisfied.
We perused books, seed collections, glass cloches of every size, wire, wooden and metal garden furniture, hanging lanterns from India, beautiful ferns, and more. If money were no object, I would have bought one of everything. Instead, I came home with a small faux-bois style rattan saucer (actually made from poured concrete) and a cloche to “top” it. The set now graces my dining table and contains a delicate potted fern.
If you find yourself on the east coast, be sure to visit. Plus, you can stay on top of Terrain’s activities and classes – virtually – by signing up for its newsletter.
Mary-Kate and I had a blast talking with some of the talented Terrain folks, many from corporate HQ who don’t work in the retail setting on a day-to-day basis. We left feeling envious that Terrain hasn’t come to the west coast yet. But we’re optimistic that this retail laboratory combining cool plants with great design will soon grow and spread its roots and branches to other markets.