Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Smith & Hawken is Dead.
Long Live Smith & Hawken.

Co-founder Paul Hawken,
(indeed, there is a Smith) imbued the catalog with a new gardening persona,
making organic gardening a “hip to be square” hippie pastime—still a waft of
patchouli, to be sure, but still refined, mysterious, and sexy. Every tool,
every garden clog, every piece of gorgeous, pricey teak furniture came to
represent for me a vision of organic garden glam, magnified by the sumptuous
photography of pretty people getting dirty and having fun doing it.

Hawken, a superb writer, honed his craft on the garden porn
that sold thousands of tools, trugs, and boots. Moving beyond languid
descriptions of soft afternoons spent thinning the lettuces in a pair of
perfect garden clogs, he soon published Growing
a Business
, a practical and inspirational guide to expanding a lifestyle
empire of one’s own. Sporting my canvas gardener’s pants with the insertable
knee pad pockets I drew inspiration from this bible of eco-entrepreneurialism
and dreamt of ways to make gardening my career.

 As Hawken pursued his true calling as an green
visionary—beginning with the publication of The
Ecology of Commerce
—the company continued to grow, but profits slagged due
in part to an overly optimistic focus on the clothing line. Like me, gardeners
were practical types who liked to muck up only a couple of sets of drawstring
ripstop Japanese Farmer pants at a time. A floundering Smith & Hawken was
purchased in 1993 for $15 million by a firm best known for marketing the
NordicTrack and The Nature Company. The line expanded to include chintzy table
linens and wine bottle totes, and at about that time, I opted out of the
catalog subscription. The soul was gone.

The newly capitalized company moved on to open 25 retail
stores throughout the country. And the company went through several changes in
ownership and management, finally landing in the portfolio of Scott’s, makers
of Miracle-Gro. Hawken started a software company and became a highly
sought-after environmental expert and speaker. Smith was selling organic flower
arrangements through Whole Foods last I heard; and other retailers have made
deep cuts into the market share built on a simple desire on the part of Hawken
cohort and double-digging biointensive gardening guru, John Jeavons , to import and market a
solid garden spade.

I recently thought of Jeavons, Hawken, and Smith as I
perused the discount coupon display on my local S&H counter promoting the
benefits of Miracle-Gro to keep that lawn clean & green. What a crushing
irony that Smith & Hawken, Scott’s latest acquisition, should become leverage
to cross-market all manner of “grow & kill” in the soft summer rain. I knew
it would be the last time I visited the store. The founding principle had been
lost.

Though my lifetime guarantee is probably now moot, and I’m
likely to die holding the damn thing, Smith & Hawken no longer carried the
spade I bought so long ago. They carried nothing like it. And now that Smith
& Hawken is shutting down, the lock is now on the door that closed some
time ago for me. According the Marin Independent Journal, Hawken threw a party
on Wednesday night to celebrate the closure.

Smith owns Mulligan’s book store in Ukiah. There are rumors
that Hawken, ever the entrepreneur, has his mind on the garden tool business
again. I hope that’s so. In some ways, the awakening of the gardener in many of
us may be related in some way to those misty black and white photos taken in
the Marin fog. Smith & Hawken validated gardening as a hip pursuit. I’d
love to see what Hawken might do with another opportunity to fill the needs of
serious gardeners for quality garden tools. Smith & Hawken is dead. Long
Live Smith & Hawken.

And if I’m ever in the market for an easily-dissolved
form of plant crack, I know I’ll never go wanting. There will always be Miracle-Gro.

Posted by on July 9, 2009 at 9:39 am, in the category Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
Comments are off for this post

55 Responses to “Smith & Hawken is Dead.
Long Live Smith & Hawken.”

  1. A beautifully written essay.

    You’ve captured perfectly what happens when a corporation like Scott’s believes they can completely redefine (and in this case subvert) another company’s brand and message, yet somehow still maintain its value, cachet and customer base. I’m not surprised one of the founders threw a party.

