At this time of year, especially, gardeners and homeowners flock to find annuals, vegetables, trees, perennials and shrubs at the Marion garden center at 1440 Blairs Ferry Road, while houseplants and more can be found in every season inside the sizable gift shop.
A variety of reliable philodendrons, pothos and succulents bask in the sun-soaked shop alongside more unusual choices such as Lemon Lime Maranta, or prayer plant, Ric Rac cactus and Alocasia amazonica, also known as African Mask.
“We carry things we know are unique,” said Lois De Ruiter, merchandising manager for BLOOMS, adding that the knowledgeable employees provide care tips to help plants thrive. “Our staff wants our customers to be successful.”
Sporting deep green, glossy foliage, a ZZ plant – short for Zamioculcas zamiifolia – is among the tropical plants in the shop giving once trendy succulents a run for their money.
Hanging planters are back in vogue, De Ruiter noted, while houseplants are the gift shop’s best sellers year-round.
Other items of note in the shop include High Brow Wine from Lubben Vineyards & Wines near Marion; stunning eco-friendly lamps by Eangee Home Design, made in the Philippines; and harmonizing wind chimes made in the United States.
Many locally made products are among the unique home décor, planters and gifts carried in the shop, such as soaps handcrafted by a member of the BLOOMS staff, as well as Spalted Wood art by Doug Adams of Fairfield.
Stone memorials also are among popular items sold in the gift shop, De Ruiter said.
Branching out of BladeWorks Landscaping, located on the same site, BLOOMS opened in 2017, started by owners Peter Gasper and his son, Jeff.
The family-owned business now includes Jeff’s older children, who help out during the growing season.
Peter Gasper notes that the high-traffic site is ideally situated right at the edge of Marion next to Cedar Rapids.
Like numerous area businesses, the buildings took a hit during the August 2020 derecho, which put their greenhouse out of commission.
And while trees have long been a best-seller, the high loss of trees throughout Iowa caused by the hurricane-strength storm only multiplied the demand.
“We’ve always sold a lot of trees,” Gasper said. “This last year, we sold an inordinate amount of trees.”
Arborvitae and large shrubs taken out by the windstorm also have been in high demand, along with perennials to replace hostas and other shade-loving plants for areas now in full sun in the absence of mature trees, he said.
With millions of trees lost in Iowa’s derecho, Gasper predicted the need for new trees will remain strong, even in years to come.
He cites elm trees resistant to Dutch elm disease, swamp white oak and Asian frost birch among his favorites, though maples are generally the most popular customer request.
Pandemic Propels Interest
While the derecho sidelined the business for a time, the pandemic had the opposite effect, increasing the interest in gardening as more people stayed at home.
“Families had the time and the opportunity to explore gardening,” Gasper said.
BladeWorks has continued its business in landscape building, design and renovations, while the popularity of plants at the garden center continues to grow.
Greenhouses are being constructed to house some of the 12,000 annuals, 10,000 vegetable plants, 2,700 hanging baskets, 1,500 trees and 5,000 perennials sold every year.
The business partners with growers throughout Iowa and beyond who specialize in various plants, such as conifers, with generations of experience.
“The reality is, with the varieties and species of trees, nobody can grow them all,” Gasper said. “So many of the people we deal with are family farmers.”
As spring swings into full bloom, an additional 30 seasonal workers support the core group of 20 staff who work year-round.
Both Gasper and De Ruiter point to the spectacular masses of color created in the courtyard from annuals, such as pansies and petunias, and other plants brought in by the truckload on a near-daily basis, making it “all hands on deck” for weeks on end during the growing season.
“Nothing keeps us down,” Gasper said. “We know we have to deal with Mother Nature on a consistent basis and we love it. What we do is fun.