Thanks to a dynamic group led by Gardenshop Director, Michael McConaha, together with Gardenshop Buyer, Hannah Laday, Webshop Coordinator, Nan Tischbein, and Shop Supervisor, Beth Lord, visiting Gardenshop becomes both a stand-alone experience and one entirely integrated with the heart of the Gardens.
“Gardenshop exists so that messages and memories from the Gardens can be carried beyond this special place and into the wider world,” says Michael. “We provide skipping stones of emotion, thought, and learning that create unpredictable ripples. I love to see a book leave the shop, because each one is so information-rich and portable. But even a small handmade figurine can recall a powerful moment of connection.” That connection is also part of their local-maker ethos. “It is not only the right path for building community and supporting the local economy,” Michael explains, “but these local objects create a sense of place and time that can’t be replicated by mass production or imitation.”
“We’re deliberate in the choices we make,” adds Hannah. “Products must first be mission-related and ethically sourced.” Then, Hannah researches and searches for Maine makers in various categories—jewelry, books, apparel, gardening supplies, and so on. “Next comes the quality of the product and the packaging. We want to eliminate plastic consumption or, at least, reduce it to an absolute minimum.” Then, if she can’t find a Maine maker who meets their criteria, she broadens her search into New England. “We’ll just keep looking. We carry makers from across the country.”
“We also consider price points and capacity, especially when working with small producers,” Michael continues. There is an added cost associated with hand-produced goods, but Gardenshop works with makers to provide a range of prices so that work is more widely accessible. They also offer support to some small makers, like committing to orders a season in advance. “This helps makers plan for production, which helps control costs. Folks who usually sell at farmer’s markets are often shocked at how much product we need.”
It’s hard to articulate the final criteria that constitutes the ideal Gardenshop maker, but the products are artisanal—and they have flair—sometimes cheeky, sometimes moving, but always unique and high quality. “Michael and I have a very similar aesthetic,” Hannah says, which is important because curating Gardenshop is as much art as retail science. “My background is in inventory control and warehouse management and production, but I’ve always been creative and artistic, so I have a natural inclination toward this work,” she continues. “Michael recognized this and he’s encouraged, supported, and taught me a lot.”
“I love supporting emerging artists,” says Hannah. “I found [Maine stained-glass and clay maker] Elizabeth Guilbault at a craft fair. I visited her house to look at her work, and she was really moved by our interest. Her work is among my favorites.”
“Another example is Sabrina Thiemke-Greene of Think Greene in Limerick, who we first saw at the Common Ground Fair,” notes Michael. “She runs a fantastic screen-printing and design company that partners with us to make custom products featuring our Guardians of the Seeds trolls to the exacting environmental and ethical standards of artist Thomas Dambo, who created them for us.”
Gardenshop also embodies the Gardens’ IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) principles by supporting marginalized communities, including women-owned businesses, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists, and companies that employ people with disabilities. One example of the latter is Blossom Artisanal, an organization that provides unique work opportunities and employs adults and teenagers with developmental disabilities. Gardenshop sells their soaps and candles.
One of Michael’s favorite new jewelry picks is Portland-based Ebenezer Akakpo of Akakpo & Co. “We first saw Ebenezer’s work at a pop-up shop sponsored by Indigo Arts Alliance,” Michael recalls. Per the Akakpo & Co. website, his jewelry uses the traditional designs of his Ghanaian heritage, instilling meanings like patience, hope, friendship and bravery into pieces of art that carry personal and cultural power.
“We’re really lucky with body products and jewelry,” Hannah adds. “We don’t even have to go outside the state—we have so many incredible makers here.” Some of Hannah’s favorite jewelry makers include Kelly Luger at Clay N Wire, Suzanne Anderson, and j.e. paterak, all Maine artists. As for skincare, Unfiltered Skin Care is a particular favorite. Maker Bri Beck creates natural, organic, inclusive, and gender-neutral products for all skin types in Bath, Maine. “She—and her products—are just incredible,” Hannah says. “And the packaging is so beautiful.” Amanda Nelson at Long Winter Soap Company is another local maker who Hannah was thrilled wanted to work with the Gardens. Her lip balms and soaps are popular in-house and online.
But there’s so much more to discover that we can’t begin to cover here. Go to the webshop and explore menu categories like Garden, Home, and Cardshop. Simply scrolling through the wealth of products on the webstore feels like a vacation. And with holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Days, the webshop is a popular place.
(In fact, if you’re looking for some Valentine’s Day inspiration, stay tuned—we’ll profile a few of our staff and their favorite gifts to give—or receive–in the coming weeks.)