  2. Nick says:

    Thanks for the S & H history. Although I’m skeptical of lifestyle marketing, especially when it comes to something as basic as gardening (e.g., growing food), companies such as S & H helped keep the idea of grassroots gardening alive after the hippie commune era and before the current garden chic era.

    All that got me thinking about who/what pushed me into gardening as an adult. I think it was moving into a falling apart yet charming house in the S.F. Mission District in the early ’90s. The remnants of the Italian ethnic population there was encouraging – old ladies would give me surplus greens, not knowing they were being cutting edge. Cranky old Italian guys would eagerly talk about their very “square foot” organic methods for squeezing the most out of their little backyard plots.

    In the absence of enthusiastic garden mentors, boutique outfits like the old S & H definitely have their place.

  3. Maureen, I don’t know where to begin. Apologies in advance if this is long.

    First, wonderful, wonderful piece, and since I am very familiar with your gorgeous prose, thoughtful stance and diplomatic opinions, this is hands-down the best of the best. I had tears in my eyes from the title alone.

    Second, about Smith & Hawken. When Dan Eskelson tweeted yesterday morning about them closing, I couldn’t believe it. Downsizing, maybe, but not gone, just like that? One week after they gave a presentation at our APLD meeting and gave all 40 members present a beautiful white orchid?

    It’s been years since I’ve been able to afford anything from Smith & Hawken, but I too have a tool that I bought from them at least a dozen years ago; it’s a simple black watering wand that can shoot a stream 20′ or mist a seedling. I would love to have another, and cannot find it anywhere, certainly not at Smith & Hawken. Paul & Dave had left the building.

    I swiped Paul’s book ‘Growing a Business’ from the library at my old job; it didn’t hold much of a message for them, but it did for me, and I had it in my hand as I launched my design business in 2001. The irony is not lost on me when I consider that my business has changed considerably as well, and I too am in the process of contemplating some new doors.

    So that’s the white orchid I’ll take from all this. The only thing you can be sure about is change. Thanks again, Maureen… from tweets last night to a blog this morning, brava…

  4. Michele Owens says:

    Maureen, fantastic piece–and very sad news. Everything I ever got from Smith & Hawken, I liked. My mother-in-law sent me a fantastic edging spade and beautiful pots from them. I spent my money on big iron arches–a fancy one for my city yard and simpler ones for my vegetable garden. Unlike other garden supply catalogs, whose stuff was always too dinky, Smith & Hawken got the scale right. Big and sturdy.

  5. Beautifully written essay from the heart and hand of a gardener.
    This is very sad news for my local Marin County economy and for the rest of the country who enjoyed to stock their home and garden with well made products from S+H.
    The corporate headquarters is just 3 miles from my house in Novato and the main retail store is just a few more miles down the road.
    I’ve had many friends over the decades work for Smith and Hawkens , who had always been a decent company to work for.

    I was just at the original retail store in Mill Valley the other day . A landscape lighting company moved into the building and is struggling to stay afloat there.
    The swath of Japanese anenomes that was planted by S+H original horticulturist Sarah Hammond was about to burst into bloom.

    I’ll greatly miss this store, even if it had veered away from its original roots.
    It was always the shop that I turned to for holiday gift giving and special occasion gift buying for friends and family.

  6. Like you, Maureen, I cherish the ‘real’ tools I bought from Smith & Hawken, but more than that, is the acorn. Outside my front door is a mossy, oversized, concrete acorn bought from Smith & Hawken that greets all who enter. There hasn’t been anything like it available anywhere else–ever. Smith & Hawken had authenticity and a high level of quality which gained my trust. They also had a sense of humor which I still appreciate everyday as I come and go beside the acorn.

  7. Adriana says:

    I’ve admired Smith & Hawken from afar. I spotted a patio set I liked from Target of all places. I didn’t purchase the patio set because Target made it very difficult for me to purchase; pieces at different stores.

