Photos by Hillary Ehlen
In between a Casey’s General Store and a Sanford medical center on University Drive is a botanical oasis: Baker Garden and Gift. Baker Garden and Gift is more than meets the eye. When you enter, you find what appears to be a standard home-gift store, stocking everything from scented candles to witty dishtowels to marble cheese boards. As you walk through, you find the opening, which leads to seemingly endless expanses of greenery, garden supplies and multiple greenhouses. Baker Garden and Gift has a bit of everything for everyone, which is just one of the many reasons it gets to celebrate its 60th anniversary of business this year.
In The Family
Eric Baker is the third generation owner-operator of Fargo horticulture staple, Baker Garden and Gift. His grandfather, Harry Baker, founded Baker Nursery in 1957 on University Drive and 19th Avenue out of a temporary garage. In 1967, Harry’s son Ken took over, paving the way for the transitioning of the business to Eric in 1993.
In each generation, the different owners all implemented new changes and growth. Eric Baker said, “It’ll be interesting to see what we’ll do in the future. 60 years is a good mark and I’m excited to carry on the family tradition.”
A Different Approach
In Baker’s first year of college, he took a management information systems course, which he described as a computer class relating to a certain software program. He enjoyed this class and particularly embraced its database aspect, which he went on to utilize at the greenhouse for its production cycle. He said, “Even though I work in an industry that’s non-tech related, I’ve always raced to do the next innovative thing. The old adage is, ‘It’s not what you do for a living, it’s how you do it,’ so I embrace doing things a bit differently than the traditional greenhouse owner-operator.”
This forward-thinking has helped keep the store thriving all these years. “I look at plants kind of like systems, so it’s a matter of a way to figure out how to grow them and keep them active,” said Baker.
Since its founding as “Baker Nursery” 60 years ago, the business has seen an evolution: growing, rebranding and offering different services as demands shift.
In 2004, Baker rebranded from Baker Nursery to Baker Garden and Gift, adding the gift storefront to the existing greenhouse portion.
“As things changed, we have put more of a focus on the gift section with the rebrand. We decided: let’s try and carry unique items. So in the last 10 years, we’ve had a couple of good and innovative gift buyers and it’s always fun when they come back from market.”
Beyond the addition of the gift sector, more recently they have added seminars and workshops. Baker noted that hosting workshops is on-trend for the industry and has certainly been received well within the community. These workshops are always plant-oriented, ranging from creations of mini succulent gardens to Marimo apothecary jars to spring hanging baskets.
Baker added, “We’ve found out that it’s more about the experience than actually doing the workshop. And I think that’s on-trend with retail in general. It’s about engaging more than it is the products.”
Something Baker notes that many people don’t know is that the business has multiple divisions. Beyond their well-known retail garden and gift center, they also have a greenhouse production center and a landscaping sector. Baker said, “We own 19 acres of land south of town, about five acres is usable space for a greenhouse. That land was purchased in 1995 and we built greenhouses out there to produce a lot of the bedding plants that you can buy here in the spring. We resupply ourselves with our own product. We grow the majority of the bedding plants we sell.”
The third sector of the business is its landscaping design. Baker noted, “The landscape design-build is about 20-25 percent of our business, so it makes up a respectable part of the business. We can install anything we retail. We do large and small projects, including paver patios with fire pits and finished patios.” This sector deals with things like landscape design and execution, as well as the installation of tree shrubs and such.
Each of these divisions has its own staff and specialists, ensuring that the right attention and care is given. Baker commented that he has a really solid team in place and feels confident in those handling the different sectors of this business.
A Fargo Necessity
Despite the climate, the Red River Valley’s residents get excited about plants, making businesses like Baker’s thrive. Even when the ground is coated in snow, locals seek indoor plants and greenery to enrich their households and workplaces.
Baker shared, “People are locked up in their houses all winter long—particularly this winter—and they are just itching to get outside and start doing something.
“That’s the interesting thing about this industry. I go to a lot of trade shows and people will see I’m from Fargo and they’ll say, ‘Gosh how do you do it?’ I tell them that people are really motivated to do something once spring hits. They are all for it.” He noted that people who live in more temperate climates have larger access to gardening year-round, so there’s not as much of a big build-up or anticipation as there is here.
Plants For All
The business for plant-care is a unique one. Plants are enjoyed by all and often, those interested in the matter are passionate and very knowledgable about the subject. “The interesting thing about our industry is that there’s a lot of people that have a keen interest in plants. We’ve employed doctors to physician assistants to principals of schools…most of the time those people are in-between jobs or they’re recently retired. So it’s amazing the diversity of people who have worked for us,” said Baker.
“I’ll be honest, people who like to work with plants are really awesome-minded people…really positive,” Baker said. He shared that he enjoys hearing people’s plant-related stories or helping a person buy the first plant they’ll ever take care of. “It’s fun to share some information or knowledge and when people take that information and work with it,” he said.
“There are all sorts of positive health benefits from being around plants, which is maybe why we have such great people in our industry,” he added. Which brings us to question, are nice people attracted to plants or are people nice because they are surrounded by plants? Regardless of the answer to this chicken-before-the-egg riddle, it’s safe to come to the conclusion that garden centers like Baker Garden and Gift are special and essential to the well-being of our community.
Upcoming Workshop Schedule
April 25: Mini Succulent Gardens
April 27: Staghorn Fern Wall Mounts
April 30: Kokedama Workshop
Baker Garden & Gift
2733 S. University Dr. Fargo