by Janet Davies
Carson Arthur spent five and a half years envisioning his garden centre on Wilson Road, and his vision was for something a little different to your usual garden centre. He saw Carson’s Garden and Market as a gathering place, a community hub, an educational thing. “Gardening is about more than flowers and perennials. It’s also about growing food and contributing to the farm-to-table lifestyle that appeals to Millennials,” he says. “Did you know online surveys say gardening is the number one hobby for them?” Millennials is the term for Generation Y, those who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century, which makes them in their late 30s now.
“Of course I wanted to capitalize on the growing tourism and popularity of the County, and I think we’re adding layers to the County experience, adding to the wine and the beach and vacationing. We’re putting a focus on quality of life and lifestyle choices. People in big cities notice something missing from their life, and part of it is being outdoors, doing things for yourself, growing a tomato instead of buying it, building things, making a garden. I want to help give them those things.” He believes everybody can grow something if they really want to.
Carson’s Garden and Market opened on Wilson Road in early May. He invited Kyle Jones and his Flossie’s Sandwiches operation to join him onsite, and he partnered with Gillingham Brewery just down the road who were opening around the same time. “We’re so close and complementary businesses, it’s natural we would work together. Kyle uses our produce in his sandwiches, Andrew and Christine are happy to be associated with us.” There’s a growing synergy on Wilson Road. “We already had two wineries,” he says. “Sugarbush and Domaine Darius, and the road was like this sweet little gem waiting to happen. Then it got paved!” Everybody was excited about that. Now bicycle tours love it, and with Huff Estates and Terracello Estates nearby a busy little loop is developing. By partnering with Flossie’s and Gillingham Brewery it’s a destination where you can enjoy a good couple of hours. “You can park in one spot and walk to the other places along the road. We’ve got a big parking lot and it’s full every day we’re open, but the overflow park in the winery and brewery and walk back and forth. Nobody’s got any complaints so far. We’re planning events for the summer, too, so it’s pretty exciting.
Carson has spent 18 years talking about, and making TV shows about, gardening. These days he hosts Take it Outside on local radio CJBQ. Millennials go to the Internet for information, but he thinks they’re ready for more. “They do their research online, look for information online but there are more than 12 million gardening blogs and websites,” he says. “Talk about mixed messages! Go to three sites and get three different answers. I’m here in the real world for people. Local people work in the store and they have great hands-on experience and can tell people what works for them, what doesn’t work around here and give great advice. That’s the kind of resource I want to offer.”
Carson sees the overlap with gardening and DIY. “It’s taking DIY to the next level, wanting to be sustainable and self-sufficient. It sounds funny, but I think that kind of thinking comes from zombie tv shows! Millennials have this sense of impending doom, like some serious catastrophe will happen in their lifetime and they want to be prepared. Of course they are interested in growing food, being sustainable, even living off the grid. There’s also the motivation today of wanting to be independent. What can I do for myself to have a source of income or a livelihood I can control? I don’t want to rely on corporations or employers, maybe I don’t want to work 9 to 5 and wait for someone else to pay me.”
GARDENING FOR DUMMIES – “Does that sound rude? We call our beginner program that because customers say, ‘I’m such a dummy! I don’t know anything about growing anything. Help me!’ We demystify things as much as possible. We put together starter boxes they can take back to the city, to help them learn about growing food.” Carson’s crew choose plants they know will be successful and provide variety, layers of culinary tastes. “It’s like the TV show Chopped in a vegetable planter,” he laughs. “They’ll have A, B and C produce and can say what will I make today? It’s going well. We hit our two-month goal in eight days.”
Carson did online research to know what to expect in his first year, but says talking to people who live and work in The County had much more impact. “They know how The County flows, how it moves season to season, who comes here and how to target customers. You can’t find that online.” He did his projections based on three established local businesses but was blown away by how quickly the Garden and Market took off. “I didn’t specifically advertise. I have lots of media channels but I only used them sparingly. I wanted to see what would happen with minimum promotion, word of mouth.” He held an open house and invited B&B owners and other County influencers to come take a look. He didn’t expect sales. He wanted to start a conversation, “We’re something new, maybe you and the people you connect with would like to see something new?” It worked like a dream and they’ve been busy every weekend since.
