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Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

Time flies when you’re having fun in the garden

Owners of St. Jacobs Country Gardens celebrating 10 years of business in which there’s always something on the go


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Whitney Neilson
Whitney Neilsonhttp://www.observerxtra.com
Whitney Neilson is a photo journalist for The Observer.

Keith and Sandy Snider have spent the past decade transforming their customers’ properties into beautiful landscapes and lush gardens.

It doesn’t seem like it’s been 10 years already since the couple opened St. Jacobs Country Gardens and Landscape Nursery in 2006.

“It’s gone by fairly quickly. The older you get the faster time flies,” Keith said.

Corn used to grow where the business now sits at New Jerusalem and Sawmill roads. They’ve gone from half a dozen employees when they first opened to cutting 29 paycheques this summer, including seasonal staff. Education is crucial to the couple, who note they’re continually training their staff, which includes three full landscaping crews.

They’ve owned the property since 1970, with Sandy explaining that horticulture was something her husband knew and felt confident about pursuing. He always had an interest in plants, ever since he studied horticulture in high school. Previously he was a hog farmer.

“Hog farming in my mind was a dead-end industry,” Keith said.

And he hasn’t regretted his decision to switch career paths yet, always taking the time to listen to customers’ needs and explain what can be done.

They added pond specialist Dave Davenport to their staff this year, a boost to their water-feature services.

“With the closing of Grand Valley Garden Centre, we acquired their pond specialist. He’s been a great asset to us. We were very fortunate to get him. That’s probably one of our biggest growth areas,” Keith said.

He adds that one of their main focuses is their pond product section, and they build a lot of ponds.

They’ve even built swim ponds, which are completely manmade ponds instead of your traditional swimming pool.

“They’re very popular in Europe. They’re just catching on in North America,” Keith said.

There are no chemicals used in swim ponds. Instead the water gets regenerated out and contaminants are removed by the plants.

They’ve done a few locally in St. Jacobs and Kitchener.

In 2010 they converted a swimming pool into a reflecting pond, which earned them an award two years later from Landscape Ontario for “best construction of a water feature.”

“He’s gone through a lot of training to get where he is,” Sandy adds.

They’re always looking for unique ways to bring in customers, like bringing in regular guest speakers and holding “pot parties,” which are a great way to get excited for spring when you’re sick of winter and the snow that comes with it.

“People come out and they listen to what plants are big for pots this year and what they can pair with. It gets people thinking,” Sandy said.

She notes it’s important to them for their customers to be successful in their gardening.

Lately, lots of customers have come to them looking for ways to make maintenance-free gardens because they don’t have the time to tend to a traditional garden. Sandy says they like to inform customers they can help them achieve the gardens they’re hoping for, but it will come at a price and it’s best to complete it in stages.

They also like to specialize in unique hanging baskets and planters.

She says many customers come in the spring with their plant pots and tell them what colours of flowers they want in them and if it will be in the shade or sun, and the garden centre staff puts it together for them.

“We want to provide exceptional service, exceptional quality, unique ideas and dedicated customer service,” Keith said.

He says the season for annuals is slowing down. With July and August being the hot months, it’s definitely the slow time in the garden centre because of the heat. The fall is prime planting time, which some people don’t realize.

He notes the moisture and cooler weather make it the best time to plant and get started with perennials “right up ’til the snow flies.”

Keith wants the garden centre to be totally customer friendly. Where other people walk in and see a vast array of flowers, he sees dirt on the floor – that’s the perfectionist in him.

He doesn’t have plans to expand the building anymore, but he’s always looking at little improvements.

“He’s always thinking ahead. He’s always saying what if we put a gazebo by the pond out front,” Sandy says with a laugh.

Sandy says she hopes people walking into their greenhouse take a deep breath and walk a little slower.

For Keith, it’s all about becoming the area’s destination garden centre and the name that comes to mind when people in Waterloo Region are thinking about their gardening and landscaping goals.

And where do they see themselves in another 10 years?

“I don’t see myself in retirement. My goal is to have a very confident, competent staff. I don’t think I’ll ever be a hands off person,” Keith said.

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