We chatted with owners Jerry Stanger and Rob McFarland about creating one of Salt Lake City’s most treasured and successful shops, their decision to close its doors and what lies ahead for this talented duo.
Jerry Stanger and Rob McFarland love a beautiful home and garden, so it’s now wonder that since 1993, when they opened Ward & Child—The Garden Store, they have charmed fellow green-thumbs, design devotees and fashionable hosts with chic necessities and decorative pleasures for creating special spaces and times at home, inside and out. For decades, the couple has channeled their superb taste, relaxed congeniality and love of nature into a thriving business that has been much more than a store to its loyal fans, it has been a sanctuary of style.
Since its inception, Ward & Child (W&C) has lived in a welcoming cottage located just blocks from SLC’s Trolley Square. It has been a haven for timeless, garden-inspired design from day one. Over the years, the light-filled interior, constantly changing vignettes and lively displays have encouraged visitors to freely explore, shop and find inspiration. Through a chartreuse-colored back door, the magic extends outdoors where a fairy tale-like garden has seduced all who enter with its pear-tree allée, tricking fountains, sparkling lily pond, wandering paths and layer upon layer of lush, gorgeous plantings. It’s a modern-day oasis located in the center of the city.
Recently, McFarland and Stanger announced they would be closing W &C’s doors, sad news for devoted customers and clients, who include many of the city’s top tastemakers, gardeners and interior designers. A closing sale is currently in progress and will last through the first of April, when a final turn of the key will signal the end of this much-loved shop. The duo talked with us about the inspiration to open the store, the story behind its success and their plans for the future.
What inspired you to open the shop in the early 90s?
“This was when today’s gardening craze was in its infancy,” McFarland says. “We both loved to garden and noticed how difficult it was to find good tools and nice outdoor furnishings in Salt Lake and the marketplace.” At the time, McFarland was working in a family business and doing garden design on the side. Stanger was toiling in advertising. “I liked my work, but we both knew we wanted to be our own bosses,” he says. The couple brainstormed business ideas. “We originally considered getting an old truck and selling annuals, blooming plants and tools out of the back,” McFarlands says with a laugh.
Instead, they searched for the perfect property for their specialty garden store and purchased a corner cottage located just blocks south of Trolley Square. After more than a year of renovations, the duo opened W & C in a main part of the building and offered a selection of quality tools and garden-related accessories. “We envisioned a gardening lifestyle that blurred the lines of indoors and out as much as possible,” McFarland explains. That vision drove the thriving business throughout its 27 years.
The store is known for its glorious back garden. How did that come into being?
“We always wanted a garden to go along with the garden store,” Stanger explains. When the couple purchased the corner cottage, a small house and a scrappy lot occupied the property behind it. “The lot was a neighborhood dump filled with old cars that had been set on fire and every weed known to man,” McFarland recalls. Soon after buying the cottage with a friend, the couple bought the trashy lot as well as its adjoining house, which they renovated and rented out before later converting it into a warehouse for their inventory. Two years later, the derelict plot became a spectacular storybook garden.
“Rob started drawings even before we opened the store,” Stanger explains. “The garden was always in our minds, but it was really difficult to plan without a house or structure to design around,” says McFarland, referencing the flat, featureless lot. He added a lily pond to anchor the space architecturally and let the couple’s love for lush plant materials drive the layered, verdant gardens.
“I think the garden has been huge part of our success,” Stanger says. “It draws people in.” Without question, the beguiling garden has captivated the store’s customers from the get-go.
Why do you think the store and its product selection have resonated with the Salt Lake community?
“From the beginning, we’ve wanted people to leave with something, whether they bought something or not—be it an idea, inspiration or just a better mood,” McFarland says. “Our customers see this as a happy place where they feel at home.” He and Stanger worked tirelessly and visited as many as four major markets annually, searching for unique and new products, ranging from furniture and garden containers, to shapely fountains, distinctive gifts and even lamps—one of the store’s strongest categories. And of course there is Christmas, celebrated at W&C with much-anticipated displays and unique ornaments that the duo planned and purchased months and months before the holidays.
“We put so much of ourselves and our hearts into everything we did, and people recognized this,” McFarland says. Stanger adds, “This has been our home away from home, and we treated and designed it that way.” He recounts the countless times he and McFarland spent time in the store after hours with cherished employees. “They are part of our family,” Stanger says.
Then there is Loddie, the couple’s Portuguese Water Dog.
For the past six years, she has greeted guests with a wagging tail as they have entered the store, just as her predecessor Mosey did for eight years before. “They have been a key part of making our store feel like a home for our customers,” Stanger adds.
What made you decide to close the store?
“We always said we would do 25 Christmases and then be done. We did 27,” McFarland says with a laugh. The store’s success has steadily increased during the past 27 years, except for a dip during the 2008 recession. This past year has been its most profitable year to date, and given its success and the friendships with customers and vendors they’ve developed over the many years, it’s no wonder the duo considers closing bittersweet. “We always wanted to end on a high note, so the timing seems right, ” Stanger says.
What’s ahead for you?
“For starters, a day off. Or maybe a few consecutive days off,” McFarlands says with a chuckle. “As much as we have loved the store, it has been life consuming and an enormous amount of work.” The duo has plenty of garden design projects on the books. “They could easily fill the next a couple of years,” Stanger says. “Of course, new things will reveal themselves daily.” Mostly, the couple is eager to travel, spend quality time at home in SLC and at their second home in Manzanita, Oregon. McFarlands explains, “We look forward to more time spent with family and friends living the life style that we have promoted all these years.” We wish them exactly that. Cheers gents!
Ward & Child—The Garden Store
678 S. 700 East
Hours: 1-6, Monday-Saturday