    Like Laura I haven’t been able to afford anything from their beautiful store but it’s still sad to see them go.

  8. Denise says:

    In noting all the comments above re affordability of S&H’s products, I’ve been mentally tabulating what I bought from S&H. In reality, apparently not much. Certainly, nothing from their sturdy/pricy line of garden tools and furniture. But this was a store whose mere existence provided solace and optimism, that there was this guiding intelligence out there focused on garden stuff. From their long-gone seconds outlet in Santa Rosa I bought very inexpensive tables and benches made from repurposed wine barrels and lots of other odds and ends. Along with Western Hills, Smith & Hawken was a yearly destination/road trip, So. Calif to No. Calif, where Sarah Hammond’s plantings at the Mill Valley store were worth the trip, along with the excellent nursery selections that seemed to be synchronous with exciting stuff happening just over the bridge at Strybing Arboretum, and I always came home with a car stuffed with plants. For a short while, the Mill Valley S&H had an incredible book section as well. The plant nursery and books at Mill Valley disappeared years ago, and then eventually the yearly pilgrimages. (I hear Western Hills has new owners and may be open again by appt.)

    Bright side is, there’s gotta be a vacuum left for some energetic person to fill.

  9. Frances says:

    I was there with you, Maureen, in the mid eighties, devouring each catalog and marking the items I would love to have. Many are still with me, including some of the ill fated clothing line, all cherished. My goal was to have only S and H in my closet and cupboards. When it was sold the first time, the quality changed and those tools were replaced with lesser mortals. Visiting the store in Houston was still a delight however. We await what Hawken will offer us next.
    Frances

  10. donna says:

    No tears here. Haven’t liked the store since it went all upscale, like every other damned store in that market. Selling to yuppies (and yes, I even was one) with money.

    I’ll support the local gardening stores selling good, cheap tools. Or even good expensive tools. Not the garden frou frou ones that cater to the well off (even though I am pretty much well off…)

  11. Joe Lamp'l says:

    I too echo the comments of this beautifully written post. And I am one who would always browse the S&H store whenever I could. Yet like many of you, I rarely bought anything from them because of price. But S&H stores clearly hand an allure for so many of us.
    There have been several mentions of their quality products, something they were well known for. But as with all things, you get what you pay for and quality costs.
    So here’s my question; Did they price themselves into closing or is there an opportunity for another store (startup) to fill the void? We gardeners love our quality tools and the ambiance of shopping at S&H. But are brick and mortar stores for lifestyle products dead in general? Can an online store give us the quality without the high costs? Or, do we need the experience of a retail store too? Curious…

  12. Joe says:

    That was one truly great written piece, the passion for the brand and the tools was profoundly portrayed. I can remember my grandparents owned S&H tools and would rant and rave at the quality. Me being only 10 I didn’t really understand all the fuss. However in my older age I can now appreciate their fondness with such a quality company.

  13. So that’s what happened to Smith & Hawken. Like you, I was enamored of all the fantastic garden tools and clothing in the catalogue. It was a little expensive, but it seemed worth it for such quality. Then the stores opened. The first one I entered was the outlet store near Goose Island in Chicago. It was still pretty good. Then, as the years passed, the catalogue started to be less relevant to me. By the time the store opened in a mall near me, there was virtually nothing I wanted to buy there that I could afford. I see now that this was post Scott’s purchasing S&H. That explains so much.

  14. Rosella says:

    I am known in my family for being stingy (I call it thrifty), so S&H was purely a look-for-ideas destination for me; fortunately, my husband is much more willing to spring for quality, and the beautiful wood bench in my garden was purchased by him from them for a long-ago birthday. It was beautiful then, but now it is even lovelier in its grey weathered state with lichens and mosses softening it, plus the memories of thirty years in my garden.

