Garden Market Celebrates Outdoor Southern Culture

Garden Market Celebrates Outdoor Southern Culture


From peach gazpacho and lemon fig basil jam canned in the South Carolina Lowcountry to finely groomed topiaries, hand-carved duck decoys and elaborate garden masonry, Hay Hill Garden Market has something for just about everyone.

The new garden market on Bluff Road is the kind of place that invites folks to roam leisurely through a remarkable selection of handpicked local and regional products just right for exceptional outdoor living. Customers range from professionals and master gardeners to those who might think deadheading is the special handshake of Grateful Dead fans, bedding plants are promiscuous, and humus is a tasty dip made from chickpeas.

Fred Gantt, owner of Hay Hill Garden Market. Photo by Kristine Hartvigsen

“We just want to be really fun place where anybody could come and shop,” says Jeffrey Hall, Hay Hill’s retail creative director. “I think the majority of us aren’t experts. The only way to compete with the Internet and big-box stores is to have a little more of a shopping experience. To me, local retail has to be a lot more of a social happening. Merchandise can be just lined up on a shelf, or it can be displayed to where it is a lot more special.”

Hall tends the retail offerings of Hay Hill as a rose enthusiast might fawn over his Champneys Pink Clusters — pruning as warranted and trimming for the best aesthetic result. He has stocked the showroom with all manner of items for distinctive outdoor entertaining, gardening or just plain relaxing. From hammocks to hand-batiked artisan pillows, the range of goods is stunning.

Hay Hill Garden Market owner Fred Gantt decided to diversify his longtime landscape construction and installation business, Hay Hill Services in St. Matthews, after falling in love with the 9,600-square-foot, 1950s-era industrial building on Bluff Road last year.

“A lot of Fred’s clients said they missed having the Farmers Market here,” Hall says. “They requested a place where they could come to buy their plants.”

The building had plenty of space for offices as well as a generous retail component.

Gantt wanted to celebrate everything about outdoor culture in the South, and reclaiming the gritty digs was part of that. He acquired the building in September 2011, and, after thoughtful renovation, upfitting and stocking, Hay Hill Garden Market opened on March 1.

“We really didn’t want to change the building that drastically,” Hall says. “We preserved the entire pre-existing structure,” Hall said. “There are so many aspects to Southern living. Gardening is just one. There is so much more — entertaining, hunting, birding, grilling. We are all over the place insofar as outdoor living.”

Gantt and his partners turned to local plant expert and garden designer Jenks Farmer to select plants to sell at Hay Hill, with a concentration on perennials and Southern heirloom plants. In fact, Jenks is branding selected plants with a special QR code that facilitates access to detailed information on each species. Farmer will have a regular presence at Hay Hill, conducting informal tours packed with insights and gardening tips. His next tour, on Sunday, April 15, at 2 p.m. [online copy corrected], is scheduled to coincide with the Midlands Plant and Flower Show. On April 10, he’ll lead a planting workshop from 6 to 8 p.m.

“Jenks’ knowledge is just endless,” Hall gushes. “He can take one plant and give more information than you could ever imagine. We are real happy to have him on board with us.”

Farmer became acquainted with Hay Hill several years ago while collaborating on the installation of the Seibels House garden, which Farmer designed. That positive experience led to more joint projects, and a relationship was born.

“They do a lot of perennial work, and I specialize in perennial plants,” Farmer explains. One of the primary goals was to focus on plants particularly suited to the Midlands. “Our gardens here are really different than those in Greenville and even Newberry. Once you get into the Piedmont, you get a different soil type and temperature.”

Farmer owns Lushlife Nursery, which produces only crinum lilies. The opportunity with Hay Hill complements Farmer’s efforts because many of the plants selected for Hay Hill work especially well with crinum lilies.

“They are great companion plants for crinum lilies,” Farmer says. “This is the first time in Columbia you can get the whole range of crinums … When I do garden design, I want people to have access to great plants. I want people to be able to go to a retail center and get them.”

While at Hay Hill, guests can pick up all manner of gardening décor and accessories, including Clarington Forge fine tools, such as the Wizard Rubber Rake, which enables gardeners to rake leaves and debris out of mulch without messing up the mulch. Or they can check out the impressive pieces of outdoor furniture, much of it crafted from reclaimed materials, including planks from railroad cars. Craftsman Jeff Price has a studio onsite and is available to consult on custom furniture orders as well. Guests also might linger in the showroom and admire the pottery or even some of the taxidermy works gracing the displays.

“It’s part of the vocabulary of the South,” Hall says.

With a stable of designers and landscape architects under the same roof, Hay Hill can bring customers’ vision for their outdoor spaces to full-scale execution.

“When you review plans, you can come out here and actually see a plant that is being recommended,” Hall says. “You can see, feel, touch. The place really engages the senses.”

Along that vein, Hay Hill even has an outdoor demonstration kitchen, replete with Lynx grilling appliances and a Budweiser tap, to elevate customers’ experience to a more hands-on level. The idyllic setting is so inviting that area garden clubs and community groups have asked to use the venue for various events, and Hay Hill has accommodated them. In fact, Hall says the booking calendar is filling up quickly, and he and Gantt couldn’t be happier about that.

“There is a lot of power behind Hay Hill,” Hall says. “We had a lot of people working on this. We need to change it around and keep it interesting all the time.”

The Hay Hill Garden Market is located at 1625 Bluff Road in Columbia, one mile southeast of USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 803-834-6652.

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