No wonder Garland’s Garden Center & Florist was named “Best Garden Center” in The City Paper’s 2003 Best of Baltimore. Gretchen Hanson, the owner and driving force of this ever-transforming establishment, is a display artist with an enormous sense of design.

“We have an incredible visual presentation,” says Hanson. “I have 60,000 square feet of retail space to play with. And I’m a display artist – that’s what I do. I make spaces beautiful. [Soon] it will be so spectacular it’ll take your breath away! I have an enormous amount of fun and an extremely talented team that works with me. So, it’s a beautiful place to be. Its very exciting to spend the spring here.”

Gretchen makes excellent use of the 60-foot high ceilings, though she proclaims the lofty heights create special challenges. Cherry pickers and very tall ladders are needed to arrange the lighting.

“We are a very high-volume, high-end, year-round florist with seven full-time designers,” she says. “We send orders out all day through our floral department – gift baskets, fresh flowers, plant baskets, potted plants, and blooming baskets. We are one of the top silk houses offering a huge selection of top quality silk flowers and custom silk arrangements.”

Blooming baskets filled with an ensemble of plants arranged to look like small gardens are one of Garland’s trademark specialties. They make terrific gifts because the live plants last forever, individual plants can be replanted as houseplants or placed outdoors in a garden or flowerbox. They are especially ideal for memorial gardens. Each is creatively designed, and all are perfectly gorgeous.

“Whatever your goal or problem, you’re going to get 100 percent attention,” says Hanson. “You’ll learn everything from how to green up your lawn organically to how to plant an herb garden that grows well in a city space. You’ll be instructed on how to actually make things happen. We’re knowledgeable, we’re smart, we’re effective, and we’re culturally diverse.”

Garland’s has humble beginnings, having started as a pumpkin stand in 1970; it gradually expanded over the years into a garden center. In 1982 the original buildings burned to the ground and the current structure was built, a classic 1980s architectural design replicating a barn with silo.

It’s been 11 months since Gretchen gained sole ownership; she previously co-owned the business for 8 years with a 2-year hiatus in between. Under her energetic leadership the business has been completely revitalized. It has grown by leaps and bounds, flourishing from employing four staff to over 30.

A coffee bar is due to open outside in the display gardens in the spring, and will serve coffee, teas, sandwiches, pastries and ice cream. In the fall, the coffee bar will be expanded indoors.

Gretchen is a dynamo entrepreneur with the advancement of community and humankind at heart. She is the founder and visionary of a 20-acre arboretum to be developed on land nearby that has been leased from the Board of Education for the next 100 years. The one-of-a-kind, completely organic arboretum will be a learning center for students and an inter-generational gardening project, with many additional programs to be created and brought to fruition over the upcoming decades. Profits from Garland’s are being used as the start-up funds for the non-profit arboretum. Fox 45 Television Station is a sponsor and other neighborhood businesses will contribute funds and support as well.

The Catonsville community nominated Garland’s for Best Community Outreach Business this past year. The exquisite space has been accessible for non-profit fund-raising and charity events. There was a “Secret Garden Tea Dance” last September benefiting the GLCCB.

Garland’s runs circles around their competition with top quality products and workmanship, superior selections and extremely well trained staff. “We have a different sort of approach. It’s more like a family here; with long-term employees, one staff member has been here for over 20 years,” says Hanson. “And I have the luxury of having people work here who have retired other careers, who come here because it is their passion. We have a very diversified staff. It’s a fun place to be.”

Garland’s advertises in a wide variety of newspapers, including Gay Life, so as to connect with all cultural distinctions.

“I embrace diversity in anyway, shape and form,” relays Hanson. “If you embrace all different cultures it only enhances you and makes you stronger. My staff is extremely culturally diverse – we have someone from Africa, someone from Lithuania, and other staff from many different places. I bring in people with all different cultural, political, and social agendas. Some of our staff is gay. I believe part of my mission is to create a dialog of cultural diversity in Baltimore.”

Garland’s Garden Center & Florist is located at 1109 Ingleside Avenue in Catonsville.

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