    Lovely essay, Maureen, but I won’t really miss the current incarnation of S&H — last time I looked, there were no tools, no real garden equipment, but only outrageously expensive outdoor dining furniture and tchotchkes. Let’s hope Mr. Hawken will resurrect the original idea! But I would like the doors with their shovel and fork handles — they would look very handsome on my newly rebuilt shed.

  15. Rita says:

    I miss S&H before the takeover by Scott’s. It was swallowed whole…

  16. Squirrelgardens says:

    RIP. Just went online 2 days ago to see of they had some more of the bendable oblesik. This really is sad for those of us who do not live near a large metro area. Was a customer for years.

  17. Thank you for writing this. Reflecting on what S&H meant to you, I found myself nodding about the fine garden tools. I was a broke college student when I read my first catalog, but it was always my goal to buy something as soon as I could. Twenty years ago, that tool was a triangular hand hoe, which I still own and use everyday. It has long ago lost its shine, but it has the patina of years of soil embedded in the handle. I bought many more of these hoes for friends over the years, and although I’m sad S&H is closed, I can understand why.~~Dee

  18. What a grand essay. Maureen, you have a gift for distilling feelings into words. I too remember that garage off of El Camino in Palo Alto. They had the best tools and handmade Felco scabbards. I still have mine even though it is more holes than scabbard. Sounds like Smith and Hawkin had more holes than scabbard and had to call it a day.

  19. I used to get great gear there, had a pair of gardening gloves from them that lasted FIVE YEARS (do you hear that west country gloves people? NOT six months, FIVE YEARS). Their quality used to be worth saving up for. I wonder how long Scott’s has owned them and how much their attitudes had to do with the increases in prices and the junk-ifying of the stores.

  20. I believe I have the same hand hoe as Dee/reddirtramblings, a Japanese hand hoe from S&H and it is one of the best hand hoes I have. I would never part with it. Later I bought two other hoes from S&H, and though they were fancy… stainless steel hoe heads and walnut handles, as actual hoes they were/are fairly worthless. Perhaps those hoes were an indication of the beginning of the end…

  21. I remember reading Paul’s ‘The Next Economy’ and then saving my pennies to invest in a fork and scuttle hoe from S&H (we were living hand to mouth, so that took awhile) because I knew they would last me a lifetime.

    So far they have.

    And ironically they’ve already outlived S&H.

  22. greg draiss says:

    S&H quality went down hill after the Scotts purchase.
    My openning irder with Scotts for 2008 was in excess of $145,000 just for one of our stores…for ’09 $38,000

    If you are looking for fine quality sturdy “garden stuff” from tools to de’cor and more might I suggest Kinsman Company.

    Wonderful things and decent prices considering the high end nature http://www.kinsmangarden.com

    The TROLL

  23. Elizabeth Stump says:

    Fatal flaw with acquisition. By thinking name alone can carry the acquired company forward, the parent company ordered them to cut down on quality to save a few pennies most probably. I never bought from them, but always enjoyed walking through their stores and ogling at the very expensive, upscale items.

    And the Target thing, it was a counter pitch against the Martha Stewart brand at Kmart.

    I hope A.M. Leonard gets some fall out business from S&H closing shop.

  24. Jenn says:

    Lee Valley for solid, long wearing tools, and interesting and useful gardening items you didn’t know you needed.

    Check them out!

  25. Plantanista (Maureen D) says:

    Thank you to everyone for your comments. It was such an honor and pleasure to do a guest post for GR on a subject I felt so passionately about.

    I do believe there are still garden tools available out there that are worth saving for. As an entry-level gardener, I saved for a couple of months to get my spade back in the day, and have never regretted the sacrifice.

