M&M Nursery Draws Tourists, Locals Alike with Specialties

By: Steve and Suz Trusty

From: IGC Retailer, January/February, 2013

M&M Nursery Draws Tourists, Locals Alike with Specialties

ALWAYS LOOKING AHEAD Owners Ted Mayeda and Dale Garey, along with key creative staff member Beverly Turner, keep interest in M&M strong by introducing fresh specialties like fairy gardening.

Located less than 10 miles from Disneyland, M&M Nursery is an adventure of gardening discovery. Tourists seeking treasures in Orange, CA, a historic town filled with antiques and art, frequently stumble upon the nursery - and they’re not disappointed when they do. There, these visitors find the enchanting fairy gardens, along with the unique perennials and unusual garden art, that keep customers from the surrounding areas shopping M&M all year long.

Brother and sister owners Ted Mayeda and Dale Garey grew up in the business, started at the current location by their parents in 1956. Back then, it was a neighborhood nursery, focused primarily on plants and seeds. Then, it expanded as it continued to fit its customers’ evolving needs and interests. “It’s always been about the customer, talking with them, working with them, serving them,” says Mayeda. “We adapted our business to their needs from the beginning, and that’s never stopped.”

Fairy Gardening: 35 Percent of Sales
In 2001, M&M started featuring fairy gardens at its store. Staff treasure Beverly Turner is responsible for designing and creating these miniature wonders, which were a hit with shoppers immediately and continue to grow in popularity. “We decided to go into it all the way, giving more and more space to fairy gardening plants and accessories,” Turner says. “We have grandparents doing their first fairy garden ‘just to interest their grandkids,’ but then they get hooked on it. And we have kids who love it and save up their change to buy something special.”

Indeed, all that change sure does add up - fairy gardening is responsible for 35 to 40 percent of the garden center’s $500,000 annual sales.

The versatility of fairy gardens is endless, and so much of it is on display at M&M. Nearly half of the 600-square-foot main building is devoted to the niche’s accessories and plants, and fairy gardens fill about 2,200 square feet of outdoor display space. “We can recreate any of the fairy gardens we have on display. Many of them are five or six years old or older, a bonus because customers can see how they will grow and mature and still keep their charm,” Turner says. “People will shop through them all and have favorites, but nearly all want to make their own. They will take pictures of what we’ve done and work from there to capture a look, but with their own twist on it. We also keep several ‘blanks’ on hand, with the basic plants in place for the customer to add the fairies and accessories.”

Keeping so many fairy gardens pruned and “spruced up” is a tall order, Turner says. “It’s never finished. We just get to the end and start again.”

Since Disneyland is so close and tourists are looking for other things to do in the area, the fairy gardens have made M&M a popular tourist destination. “People tell us they make us the last stop before they head back home. They plan on picking up something to add to their fairy garden each time they come to the area,” says Turner. “We get pictures from all over the country, showing us what they’ve built and how it grows and changes over the years.” Fairy gardens work well in conjunction with a couple of M&M’s other niches - model railroads and bonsai.

Each year, M&M holds a fairy gardening seminar on-site, covering design elements such as creating a specific look and atmosphere and selecting plants to match the microclimate. “We draw about 150 people each year, so there’s not enough space to do a hands-on workshop,” Turner says. “I do it with a slide show.”

Most of the promotion for the seminar is by word of mouth. “We put up posters about it in the store, too, and we list it in the events section of The Orange County Register once we decide on the date, which is always in April. We take reservations for it starting in March.”

With all the buzz fairy gardening has generated, Turner is co-authoring a book on the subject. “It’s basically the seminar session in a book format,” she says. “We brought in a professional photographer to shoot the photos. Skyhorse Publishing will be releasing it soon: Fairy Gardening: Creating Your Own Magical Miniature Garden.”

Cottage Gardening: A Strong Niche
Cottage gardening is another strong niche for M&M. Garey is the specialist, especially with perennials. It was the gardening style of the community when the business opened, and many in the historical area remain loyal to the traditional look. It also continues to be a great fit for the smaller properties in the surrounding neighborhoods. M&M offers a wide assortment of ornamentals and edibles in annuals and perennials, vines and shrubs, and small flowering and fruit-bearing trees.

Garey says, “The cottage gardens here change with the seasons, as flowers and vegetables started both from plants and from seed are used to fill in the spaces among the well-established plants. We look for new and unusual varieties in perennials and annuals, along with the traditional favorites, so there’s always something interesting to add year round.”

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