A passion for lilies plus hard work, cooperation and innovative marketing have been the keys to success for Earth Bound Perennials and Garden in Red Bay, north of Sauble Beach and Wiarton on Ontario’s Lake Huron.
This five-acre parcel of land was used for decades as a market garden, but the land lay fallow for 15 years before John Close, Brenda Sutherland and Judy Larkin decided to turn it into a seasonal garden centre and display garden mainly catering to cottage owners and visitors to the region during the summer months.
Gardens around the original house have been restored and two cold frame greenhouses have been erected. Herbs and perennials are available for sale in the greenhouse area. But it’s the lilies that put Earth Bound on the map.
“We were a hands-on garden business, learning through trial and error, and then I fell in love with lilies at Canada Blooms one year when I saw the most gorgeous bouquet at one of the booths,” explains Sutherland. “Speaking with the owner, I realized that we probably had ideal conditions for growing them here.”
“We open in mid April, depending on the weather, but we start planting the bulbs – 18,000 this year – in pots in the greenhouse on March 1st at the potting tables, with snow all around us.”
Earth Bound gets its lily bulbs from all over – Oregon, Holland, Australia and Canada, as well as some exotic varieties from China and India. Early this summer there were thousands blooming in the greenhouse, presenting a rainbow of over 90 colours.
The garden centre also offers landscaping, design and planting services and sells late spring, summer and fall blooming bulbs – mainly daffodils, alliums, canna lilies and colchicums – but not many tulips, says Sutherland because “our clients are generally not here early enough in the spring to see or enjoy them in their cottage gardens.”
It has not been easy establishing a seasonal business in a somewhat remote area, but the principals have found that doing promotions and speaking tours, sharing ideas with other businesses and getting a website up and running have all helped.
Three partners mean more flexibility say the trio. Judy does all the computer organization and sources lily pictures for their DVD. John is the grower. And Brenda does the pubic speaking, marketing and looking after the money.
“We basically have two months to make a living,” says Sutherland, because that’s when visitors come to the area. But the work doesn’t stop at the end of the summer. She does a lot of presentations and speaking both on Earth Bound’s display garden and on lilies, to horticultural societies all over southern Ontario. “We also attend five or six open markets over the season, taking whatever is in bloom but mostly lilies,” all of which helps to generate average sales of 3,000 plants a week.
“We do consumer shows in Stratford and Peterborough and get people from Kitchener, London, Ottawa, Windsor, Sudbury, all places where we have spoken, as well as the U.S.,” says
Many potential customers discover Earth Bound on bus tours and then come back. “We still get a lot of people, surprisingly, who have never been here before.” The business is advertised on the web as well as on local radio stations and in a local magazine, Destinations and Discoveries, which is free for tourists.
Earth Bound was instrumental in founding an organization of almost 40 gardens in Grey and Bruce Counties open to the public from May to October. The group has put together a website (www.ruralgardens.ca). There are maps, individual garden websites and descriptions on the site and there is also a brochure listing all of the gardens.
“About six of us started it in 2000,” explains Sutherland. “We realized that we are all working to get people to come up here off the beaten track and decided to pool our resources. It took a couple of years to get organized but now it’s fantastic.”
Bruce County Tourism has been very supportive. “They helped us realize we had to be standardized in our listing of things such as who has washrooms and who can accommodate bus tours without the buses getting stuck in the mud. They are now helping us recreate maps for next year’s brochure. In return, we supply volunteers to hand out brochures at Canada Blooms.”
Earth Bound is also working with another Wiarton area business, Rural Roots Nature Reserve and Gardens, to promote their own and several other small local businesses including gift shops and bed and breakfast establishments.
“We have brainstorming sessions and have organized several workshops on such subjects as scree gardening and dish gardening, that people from a B & B could attend, especially in the off season,” says Sutherland. The two centres will host a Gardeners’ Getaway, Oct. 13, 14 and 15 with hands-on workshops, various presentations and a wine and cheese reception at $250 per person, including accommodation at nearby Waterview On The Bay Resort.