    I’d highly recommend to anyone working as a hort professional, landscape designer, etc., that they read “Growing a Business”. I’ve bought and given away that book so many times…

    I was also inspired by Paul Hawken’s recent address to the graduating class at the University of Portland. “There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. ” http://tiny.cc/qhmaw

    Everything changes. I’ll always love my S & H spade, now naked of its warranty. But I love the fact that we still have the minds behind the original concept, here and continuing to contribute, trying to steer us in the right direction.

  26. Elizabeth says:

    What a great piece of writing. I have been a fan of S&H since the beginning and it is sad what the company grew into, like an unwelcome kudzu vine or a suburban lawn. Our trips to northern California always included stops at S&H, but that is no more. My happiest tool purchase was the poacher’s spade, now worn and grey and well loved. There were those glorious Japanese folding pull saws, that in the end were made in China (what arrogance to save a buck), and the magic holiday ornaments. So I’ll open a beer, Negro Modelo, and say, oh those were the days. Thank heavens I was left speechless as the $9,000 outdoor flatscreen tvs. In the end, Scotts just didn’t get it.

  27. Barbara says:

    Very sad news. Great products, good people, nice memories; had a nice book launch in their SoHo store.

    Hmm. I am looking down at my feet – gee I love these dragonfly garden clogs and my weeder, trowel, etc…

    Strange times: my Jeep is a Fiat, my Pontiac is defunct, and my favorite garden store now gone. :(

  28. James says:

    Thanks for the info on Garden Tools

  29. Thank you for this wonderful essay and it could not have come at a better time. Smith and Hawken became a ghost of its former self after the SCOTTs purchase. Sadly my last few trips to the store here in Houston, resulted in a quick browse through the store and then I was on my way out the door. It just did not feel like same place. The romance of the earthy store filled with orchids, bulbs, and hand forged tools was gone. Truth be told, when they started selling products at TARGET, I knew their days were numbered. They were destroying the brand. I only hoped that SCOTTS would sell them to a private group that would allow them to be restored to their former glory. The only consolation is that SCOTTS lost money on this deal in the end.

  30. Katie says:

    I got my first pair of Felcos from Smith and Hawken. I got my first orchid from them. I used to buy books by the stacks. I, too, will miss the pre-Scott’s takeover version.

  31. Jo Acosta says:

    Good in the beginning, but really, gardening clothes?

    They lost me about ten years ago when I saw a display in March in the McLean, VA store selling seeds and potting mix to “start your garden early”. The staff had never heard of damping off and was untroubled by my description. I wrote to S&H, but never heard anything. I hope the folks who tried did some reading up for the next time. Like those above; Lee Valley and AM Leonard got my business.

  32. bria says:

    Thank you for the terrific article. It is bittersweet as I totally agree with your sentiment: Smith & Hawken is dead. Long live Smith & Hawken. I’m hoping for a sort of J. Peterman style resurrection with Hawken back at the helm!

  33. Maureen — virtually all my tools are from S&H. I started to order from them when the catalog was illustrated with black and white drawings and they only sold tools. For my 10th wedding anniversary, I got a pair of 2 Imperial gallon Haws watering cans. Did you happen to buy the Gertrude Jekyll weeding basket. They copied an old Jekyll photo and the basket is a large oval that is flexible. I never walk into the garden without it. Yes, they were pricey but I’ve been using these tools for almost 30 years so they were worth it. I’ve ranted about S&H in the past and I’m not surprised to see them go. The real S&H died when the real S&H left.

  34. Plantanista (Maureen D) says:

    Wow, Linda, I’m so jealous of your weeding basket! I know which one you’re talking about. And you were there from the very start, before the beautiful photos! The only other S & H tools I have are a digging fork, many Felcos and scabbards, and a small hand rake.

    However, one of the many reasons I fell in love with my husband was because he owned a beautiful reproduction of a Julia Morgan bench and chairs. They are now beautifully weathered, with lichen growing on them, and the most prized of our furnishings.

  35. judybusy says:

    I, too, as a beginning gardener in the late 1980′s bought from S and H. Favorites: the pots shaped like heads to mount on walls; the above-described basket that I gave to my mom and step-dad; $70 bib overalls that I still wear every spring.

