Smith&Hawken, whose aged-copper-and-teak aesthetic once seemed the epitome of popular garden taste, is going out of business. Clearance sales are underway, including at the Chicago-area stores in Highland Park, Deerfield and Chicago (the Web site has shut down for orders, but the store locator still works, if your pockets are a-jingle).
Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., the big Ohio-based garden products company that bought Smith&Hawken from its California founders for $79 million in 2004, says it couldn't make a go of it and couldn't find a buyer. Closing 56 stores nationwide will put about 700 people out of work.
I have spent many an imaginary dollar browsing through the Smith&Hawken catalog, and more than a handful of real ones in the stores. I used to fill my imaginary garden--the one with my imaginary house and the imaginary gardener who comes in twice a week to do the stoop labor--with artful wrought-iron trellises, hand-hammered copper hose pots, wisteria-covered pergolas and massive but well-cushioned furniture made of plantation-grown teak. Didn't we all?
The Smith&Hawken style, part villa in Tuscany by way of California and part English great house by way of the Hamptons, seemed to rule the pages of garden magazines in about 2002. That catalog was a major route by which high-end garden design rolled down to us in the masses (especially after Scotts tried out a lower-priced version of the line at Target).
All that seems now like part of the fever dream we lived in the last decade, the dream in which costly objects seemed more important than lives. We spent so much money on things we didn't need, in the garden as everywhere else.
I'm sorry for all those who are losing their jobs. But I can let Smith&Hawken go because I didn't need any of those things anyway. All those years while I was pining over the teak furniture, I was accumulating something far more valuable.
I never got the pergola (or the house to go with it), and our patio furniture is secondhand.
But I still have the things that live in my garden: the flowers, the green-on-green pattern of leaves, the seeds and shoots, the blooms, the bees and butterflies, the shifting shadows and cooling shady trees, the daily changes, the possums and cardinals. And there's me: my life, my time spent in the garden, all I have learned about plants and animals and soil and how they work, all I feel, my aches and my triumphs and my solace. I will have that, in some way, anywhere I ever live, no matter how broke I am. I'll always be able to surround myself with growing things. Can't buy that from a catalog.
Got a garden question? I recommend you call or e-mail the Plant Clinic of The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, the Master Gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension or the Plant Information Service of the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.
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