Carson Arthur is canny. When he and partner Kevin Lockwood moved to the County they weren’t exactly retiring, but he was winding down his 18-year media career. “Then I saw such great opportunities here, we launched right into a whole new idea. I didn’t foresee Wilson Road becoming such a destination, but I did see the limos and wine tours and visitors coming to Sugarbush Winery. I figured we would give those tourists something more to see, a good reason to explore down the road. Every decision I’ve made in The County, who I partner with, who I deal with, has been to create awareness and get my message out. That’s why I do the radio show and I always say yes if somebody wants me to write an article. That’s the way to communicate.”
He’s an educator, too. “The Garden and Market has a strong educational element,” he says. Next step is building raised planters for the chef’s kitchen, for Kyle, which lets people see the produce growing that goes right into Flossie’s sandwiches, “We’ll grow pumpkins which can go into a Gillingham craft beer,” he says. “So you’ll see the ingredients growing and going off and coming back on your plate and in your glass, which is fun.” Carson is planning Autumn Gardening Workshops which might sound odd, but as he says, “Gardening is 365, not just Spring. Our workshops will focus on people’s own gardens. They’ll bring their plans and dimensions and we’ll talk about planning individual gardens and share experiences with each other. They’ll choose what to plant and start seeds in our greenhouse. Come February they’ll choose onion sets and different classes will cover insecticides, composting, being environmentally friendly. Then you’ll start your pepper plants. By the end of the program you’ll have a full tray of vegetables, your garden layout and a bunch of new skills. You’ll know what you’re doing and, come planting time, off you go.”
KIDS & COMMUNITY GARDENS – Carson has talked to local food banks and community living organizations about how he can get involved and help. “What came through loud and clear is it’s not about handouts it’s about education,” he says. “If you can teach families how to grow their own food that lasts a lot longer than giving out food. We want to do classes with raised beds for children, so kids know how to grow food, so they know where food comes from. They will choose what food to grow, plant it, maintain it, harvest it and take it home. And then they’ll harvest seeds so they can do again next year.” A community garden is on his radar.
THE SHOP – Word on the street is that Carson’s Garden and Market features high-end goods. “That’s true to a point,” he says candidly. “But I’ve brought in products at different price points. There’s introductory level for people who want to try it without making a huge financial commitment, then there’s stuff for people who know what they’re looking for and who want top quality tools. It surprised me how many tourists are going for luxury items. Mena Dragonfly Pottery brought in her 24-carat gold painted flower pots and I thought there’s no way they’ll sell. But I was wrong. We stock excellent Japanese garden tools that are very popular. A lot of people want something different to what big box stores sell. The biggest surprise has been the huge interest in birding in The County. We have a whole birding wall which we have to keep replenishing, but then birding and gardening go hand in hand. They are both great outdoor backyard experiences.
ADVICE TO OTHERS – When they moved to The County, Carson and Kevin listed things they thought they’d be giving up. He’s delighted to insist they didn’t have to give up any of them. “Not even sushi!” he crows. “You may have to drive 20 minutes, half an hour, but it takes that long to get anywhere in the city, too, whether you walk or drive or just trying to park. What’s really different here is you get to know your neighbours. Talking to neighbours is a great key to learning about the place. The more you can learn about your house before you buy it the better. And it’s important to be a good neighbour here, because people really do care. You don’t have to live in each other’s laps, but if you get along well with them you’ll always have someone to help you.
Is moving Prince Edward County right for you? Take a hard look at what you want. If it’s fresh air, more room, a slower pace of life, I’d say yes, it might be. I can’t believe I spent so long in the city. I was able to have a great career in media, longer than I ever expected, but now I’m here I realize I want this more. When I have to drive to the city these days, I kind of hate it.”
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