    One time, when ordering was still done by phone, I had the most wonderful 45 minute conversation with one of the reps after placing an order for a gorgeous dark-blue linen shirt that finally wore out.

    Over time, I noticed the change in emphasis but never knew the reason. My partner and I have regularly mocked their over-priced stuff. But I still want the French bistro set for 4.

  36. mike says:

    Lee Valley Tools is based in Ottawa,with a US branch in NY.They carry many well made English & Canadian tools along with a number of useful items.By all means give them a try-I have many of their items and have been quite pleased.My Smith & Hawken here in Sacramento just opened this past autumn-a glorious store; alas, soon to be no more!

  37. mike says:

    I didn’t notice the previous post about Lee Valley-sorry!I decided to visit their site after my first post & I find out they’re offering free shipping thru 19 July ! Yea!!!So a good time to give them a try.

  38. wooly sunflower says:

    random Smith and Hawken memories:

    I remember moving to California in the mid eighties and being so excited to visit the original retail store in Mill Valley for the first time. There was a serious horticultural vibe that I’d never felt in any other nursery. I loved to browse the book section, there were always unusual orchids on display, and it was the only nursery I knew to label all their plants with latin names. Since I studied botany and horticulture in college, I felt like I’d found my home. For many years that store was a place of refuge. My kids loved to visit the fish in the big cement trough and we loved climbing the decomposed granite path, lined with a rosemary hedge, up to the top of the nursery where a rare species rose, with prominent bright red thorns, grew. They sold roses you couldn’t find just anywhere. I still have a Felicia shrub rose in my garden, one of the few roses I’ve kept, because it’s carefree and delightfully scented. Just down the road was their outlet store, where I found many treasures before it was shut down. I still garden in the tough cotton t-shirts I purchased there 2 decades ago! I once lusted after a pair of green and purple gardening shoes, but even at a discount I didn’t want to spend whatever they wanted for them. Without my knowledge, my next door neighbor bought a pair, thinking they might fit her son. They didn’t, and she passed them on to me. Perfect fit. :)

    Smith and Hawken sponsored the garden at Edna McGuire Elementary School, also in Mill Valley. Before Alice Waters became involved at MLK middle school, Edna McGuire was *the* model school garden. S&H supplied them with tools, bulbs, starts and seeds. I once went on a tour to pick up some tips in preparation to start a garden at my son’s elementary school. I’ll never forget walking through the teacher’s lounge. It was all about the garden…..I saw boxes of bulbs, flower posters, gardening books and watering charts. That kind of passion never permeated the culture of my son’s school, but it was inspiring to see the potential. I’m sure that Smith and Hawken vibe had something to do with it.

    When the business was sold for the first time, I remember the book section disappearing, which was a sign of things to come. Then, ever so slowly, furniture became the main attraction and I became disinterested. I’ve only been in the new store a couple of times because there’s nothing of use to me in there. I do recommend their stackable composters, which they still sell, as far as I know. I have two of them. The first one I bought through my town at a deep discount because of a partnership with S&H to encourage county wide home composting. This was back in the early 90′s before it all went downhill.

    So bye bye S&H! I’ll remember the good old days as I drink smoothies on my Monet garden bench (purchased at a great price on at an end of summer sale!) inbetween garden chores…..

  39. Old Kim says:

    Walmart tries to do the right thing. I’m tempted to stop as I push my cart down the aisle to the groceries to check out cute bras and undies. Anyone that wear’s a thong thinks they’re sexy. Why else would you wear it?

  40. Sally G says:

    Beautiful essay! The founders moved on to other, bigger things, and I am sorry that the original purchaser didn’t do better by S&H but that the firm was eventually sold out to Scott’s, of all absurd possibilities!
    There’s an old-fashioned concept called quality, and in response to the commenter who asked if we can still afford to pay for it, the answer is YES! Of course, it may mean cutting back on some of the junk purchases, and saving up for something, not just whipping out the credit card or settling for a cheaper item. It includes taking the time to learn whether a high price is justified by an item’s quality or is just a result of marketing costs and status, but the time is well-spent and the knowledge gained thereby extremely valuable in honing “life skills” such as critical thinking and decision making.
    Good luck, Dave & Paul in your current endeavours, and “Thanks for the Memory”. I, for one, am glad that Scott’s will no longer be able to trade on your names.

  41. Gardeners understand that everything has a lifespan; this includes businesses. Having owned a retail garden business for 14 years, I understand that the minute I lack fresh committment to it, its demise will come not long thereafter. Henry Mitchell was right. To paraphrase,there are no beautiful old gardens; beautiful gardens are a result of the intensive care of the present. There was a time when Smith and Hawken was an inspiration. The individuals that made it what it was moved on to other things that interested them. The tools from them I still use I will always have.

  42. After reading Paul’s comments in the papers yesterday about his joy at having his name taken off of a company that doesn’t represent who is he, makes me kinda happy they’re going. To go so far as to have a celebration party the night before their public announcement, makes me realize what a huge thorn in his side he’s had to deal with for the past 15 or so years.

    I’ll miss them dearly, for all the reasons people wrote about above, and feel like an old friend has moved away for good, but I didn’t like the fact that they were turning into another Starbucks – one on every corner. It took away the ‘special-ness’ of going into a store and finding a treasure.

    I had a sinking feeling things were ‘going South’ when I saw how many pages they devoted to selling huge, outdoor TVs. TVs in the garden? I can’t think of anything more offensive to most gardeners. It goes against the very grain of what gardening is – nature, harmony, getting lost in one’s thoughts, appreciating the world for what it is.

    It seems they wandered the wrong garden path, which ultimately led to their doom.

  43. zephyr says:

    Dear Troll:
    Kinsman?? Are you kidding?

    Lee Valley Tools….great products, great prices. I’m still using the terrific spade I bought from them 8 years ago.

    The best prices I found on the Internet for Felco pruners was at frostproof dot com.

  44. Elizabeth says:

    I guess I wasn’t alone in regarding my gardening tools as useful treasures and being excited by the opportunity to plant things I’d only seen in pictures. I too, will treasure my poachers spade, hand spades, trowel, hand weeder & Felcos, along with my concrete acorn, watering can and bench from the 1980s. Loved the moments spent perusing catalogues with my mom and sister and planning what to grow that year. Loved giving and receiving S&H tools, seeds & bulbs as gifts. Some of my favorite plants have been rahabs from the sale table. When the store came to San Diego, Costa Mesa and Pasadena, it was always the destination or meeting place of choice and, although things had changed from the beginning, there were still times that equated with a gentle, pure enjoyment that is rare these days. Yes, Scott’s took things in a direction that left many of us, while hanging on in spirit, at the side of the road. Just the same, I have still loved S&H, like an old friend who had walked away and who I’d catch a glimpse of occasionally and then walk on.

  45. BobsterRI says:

    Scott’s took a valued and respected brand like Smith and Hawken and stripped away its core. While I still coveted a small handful of S&H products, I haven’t felt a soul in the product line for some time.

    Again to echo the sentiments of others….regrettable, but certainly understandable. What a bright glimmer of hope that Mr Hawken may explore a return to the business. There’s certainly demand for quality garden tools in a corporate retail culture that only values fast profits and cheap, disposable garden implements.

  46. V. Callahan says:

    Please!
    After reading some of the contributors describe their love of all things Smith and Hawken I became nauseous.
    The fact that the company was founded in Mill Valley says a lot. I’m a 4th generation Californian who’s family didn’t dabble in gardening. It was about survival.
    Enough rhapsodizing from wealthy post-era hippies about their return to the earth. Let’s teach everyone the value of farming one’s own food, whether they turn the dirt with breakable Lowe’s tools or expensive Smith and Hawken status symbols.
    The Smith and Hawken where I live in Raleigh/Durham never did well. There are a lot of Californians here and many of us garden. The area is affluent and well-educated, but the snob appeal of Smith and Hawken didn’t catch on. We’ve learned a lot from easterners who don’t see gardening as a trend. If one has a sunny place in the backyard, chances are there is a garden plot that grows food.
    I miss California, but I don’t miss the Marin mind-set!
    As for Mssrs. Smith and Hawken. Who twisted their arms and made them sell out to Scott’s?

  47. BobsterRI says:

    V. Callahan, we must not have been reading the same comments. The majority posters seem to feel that S&H sells beautiful, expensive boutiquey garden stuff, but had long gotten away from their roots. What I read was sad remembrance of the company many of us remember from many years ago.

    I can only compare it to the passing of an elderly friend or relative who in the final years might have been only a shell of what once was, but when the end comes you still grieve for the robust, principled, beautiful friend that you miss.

    And to clarify, Dave Smith and Paul Hawken did not “sell out” to Scott’s.

    Dave Smith left in ’88 and Paul Hawken retired in ’93. The company had already changed hands several times before Scott’s expressed an interest in 2004 … long after the founders had any input in how the company would be run. No twisting of arms occurred.

  48. Thank goodness for the ‘net. The only place one seems to be able find proper comment these days. As an owner of an English garden boutique ‘The Worm that Turned’ we were more than a little distressed to hear of S&H’s closure. Having visited the Soho store a decade ago, it was an inspiration. Reading some the real reasons for the demise here is heartening and gives us hope. If there’s no-one in the US that your readers can find to fill the gap – can I suggest they try http://www.worm.co.uk -we’ll certainly ship smaller items and who knows one day might see if we can export our shop concept too.

  49. GC2 says:

    Just like the fall of Lands’ End, only faster.

  50. Karen Schwengels says:

    My comment is simply– I will treasure the “old” Smith and Hawkins Company. It was one of integrity, which sold excellent products. I will always mourn the loss of it. The world today needs more companies like it.

    Karen

  51. jay arnold says:

    “To go so far as to have a celebration party the night before their public announcement, makes me realize what a huge thorn in his side he’s had to deal with for the past 15 or so years.”

    Regarding the above statement: please remember he cashed out over 15 years ago to millions of $$$$. The latest S&H may have not been his vision 15 years later, but they still carried a lot of the solid, original garden tools (even if mixed in with the more commercial items). I’m an original shopper at S&H from the beginning. To this day, I could sort through the unimportant stuff and still find many of the items that made us all notice – many are still there.

    A bunch of good people lost their jobs with this news. To celebrate their loss, after cashing out big some time ago seems a bit cold. If the original owners wanted to keep it their vision, they could have but they chose to cash out instead.

  52. Cj WILLIAMSON says:

    I WORKED AT S&H FOR MANY YEARS AND SADLY MOURN THEIR PASSING. MADE MANY GOOD FRIENDS–FELLOW EMPLOYEES AND CUSTOMERS ALIKE. THEIR ULTIMATE DOWNFALL WAS ALLOWING THOSE WHO KNOW NOTHING ABOUT GARDENING TO TEND THE PLOT.

  53. disenchanted says:

    I’m left with two busted shovels and many other S&H items with worthless lifetime warranties… if a “rebloom” is in order, they should start with looking up the word trust, they’ll need it.

  54. Congratulations on winning a position in the Top Rants of 2009 – I will miss S & H as well.

    Happy New Year!

    Shawna

  55. TheAnalyst says:

    If you go to S&H’s website, you will notice it redirects to a Target site, with a Target icon next to the url address. I’m wondering if S&H will continue to design for Target.

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